Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Disturbing Image: Assault as a Spectator Sport

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.--Graham Nash

William Golding wrote a novel called Lord of the Flies (LOTF) in which a group of English schoolboys being evacuated from home to escape an unnamed war crash land on an island. With all the adults killed in the crash, the boys must fend for themselves. Control of the group descends into a power struggle between Ralph who represents order and the better parts of civilization, and Jack who represents anarchy and our base desires run amok. I thought about LOTF today when I heard a horrifying story on the evening news.

In Richmond, CA, a young girl, age 15, left her homecoming dance at 9:30 pm to go home. She never got home; instead she was gang raped on the school grounds. According to the police, as many as four to seven people assaulted the victim while a dozen or more watched. Some of the spectators took pictures. No one called 911. The young woman was found after someone who wasn't present at the ongoing assault overheard people talking about what was going on and called the police. They found her severely beaten and semi-conscious, her injuries so severe that she was airlifted via helicopter to the hospital. The police report that the attack lasted more than two hours. So far there have been two arrests, a 19-year-old ex-student and a 15-year-old student at the high school.

Like most people, I am horrified by the actions of the perpetrators who physically assaulted this young woman, but I'm perhaps more disturbed by the spectators who watched, commented, and took pictures as if witnessing some carnival side show. The perpetrators, once apprehended, will suffer the consequences of their actions, but it is not likely that anyone who "merely" observed will be punished. According to legal experts offering an analysis of the events, there is no affirmative duty under California law to undertake being a good Samaritan.

It's easy enough to shake our heads and ponder what has become of our young people; however, I think a better question is what have we taught our young people?

The message that we communicate to our youth is muddled and hypocritical. We give lip service to values--love thy neighbor, be truthful, be responsible--but our actions are totally disconnected from those values. Dishonesty reaps rewards until you get caught, then you may go to prison but when you get out, you go on the speaker's circuit and/or write a bestseller about how you managed to be a cheat for so long. The homeless, the poor, those who speak with a foreign accent, aren't our neighbors and we don't have to love them. Hell, we don't even want them in our neighborhood. Rehabilitation has nothing to do with our prison system; it's all about vengeance. Much of the opposition to a public option in the health care plan rests on the ideology that we have no responsibility to ensure access to health care for all who live within our borders.

The underlying theme among those who are opposed to health care reform is a belief that some people are undeserving of health care. Topping the list are illegal immigrants. Elected officials demanded and received assurances that no health care reform program would include providing care to illegal immigrants: Love your neighbor as you love yourself unless your neighbor is an illegal immigrant in which case they're on their own. There is also an overt concern with allegedly undeserving poor people getting health care at the expense of the rest of the hard working people otherwise known as, I am not my brother's keeper if I don't find him worthy of help.

We are engaged in a struggle for the soul of this country. This isn't a battle in which you can afford to be neutral, playing the role of spectator like those young people who stood on the sidelines watching and doing nothing. Our youth are us, stripped of the veneers of polite society. If we give them no sense of real values, of ethics that aren't situational, of a belief in the collective responsibility of us all to be our neighbor's keeper, then what can we expect except that they will become like LOTF's Jack, an amoral wild child without conscience, relentlessly selfish and cruel, willing not only to perpetrate violence but to stand idly by as if the brutalization of another human being is a spectator sport.


miss alaineus said...

i think you are spot on.

our drive through reality tv based culture not only allows bystander behaviors such as you described, it encourages and rewards people to watch and do nothing as terrible things unfold.


Char said...

Chilling story, Sheria. That last paragraph says it all.

Ms. Moon said...

This was a powerful post, full of words that were painful to say but which needed to be said. Thanks for writing it. I agree with you.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

I think the reality TV and sensationalism that drives our media today is definitely contributing to the problem. Being a bystander to rape and assault is inexcusable though, I wonder how many of the families are "good Christian homes" ???

As for the illegal alien aspect of healtcare, if we give them amnesty so that they are no longer a below the line group, then I agree they should be included. But if the remain illegal, they will continue to use the emergency room as their clinic, and that is wrong on many levels.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

As usual, I read your post before reading the comments. As i finished, I re-read the last paragraph. Like Char, the phrasing of your last paragraph just shook me. So well done. Thank you for the effort it took to turn such brutality into a call to arms.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I agree with you, also, Sheria. As usual, very well said.



Cathy said...

We didn't invent this, my friend - as you know. Indifference, self-centered living, blind-mindedness, plain cruelty and no empathy toward our brothers is as old as our ancestors. Is there a cure? Not until enough people rebel against the fact that no one calls it a disease to "mind your own business". I say, it IS a disease to turn a blind eye to someone else's pain and if we don't involve ourselves soon, if we don't see ourselves reflected in our brothers' eye, we're lost.

Gerry said...

Living in a border state and having resided in a predomnately Mexican part of town for 20 years I thought a lot of about illegal immigration. I talked to immigrants who had walked across the desert more than once, and I knew that conditions in Mexico were rough enough to cause them to take the risks, but I also saw our welfare and medicaid systems get overloaded here as well as in California, and the states became desperate to stop too many illegals from coming here even though they were poor, hungry, and desperate, so Sheriff Arpaio and his illegal immigrant 'sweeps' is either loved or hated depending on how you look at it. I say excessive immigration has to be curbed eventually, hopefully as painlessly as possible, which is already happening, and Mexico's poor are suffering as a result. I feel Mexico must address the problem of their poor better if illegal immigration is to be discouraged, and the neighoring countries need to help if at all possible. Arizona is so deep into deficit with all its public services something had to be done, and cuts to the disabled, poor, without health care are still being made. Cutting government services hurts! But income from the economy has fallen much more than anticipated. People are no longer moving to Az. Construction companies are scrambling for work. Unemploymenet funds are even running low. The computer systems have been unable to respond in a timely manner to the many seeking benefits, so there are no easy solutions to these problems. I still hope that a health care plan will be passed that will give benefits to everyone. I do not think the aging and disabled should have it while the worker is denied. That tells us the worker is not valued enough. I think Obama is making a huge effort and America is listening to his reasons. Always interestng to get your take. Gerry

warrior scout said...

there is much to grieve and much to ponder here....

thank you...

screamish said...

God. This is terrifying. I guess a lot of the people watching were kids? How did they get so...I don't know the word...feel that making a stand, DOING SOMETHING was not an option?

Here in France they have a crime which is called Failing to Assist a Person in Danger. So if you drive by the scene of an accident, ignore your neighbours screams for help, this could be held against you.

This doesn't mean people rush to your assistance at every moment, far from it, but in exceptionally severe cases like the one you've described the police may choose to lay charges agaisnt such spectators.

Do you have anything like that in the US?

Gerry said...

I have given you one of my Kreativ Blogger awards because you find a way to make the strongest opinions on difficult issues acceptable to the reader with your writing ability and sense of fairness. It awaits you on my blog. Although we have differences of opinion I respect your thinking ability a good deal. http://gerry-daughters-of-the-shadow-men.blogspot.com/