This morning I tweeted out a link to a depressing story from my neighborhood of a guy who got the crap beaten out of him by about 10 teenagers who seemed to be making a halfhearted effort to also steal his briefcase. I wanted to join Jamelle Bouie in expressing some annoyance at the kind of dopey liberalism of the victim’s reaction:
Thomas didn’t want his employer to be identified in the newspaper, for fear that the guilty parties might find it easier to track him down. But he did want to speak out — not to condemn his attackers but to call attention to whatever drove them to behave that way. “I don’t want to be angry with them,” Thomas said. “It just concerns me that their future is being taken away from them, by them, so early.”
He continued: “I’ve already got the bruises and stuff. I want to put a message out that we hear you. . . . We don’t want you to be out here robbing people and hurting people to displace your anger, or to feel that this is what you need to do to get food on the table, or to get the help and attention that you deserve, or to have a bond by attacking people together.”
I think it’s great to try to make efforts not to run around in life being angry, including at people who wronged you. But I think that taking this kind of attitude toward violent criminals ultimately sells people short.
When I read this story, I related to it. I myself suffered a random street assault over the summer, and it’s happened to plenty of other people who I know as well. But the flipside of this is that I’ve lived in DC for eight years and the number of times I’ve walked past poor young black dudes who didn’t punch me in the head for no reason clearly outweighs the one time that did happen. When people sort of vaguely gesture toward social problems as the root cause of sociopathic violence, they’re really erasing that vast majority of people who grow up in sometimes troubled situations and don’t respond by assaulting strangers. Erasing the line between people who are doing bad things and those who aren’t doesn’t really help anyone.