Lately there been a lot of discussion about, violence and sexual assault against women, and the rape-culture, in many of the circles of people that I talk to regularly. Yesterday, with the verdict and aftermath in the Steubennsville case, and given some of the discussion that had taken place at a gathering I attended, these issues were prevalent in my thoughts when I witnessed an incident in downtown Oakland in the 16th and Broadway area.
I was walking on Broadway, when I heard a bunch of yelling down the street about two blocks away. I turned around to go check it out, and could see a group of young kids, black, consisting of two girls and two boys. They could have been friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, to each other. The two girls were taller than either of the boys, and were wearing tight shirts, and tight shorts. The boys were short and funny looking, imo, and may have been quite young. One of the boys was aggressively grabbing and pushing/shoving one of the girls, and she was the one yelling. She broke free and ran up the street, yelling “get the fuck away from me” etc.. A couple of white people hurried to their cars, the other adults around disappeared. …I am someone who will intervene in public wackiness from time to time, especially when it seems like I am the only one who will, or the one who has to initiate the intervention to get others to join. This was looking like one of those times. I felt like I may be about to need to handle it on my own, and assessed whether or not the kids were armed which I thought/hoped not. My adrenalin rushed up..I knew I could easily squish the boys, either or both, if needed.
At the same time though, as the girl was running, she was smiling, or so it appeared, and when he caught up to her, he at first put his arm around her as if he was her boyfriend, and she seemed ok with that, ….possibly. Slightly confused, I got as close as I could to them from across the street, and followed them up towards 14th. They saw me, and the boy seemed to chill out. Then when they crossed the street, he suddenly pushed the girl into one of those dark stairways by the café and the Plaza. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I could hear the girl yelling again. At this point I ran in that direction and started yelling. “you better get off her” , :” stop that shit now”…and then I told them I would call the cops…Which I really wouldn’t have done, because I would have gone over and physically intervened before doing that…but I also knew that threatening to call the cops is the easiest way to break up a situation. That seemed to get his attention, and the aggressiveness stopped, but as they walked away I wondered what would happen next, and if anything had really been averted.
I also observed my own rage, and my desire to exact punishment on the boy, possibly heightened by the fact that I have a teenage daughter who spends a lot of time in that area of town. I felt a little sickened by my thoughts of doing great harm to some little teenager. Isn’t that what these out of control, power tripping cops do? I also tripped off my instinct to threaten to call the police. Even if I wouldn’t have actually done it, I felt weird about using the threat of the state, when I know that the incarceration complex does nothing but exacerbate issues like rape and violence in the long run. In fact prison is a place where rape culture is fostered, and spread back throughout our society. And what would the cops have done, if they even showed up?
Regular folks gotta handle business sometimes ,(or maybe all the time), and I felt like I maybe should have done more , like followed them, or continued to yell and maybe scare the kid. I soon recognized ,with sadness, what all of us feel when we look at the state of things…that there wasn’t much I , alone, could do about the incident at hand, or the overall situation at this point. Bad shit is happening everywhere on the regular, and I ain’t no super hero.
The one thing that I felt like I might have accomplished was to demonstrate to the kids, and to the other adults who were around, that some folks would at least speak up if they saw something disturbing. I felt like the kids weren’t getting much of that in their lives. Not that this type of behavior is limited to poor kids, with little parental discipline ,in the hood. This violent, controlling, and plain psychotic behavior happens on all levels, and with even far more skewed power dynamics than what I witnessed. Of course I didn’t really know what the situation was there. As bad as we can imagine, sometimes reality is even worse, …but hopefully it’s better… Afterwards a black woman in a wheelchair came up to me, and asked me what was going on, …I said,”I’m not sure, but I don’t like it”. ,,To which she replied ..“Yeah me neither…if they gotta do that stuff, take it inside at least..” ….aargh!
Which led me some of my own less politically correct thoughts that I had during ,and after the incident. For one thing, I felt like the girls were dressed in manner that gave me concern, even though I definitely believe that clothing or lack thereof never gives a man any reason to rape or assault a woman. I still felt like they were dressed in a way that was possibly dangerous ,and even looked like they could have been emulating what a sex worker would wear. I wondered what would happen if an older guy, with a car, and money, and a more refined game, came up on these girls. Would they have resisted. That to me was possibly a more dangerous scenario than what I saw on the street. I felt bad for thinking like this, but real talk is real talk… In other times and places beautiful women,and men walked about naked, or nearly, and this was never an issue. I know that it is an issue of culture, or lack there of, but dang, the most vulnerable girls amongst us need protection more than the right to run wild in the streets of America. This is an exceptionally dangerous place. Especially for young, women of color.
I also have to say that part of me felt a little bad for the young, abusive boy, and even for the rapists in Steubbensville. People like them are lost with no clue, and little wisdom to draw from. I do feel like they are victims of this culture, and of people not being willing to say, or do anything real. Something must have gone profoundly wrong long before any of these kids could do much about it. Unfortunately,thousands or even millions of their clueless american male,drone clones wandering in our midst, spreading sorrow and suffering. I am thankful for the guidance ,and good breaks I received as a kid, and I acknowledge that I am not blameless, or free of sexism and abusive mentalities. This is part of the illness of America. We are all afflicted. So to me, even more outrageous, or telling, than the sympathy displayed to the boys in the media, is the unwillingness for any of the mainstream to acknowledge the sickness of a culture that reproduces this type of behavior consistently. They are the creators of the morals of this society. Own up!
The young men of this culture whose potential are wasted , or stunted, and who do dumb, hateful things that cause destruction, mostly are also victims imo (as we all are to some degree)…This is a sick, depraved place in many ways….however I am also not convinced that someone who does something as a heartless and methodical as what happens in Steubbensville has the ability to be rehabilitated. I just don’t know if you can slide that far and recover. At least not with the tools this society uses to heal our psychosis. At the same time, incarcerating a bunch of men after they have committed terrible acts does not stop the rape-culture, it merely makes false dichotomy of guilty and innocent. As long as you have not been found guilty in a court of law, then your actions are acceptable. which doesn’t teach us any kind of morality, and the courts are rife with good old boy plantation era bias. I think it is clear that traditional law enforcement strategies will not keep women and girls safe in this country. At least not ones with little social clout. This is about our culture, and morality, and the value of love and kindness in our reality. If we find ourselves lacking, then we need to change.
Anyhow, some thoughts on a subject that seems to be on a lot of people’s minds. Lot’s of folks have weighed in lately, and now we look for some solutions. millenniums in the makings maybe, but better late than never. I think there is something that can be done, but I am not sure what. Probably around groups of folks, especially men, going out and having real conversations in the community about these issues, and creating the possibility for a different standard of behavior.