Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

December 7, 2007

Teens Attack Woman on Bus, Hate Crime?

Filed under: culture, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 11:28 am

Nine black teenagers (6 male, 3 female) attacked a 26 year-old white woman on a Baltimore City bus.  The victim was beaten up quite badly with two broken bones in her left eye socket and suffered from some deep cuts.  What was the offense that allegedly set off the teens?  The woman took a seat where the teens told her not to.

If true, this type of marking and defending of territory is a common thread in gang related violence.  The mental attitude tends to be: I’m not king of much, but I’m in charge of this.  Did race play a factor?  Yes.  The black teens may have been more affronted by their perceived stereotypes about white people and her demonstrable outsider status.  Secondly, her attitude could have played a significant role in the cultural misunderstanding.  The victim’s taking a seat was a direct challenge to the teens’ territorial claims.  The victim, however, felt every right to take a seat on the bus.

As a matter of law, there is no claim over bus seats that the teens could assert.  They felt there should be, as a way of feeling they had some power over something in their lives.

In order to qualify for the spirit of being a hate crime, the crime had to have been committed with the intent of terrorizing a community of people.  The goal of the crime was to terrorize people, however it probably wasn’t directed exclusively towards a certain segment of the community.  The teens probably would have attacked anyone they perceived as an outsider, and that might have included other black people.  So, it is definitely in a gray area as far as a hate crime is concerned, because the race and gender probably played a role, but were not the driving reasons for the attack.

The larger challenge that we face as a society is how do we empower black teens in such a way they no longer feel the need to stake out and defend territory in order to feel important without apologizing or excusing these horrible incidents or endorsing the culture that these attitudes come from.  These teens represent a failure and they should be punished for their vicious crime.  However, the question we must ask ourselves as a society is: what we can do to stop a tragedy like this from happening in the future?  I don’t think the answer is just to get “tougher” on the crime.  The jail time might represent some sort of badge of courage to them.  It would just serve as further proof of how far they were willing to go to establish their power, and thus counter-productive in fighting the problem.  Furthermore, jail is unlikely to improve their circumstances in life or make them a better person.  We have to change the circumstances and environment in which these attitudes develop, hopefully in a constructive way.  I think it starts with giving people the ability to improve their communities and having people from the community actively participate in making them better.  Any actual improvement must come from within, but as a country we can facilitate and give them the tools in order to be successful.

That said, it is equally important that we don’t apologize for the bad behavior.  The goal is to eliminate it, not encourage it.  Equally, condemnation by itself is not enough.  It would be shameful to look at this incident without considering the larger race implications involved and what it says about us as a society.  It would just be one more tragedy that fell on deaf ears; a sign of trouble that we were unwilling to honestly address which sets the stage for similar incidents to happen in the future.

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