Psychologists have long observed and commented on a phenomenon in which an individual caught up in a large group of people absorbs the ethos of that group. If I might explain it further for the purposes of clarification, the excitement, the emotion, the raw electricity of the moment engulfs a crowd of people like a tidal wave, and an individual caught up in that crowd, no matter how meek or mild that individual might be, gets swept along right along with the crowd and often commits acts far outside the character and personality of the individual that he or she later regrets and cannot even offer explanation.
I mention this phenomenon because it has been the explanation most offered up to as a reason for the atrocity that occurred in Richmond, California*, this past weekend. In Richmond, for two hours on Saturday night following a school homecoming dance, a fifteen year old child was beaten, robbed and repeatedly raped by several suspects over a two hour period.
These details alone should be enough to make one pause for a moment in an effort to catch their breath even as their heart pounds within their chest in outrage. This should be enough to cause one to shake their head rapidly and violently to and fro in utter disbelief, but the story only worsens from here because this atrocity took place in front of an audience.
As the girl lay semi-conscious on a bench, on-lookers and passerby looked on without offering help or assistance or even reporting it. In fact, some laughed, some took pictures, and some even took the time to strip her of her jewelry. [Click here for original report.]
But the notion of the mob mentality is in no way sufficient as an explanation because implicit in that explanation is the notion that somehow those involved just got caught up in the moment and could not control themselves, and not only that, this explanation does not account for those who watched or who might have passed by without attempting to intervene or even get help.
However, I believe what is most telling in this incident is the fact that those who have been arrested or have been identified as involved thus far all range in age from 15 to 19. In other words, this is a case of young people victimizing young people. It seems as if those most threatening the safety of young people are not adults but young people themselves. And before we begin to make the old charge that young people today have lost their minds, I must ask you, “Where were the adults in all this?”
Maybe, just maybe, my childlike imagination gets the best of me sometimes, and maybe the images conjured up by my subconscious tend to sometimes be overly fantastical, but the image that comes most readily to mind is that image from the movie Dawn of the Dead in which the zombies roam the street in hordes, moving slowly and decidedly toward their next victim.
There used to be commercial that ran each night that posed the question, “It is ten o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” I suspect more and more the answer for a lot of parents would be no.
And I know this is being to sound like every other thing that I have written, but the point I continue to attempt to drive home is our responsibility as responsible adults for our kids, not just our biological children but all children. Any society or any culture or, better still, community is measured first and foremost by the condition of its children or by how well it cares for its young. And it follows from this incident that we are doing really poorly protecting our young people from themselves.
How can someone so young commit an act so heinous? How can someone so young be so callous as to stand and watch and/or even participate in a crime of this magnitude? Where were all the adults when this crime occured, and where were all the adults when their hearts began to harden?
I do not offer any apologies for the young men involved, and my heart goes out to the young girl and her family. However, allow me please just to make this point. This crime was committed by young people who were entrusted to the care of adults. But somewhere the process of childrearing fell through. Somewhere, perhaps, someone failed in their duties. But if we remain a community, it becomes incumbent on us to put into place the necessary measures to see that all our children, all our young people are cared for, even those that do not bear our name.
And perhaps you are doing as you are supposed to do. Perhaps you are loving and raising your children just as you have been charged to do. But what of those in our community raising themselves? What of those in our community not receiving the requisite nurturing or training? These are the ones who most constitute a direct threat to your own. These are the ones in which the mob mentality is a constant state of mind. And where are you in all this?
* When I originally made this post, a reader pointed out that erroneously reported the city as Oakland when it is in actuality Richmond, California; however, in my recall of the Bay Area, I mistakenly conflated the two areas.
Also of interest: