The Republic of T.

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How Do You Just Watch a Rape?


WTF is wrong with people? How do you just watch a rape?

For more than two hours on a dark Saturday night, as many as 20 people watched or took part as a 15-year-old California girl was allegedly gang raped and beaten outside a high school homecoming dance, authorities said.

As hundreds of students gathered in the school gym, outside in a dimly lit alley where the victim was allegedly raped, police say witnesses took photos. Others laughed.

“As people announced over time that this was going on, more people came to see, and some actually participated,” Lt. Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police Department told CNN.

The witnesses failed to report the crime to law enforcement, Gagan said. The victim remained hospitalized in stable condition. Police arrested five suspects and more arrests were expected.

So why didn’t anyone come forward?

How? How do you do it? How do you watch? How do you laugh? How do you take pictures? How do you announce it and invite others to come and see?

Yeah. I’ve heard of the “bystander effect.”

The term bystander effect refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses.

There are two major factors that contribute to the bystander effect. First, the presence of other people creates a diffusion of responsibility. Because there are other observers, individuals do not feel as much pressure to take action, since the responsibility to take action is thought to be shared among all of those present.

The second reason is the need to behave in correct and socially acceptable ways. When other observers fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate. Other researchers have found that onlookers are less likely to intervene if the situation is ambiguous(2). In the case of Kitty Genovese, many of the 38 witnesses reported that they believed that they were witnessing a “lover’s quarrel,” and did not realize that the young woman was actually being murdered.

But the bystander effect, in my view, doesn’t excuse anything. And, no, I don’t care why the victim was there. I don’t care what the victim was doing, wearing, etc. I’m working from the assumption that this 15-year-old girl shouldn’t have been raped and didn’t deserve to be raped. If anyone cares to argue the contrary, be my guest. The fault here lies not with the victim but with the rapists, the people who helped the rape happen and — if you ask me — the people who did simply did nothing to stop it from happening right in front of them.

The story immediately reminded me of this graphic rape scene from the Jodie Foster/Kelly McGillis flick The Accused.

The movie is based on an actual story of the actual gang-rape of Cheryl Ann Araujo — by 23 men, on a pool table in bar, while other patrons watched but did not interfere, and still others cheered on the rape. Unlike the movie, none of the onlookers who cheered on the men who raped Araujo were ever charged. And now it’s questionable whether those who witnessed the rape of this 15-year-old will face any kind of justice.

I don’t know if they will face legal consequences, but those who laughed, took pictures, and encouraged others to watch are complicit and culpable in this crime. Or at least they should be, if only because any one of them at any moment could have stopped what was happening, by going to get help from one of the adults apparently present at activities elsewhere in the school. Or they could have gotten help by quietly walking out and using their cellphone to call the police instead of taking pictures.

I almost think that even if they can’t be charged or prosecuted, they should face some kind of justice in the community. Were it my daughter or sister who’d been raped, I’d make it my business to identify as many people as I could who were there watching it happen. I’d find their names, and pictures of them if I could, and publish them. I’d post them online, and post flyers all over the neighborhood with a message that read, “____________ watched a 15-year-old girl get gang-raped for more than two hours while people laughed and made comments, and did nothing to stop it. Ask him why. Ask him if he’d do the same if your mother, your sister, or you were raped right in front of him.” And if so much as a single picture or even a second of video of the rape up on the web, I’d hope there’s some way of charging and prosecuting them. Even if it’s only up for a second, and only 1 person saw it.

I just do not understand how people can simply stand and watch and not even offer to help.

One morning when I stepped off the Metro station elevator on my way to work, I almost stepped into a puddle of blood. My eyes followed the puddle to its source; a woman sitting on the floor of the station, with blood pouring from a gash in her knee that I guessed she’d gotten from falling on the escalator. Standing over her was a woman who was applying pressure to the knee with both hands to stop the bleeding. Judging from the identical name badges they were, the two women were probably part of what appeared to be a group of conference attendees, some of whom were huddled a few feet away from the two women.

Even though I had a train to catch, I slowed down and my hand immediately went to my cell phone, as I asked if there was anything I could do to help. Maybe it’s the Boy Scout in me, but I couldn’t walk by that scene without offering to do something, even though I’d likely miss the train and have to wait for the next one. I wasn’t the only one eiher. Several other commuters did the same thing. The woman applying pressure said that 911 had already been called, paramedics would be there shortly, and that everything was under control.

Slowly, those of us who’d stopped to offer some help moved on with her reassurances. My guess is that not stopping to see if help was needed was as unthinkable to us. The same can’t be said of the people who stepped over a stabbing victim, so they could make their purchases and be on their way.

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As stabbing victim LaShanda Calloway lay bleeding on the floor of a convenience store at 25th North and Hillside, no fewer than five store patrons stepped over her to complete purchases — and at least one took cell phone pictures of her — before bothering to call 911, police said.

Police have been told that some of those photos landed on the Internet.

“It’s on the video,” said Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams. “She laid on the floor while people continued to do their shopping. They’re taking photographs. That’s our frustration. They didn’t call immediately. If people would have been calling us, who knows what the outcome might have been.”

Calloway, who was stabbed after an altercation June 23, eventually died at a hospital from her injuries.

…The video showed the 27-year-old Calloway struggling to her feet and collapsing three times without anyone helping her.

Worse, one woman who stepped over Calloway four times while shopping eventually paused to snap a photo of her with a cell phone.

And now, police are trying to track down photos of a dying Calloway that someone told them had been posted on the Internet.

“This is just appalling,” Williams said. “I could continue shopping and not render aid and then take time out to take a picture? That’s crazy. What happened to our respect for life?”

I think it goes deeper than a respect for life. I think it points to a diminished capacity for empathy that affects our entire culture, such that it become a liability and even a joke. Bill Clinton may have “felt our pain,” but years later that ethos and what it represents has become a joke to be printed on t-shirt and coffee mugs, as much as the goings on at Guantanomo Bay under the current administration have launched a similar line of Club Gitmo merchandise.

Last week it was a Texas mob that killed a man when he tried to stop them from killing a driver who’d just hit a child and then got out of the car to see if the child was hurt.

This week it’s convenience store customers stepping over a dying woman to make their purchases, while stopping long enough to take cell phone pictures they’d later post on the internet.

What will it be next week? Next month? Next year?

Perhaps the better question is this. What will we have become by then?

And spare me the anything about the background of the onlookers, the violence in their community, or the conditions in which they live and learn. I have the same reaction to this that Ta-nehisi Coates and The CPL had to the murder of Derrion Albert.

Compassion has its limits.

I am aware of all the socio-economic forces at work they make black communities more subject to violence. I’m in all for trying to ameliorate those forces. In the meantime, I’m all for doing whatever it takes to protect the rest of us–particularly young black kids–from hooliganism.

I can’t ever say this enough–there’s nothing inconsistent about trying to understand the broad societal forces, and still holding people responsible for individual action. Being black and poor sucks. But most poor black kids aren’t out smacking innocent bystanders with 2x4s.

If all is as it appears for these kids who were arrested, then heaven help them, because we can not. Compassion–like all resources–has limits. It’s worth spending some time on what makes young boys do these sorts of things. It’s worth at least as much time to try and protect young boys who are just trying to live right. I know from personal experience that there are more of the latter than the former. Don’t ever forget that.

There are, or should be, consequences and repercussions for heinous acts and choosing to do nothing.

There used to be consequences and repercussions for doing bad shyt. It could range from threatening the President of the United States to something inconsequential as not paying outstanding parking tickets.

But if there was an offense, there were consequences and repercussions. People were held accountable for the shyt they did. And people KNEW there was a price to be paid for doing bad shyt.

But in post-George Bush’s America, there is no consequences or repercussions. Hell, no one is even called to give an account of doing FUBARed shyt.

An honor student is killed in lynch mob-style fashion by some kids who were nothing more than stains on society. I don’t want to hear how we should understand that they’re growing up in poverty, with one parent, or their mother is only 15 years older than these test-tube babies. If you can beat a child to death in the street, and you’re doing it right along side of your mutant rug rats, all of you need to go to jail. Do not pass “GO” and don’t collect your $200 dollars.

The twenty-odd people who stood there and watched a 2+ hour gang-rape are not merely bystanders, they are spectators to a culture of cruelty that threatens to overcome our better selves.

Under the Bush administration, a seeping, sometimes galloping, authoritarianism began to reach into every vestige of the culture, giving free rein to those anti-democratic forces in which religious, market, military and political fundamentalism thrived, casting an ominous shadow over the fate of United States democracy. During the Bush-Cheney regime, power became an instrument of retribution and punishment was connected to and fueled by a repressive state. A bullying rhetoric of war, a ruthless consolidation of economic forces, and an all-embracing free-market apparatus and media driven pedagogy of fear supported and sustained a distinct culture of cruelty and inequality in the United States. In pointing to a culture of cruelty, I am not employing a form of left moralism that collapses matters of power and politics into the discourse of character. On the contrary, I think the notion of a culture of cruelty is useful in thinking through the convergence of everyday life and politics, of considering material relations of power – the disciplining of the body as an object of control – on the one hand, and the production of cultural meaning, especially the co-optation of popular culture to sanction official violence, on the other. The culture of cruelty is important for thinking through how life and death now converge in ways that fundamentally transform how we understand and imagine politics in the current historical moment – a moment when the most vital of safety nets, health care reform, is being undermined by right-wing ideologues. What is it about a culture of cruelty that provides the conditions for many Americans to believe that government is the enemy of health care reform and health care reform should be turned over to corporate and market-driven interests, further depriving millions of an essential right?

Increasingly, many individuals and groups now find themselves living in a society that measures the worth of human life in terms of cost-benefit analyzes. The central issue of life and politics is no longer about working to get ahead, but struggling simply to survive. And many groups, who are considered marginal because they are poor, unemployed, people of color, elderly or young, have not just been excluded from “the American dream,” but have become utterly redundant and disposable, waste products of a society that not longer considers them of any value. How else to explain the zealousness in which social safety nets have been dismantled, the transition from welfare to workfare (offering little job training programs and no child care), and recent acrimony over health care reform’s public option? What accounts for the passage of laws that criminalize the behavior of the 1.2 million homeless in the United States, often defining sleeping, sitting, soliciting, lying down or loitering in public places as a criminal offence rather than a behavior in need of compassionate good will and public assistance? Or, for that matter, the expulsions, suspensions, segregation, class discrimination and racism in the public schools as well as the more severe beatings, broken bones and damaged lives endured by young people in the juvenile justice system? Within these politics, largely fueled by market fundamentalism – one that substitutes the power of the social state with the power of the corporate state and only values wealth, money and consumers – there is a ruthless and hidden dimension of cruelty, one in which the powers of life and death are increasingly determined by punishing apparatuses, such as the criminal justice system for poor people of color and/or market forces that increasingly decide who may live and who may die.

…The celebration of hyper-violence, moral sadism and torture travels easily from fiction to real life with the emergence in the past few years of a proliferation of “bum fight” videos on the Internet, “shot by young men and boys who are seen beating the homeless or who pay transients a few dollars to fight each other.” [15] The culture of cruelty mimics cinematic violence as the agents of abuse both indulge in actual forms of violence and then further celebrate the barbarity by posting it on the web, mimicking the desire for fame and recognition, while voyeuristically consuming their own violent cultural productions. The National Coalition for the Homeless claims that “On YouTube in July 2009, people have posted 85,900 videos with ‘bum’ in the title [and] 5,690 videos can be found with the title ‘bum fight,’ representing … an increase of 1,460 videos since April 2008.” [16] Rather than problematize violence, popular culture increasingly normalizes it, often in ways that border on criminal intent. For instance, a recent issue of Maxim, a popular men’s magazine, included “a blurb titled ‘Hunt the Homeless’ [focusing on] a coming ‘hobo convention’ in Iowa and says ‘Kill one for fun. We’re 87 percent sure it’s legal.'” [17] In this context, violence is not simply being transformed into an utterly distasteful form of adolescent entertainment or spectacularized to attract readers and boost profits, it becomes a powerful pedagogical force in the culture of cruelty by both aligning itself and becoming complicit with the very real surge of violence against the homeless, often committed by young men and teenage boys looking for a thrill. Spurred on by the ever reassuring presence of violence and dehumanization in the wider culture, these young “thrill offenders” now search out the homeless and “punch, kick, shoot or set afire people living on the streets, frequently killing them, simply for the sport of it, their victims all but invisible to society.” [19] All of these elements of popular culture speak stylishly and sadistically to new ways in which to maximize the pleasure of violence, giving it its hip (if fascist) edginess.

…The ideology of hardness and cruelty runs through American culture like an electric current, sapping the strength of social relations and individual character, moral compassion and collective action, offering up crimes against humanity that become fodder for video games and spectacularized media infotainment, and constructing a culture of cruelty that promotes a “symbiosis of suffering and spectacle.”

If these young people were and are victims of this culture of cruelty, there also came a moment — at least one moment — when they became spectators. There was at least one moment when they stopped being bystanders who merely stood and watched, to spectators whose words and actions — from making jokes and snapping pictures, to inviting others to come watch and doing everything but selling tickets. — fueled the actions of the participants, thus ensuring that (to quote a line from The Accused) that this young woman “was raped, and raped, and raped, and raped.”

At some point the bystanders become spectators, and the spectators comprise an audience that perpetuates the “performance.” That’s what these 20 or so young people became when no one attempted to ring down the curtain on the “show” of a young woman’s rape.

At some point we have to realize that doing nothing is a choice. It means choosing to let the status quo stand. Doing nothing to help a stabbing victims whose bleeding to death means choosing to let that person die. Doing nothing to stop a rape — and I’m not talking heroically taking on a whole crowd of rapists and spectators, but simply stepping out of the scene and calling the police or other authorities who can stop it — means choosing to let that rape happen, and happen, and happen, and happen.

