Struggling to come to grips

QuestionI’ve been struggling to come to grips with the event that occurred in Richmond California over a week ago. Apparently I’m not alone. A lot of people are thinking about it and trying to understand how, over the course of two and a half hours, a young woman could be gang raped and no one stood up and said this was wrong. The current estimate is that ten people witnessed the event, and 10 were involved in the event. Some moved from bystander status and joined in, but none of them tried to stop it or called the police. In fact – it is likely that kids from all over the city knew what was happening and did nothing.

Can you imagine what will happen when police get their hands on those text messages? 

The 911 call is a mystery to me also –

Someone leaving the scene bumped into a young man and they “jovially” told him and his friends about what was happening. The young man then went home and talked to his girlfriend and they called the police. That is how many people removed from the actual scene of the crime? And he didn’t call from the street – from what I heard he called from home. 

So how did this happen?

It made me think about the Good Samaritan experiment . Basically – what is the likelihood that someone will stop and assist a person in need. They used seminary students for the experiment. In the end – religion didn’t pay a role, but being in a hurry did – only 40% of the “Samaritans” offered to help the victim.

It also made me think about that moment between when you see an event and engage.

Last winter a fight broke out right next to me and I didn’t move. I didn’t help, didn’t back away, didn’t do anything. Granted a group of men started separating the fighters almost as soon as the first blow hit, the police were called as soon as I thought of my phone, and I’m only five feet tall and a whopping 110 lbs. But none of that felt like an excuse. I was only 95 lbs when I threw myself between two young men that were having a fight when I was in High School.

Last year a man collapsed outside the office building that I worked at. I saw him fall, and although I reacted I remember the pause as I weighed my options and their repercussions. Instead of going directly to him I walked to our receptionist and requested that she call one our co-workers who had training as a medic in the army and then called 911 as I went out to the fallen man. Within moments I was joined by my co-worker and I handed him my cell phone – and was a silent presence until the paramedics arrived.

Everything worked out okay – but that pause still haunts me as do the thoughts that went through my head. What happened to the girl who would jump into anything, take anyone on for the right cause, and go to anyone’s aid? I don’t know…   

Today as I was thinking about the people who watched, the people who walked away, the people who cheered, and the people who joined in… and wonder what my reaction would have been.

Talk of the Nation did a great show Friday (you can listen to the podcast here) about the psychology of groups like this and about that moment of action/inaction. I also found articles about how at times, the group behavior – though heinous – becomes the norm and to go against that norm can put you in harm’s way. Given the behavior of the group that did call 911 I wonder what social structure was at work and how much fear of reprisal present. 

But in the end, it still doesn’t make me feel any better. No one is off the hook for what occurred. It will impact the school, the community and the town. It changes the way we look at each other as we wonder what we are capable of and worry that when push comes to shove we won’t make a decision we can live with.    

Where do you think responsibility lies and who should be held accountable for their actions? Those that participated, of course? But those that watched and cheered? Those that watched? Those that knew and walked away? At some point we move from criminal to bystander – and California Law allows the prosecution of bystanders who witness and don’t report a crime involving a minor 14 or younger, but the victim here is one year too old to be covered by that law.

This event will leave everyone attached to it feeling stripped naked – more and more information will pour in over time and we will know every moment of what occurred except for one thing – that specific moment when each individual abdicated their humanity to the group and why.

 ~ Tess


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