Because you don’t just watch a rape. You choose it, by choosing to let it happen, and happen, and happen, and happen. And in the course, you’re choosing who or what you will become.

The kicker—when the brutal gang rape of a 15-year-old girl in nearby Richmond CA. happens it feels like you are getting a glimpse into the near future of ordinary human behavior in America.

Like Derrion Albert’s murder caught on tape Chicago Ill. – elements of our young people are so desensitized that senseless violence can happen in front of their faces and they’ll watch it like a video game – actively participate in the violence and simultaneously document it.

I have a feeling that years from now I’ll look back and point at this week as the week things started to fall apart in the Bay Area.

If the young people who watched that rape happen, and happen, and happen, and happen didn’t know that. They need to, if it’s not too late.

And the rest of us, too, need to ask ourselves: “What are we choosing to be spectators of?” And in so choosing, what are we choosing to let happen, and happen, and happen, and happen? What are we choosing to become?

Update: I’m catching up on my reading, and apparently some of the spectators ended up participating in the rape.

It occurs to me now that this isn’t necessarily something we’ve just become, but an ugliness that is a part of our humanity, and which bubbles or explodes to the surface. It knows no limitations of race, religion, etc.

It exploded to the surface one morning in Jamaica, when a transgender person was essentially lynched for the crime of … waiting for the bus.

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(The victim, here, survived the beating, whisked away by police once the mob dispersed, and admitted to the hospital. But the lynch mob, unsatisfied, followed him to the hospital and waited outside the hospital. They wanted to beat him again.)

It oozed to the surface in Oakland, CA, when a crowd attacked a young woman who allegedly “snitched” on a couple of criminals.

(She, too, survived the ordeal.)

It bubbled to the surface of our humanity during the “lynching era” in this country, before the advent of mobile phones and digital cameras, When lynchings were public events that people came from miles around to witness. As noted in Without Sanctuary, a macabre practice of collecting “souvenirs” of these events developed.

The collecting of souvenirs wasn’t limited to picture post cards either. It extended to the very body of the victim.

On 2 April 1899, approximately two thousand white men, women, and children participated, as both witnesses and active agents, in the murder of Sam Hose in Newman, Georgia. Sam Hose was burned alive. In the final moments of his life, the assembled crowd descended upon his body and collected various parts of it as souvenirs. The Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican recounted the scene of Hose’s dismemberment in the following manner:

Before the torch was applied to the pyre, the negro was deprived of his ears, fingers and genital parts of his body. He pleaded pitifully for his life while the mutilation was going on, but stood the ordeal of fire with surprising fortitude. Before the body was cool, it was cut to pieces, the bones were crushed into small bits, and even the tree upon which the wretch met his fate was torn up and disposed of as “souvenirs.” The negro’s heart was cut into several pieces, as was also his liver. Those unable to obtain ghastly relics direct paid their more fortunate possessors extravagant sums for them. Small pieces of bones went for 25 cents, and a bit of liver crisply cooked sold for 10 cents.[1]

Seven months later in December 1899, the New York World, in an article entitled “Roasted Alive,” reported on the similar fate of Richard Coleman in Maysville, Kentucky, before a crowd of “thousands of men and hundreds of women and children.” The article noted that “Long after most of the mob went away little children from six to ten years of age carried dried grass and kindling wood and kept the fire burning all during the afternoon.”[2] It also revealed that “Relic-hunters visited the scene and carried away pieces of flesh and the negro’s teeth. Others got pieces of fingers and toes and proudly exhibit the ghastly souvenirs to-night.”[3] In a 27 February 1901 Chicago Record article on the hanging and burning of George Ward before a crowd of four thousand people in Terre Haute, Indiana, the newspaper gave the following account of the scene of Ward’s murder:

When the crowd near the fire tired of renewing it after two hours, it was seen that the victim’s feet were not burned. Someone called an offer of a dollar for one of the toes and a boy quickly took out his knife and cut off a toe. The offer was followed by others, and the horrible traffic was continued, youths holding up toes and asking for bids.[4]

Fire in a Canebrake, — an account of the “last mass lynching in the U.S.,” at Moore’s Ford Bridge, near Monroe Georgia, in which Roger and Dorothy Malcolm and George and Mae Murray Dorsey were murdered and their bodies mutilated — tells of people picking through the weeds, grass, etc., to search for souvenirs of the victims bodies which had been virtually torn apart by gunfire.

So, now it’s bubbled back up in California. Probably no one will write a book about it, but my guess is that someday the “pics” and videos of such acts will be categorized along with those above.

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