(Originally published in The Lex Files at news-record.com, now no longer available.)
One of the issues raised during and after Tuesday night’s public meeting on the Guilford College assault case was reporting a crime: Who should do it, when, how; what the obligations of police are when a crime is reported, and so on.
First, the obligations of the police are pretty clear. And as I noted earlier, the obligations of the victim are just as clear, although the victim’s sense of urgency understandably might be mitigated by a more pressing need to, first, ensure survival.
No, it’s everyone else I want to ruminate on, and ultimately lecture, because I heard at least one thing that left me feeling pretty grumpy that I think I can talk about without giving anyone a case of the journalistic-ethics vapors.
At Guilford, we have a situation in which an unknown but apparently significant number of people witnessed a fight. In this fight, from all accounts, some people were hitting some other people in the head with something hard — brick, rock, construction rebar, I don’t know, but certainly nothing you could wash your face with.
As anyone who has seen such an assault in real life as opposed to just watching cartoon violence on TV knows, these things never end well. And yet, so far as is known, nobody called 911.
I heard some people say that the culture at Gulford College encourages people to try to deal internally with incidents. That’s not unique to Guilford, as I observed. But here’s a fact: We have institutions designed to deal with violent felonies. And here’s another fact: Private, Quaker-affiliated liberal-arts colleges are not among those institutions, no matter how qualified they might be for other missions. And, finally, here’s an opinion, a bit of an elaboration on what I said in the previous thread: If you see someone hit someone else in the head with something hard, you need to contact the type of institution designed to deal with that type of action. That means paramedics with an ambulance, because someone with a head wound can go from woozy but coherent to dead damn quick, and it means a cop with a gun, because someone who already has put a hole in someone’s head might well figure he has nothing left to lose.
In short, you need to call 911.
But I also heard something Tuesday night that requires a response, and that was the claim that some people might have been so traumatized by what they saw that they have not yet been able to report what they saw … to GPD or anyone else.
Mentally, at the time, I rejected that argument both as to its substance and to its implications. After a bit of
sleep reflection, I decided that, while that kind of PTSD certainly happens, it still doesn’t justify even temporary silence in the real world.
When you were growing up, you probably wanted to be an adult, and so you observed all the conventions and took all the steps that are part and parcel of trying out for the grownup team. And congratulations! You made the team. You’ve got the jersey. The coach knows your name.
But despite whatever you might have inferred or been told, being on the grownup team isn’t a sentence to 50 years of riding pine, even if that’s all you want.
With the rights of adulthood, you assume certain obligations. Some are spelled out in the law, like jury duty. Others are less tangibly defined, but no less important.
To continue the bad sports metaphor (the prerogative of every middle-aged man) and bring it into a Quaker context, as much as you might just want to ride the bench, sometimes the spirit, or Spirit, isn’t just going to move you, it is going to call your number, pat you on the butt and send you into the game.
If you were there on Jan. 20, you’re in the game, the ball has come your way, and I’m pretty sure the Spirit doesn’t want to hear you whine about it. I know I don’t.
Not to sound like a premature curmudgeon, but right now tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines your age in Iraq don’t care how traumatized you might be by what you might have seen, because they’re seeing worse. For that matter, many people your age are more badly traumatized by things they experience in this country every day than you were — they see homicides, suicides, wrecks, child abuse, spousal abuse, industrial accidents, you name it. Many of them never get over what they see. It’s awful. I get that. In many cases, there is nothing we can do to prevent experiencing such a thing; in no case is there any real way to prevent the horrible effects even witnessing the experience will have.
Having had a few such folks tell me their stories over the years, I ache for all of them. And believe it or not, I ache for you, too — IF you have stepped up and gotten in touch with the police, nagged them if you had to, and made sure they understood exactly what you saw, what you do and do not know about what happened on campus on the early morning of Jan. 20, and how they and prosecutors can get back in touch with you when and if necessary until this whole mess is laid out. It isn’t just whoever the victims of Jan. 20 were who are counting on you. It’s all of us.
Once you have taken that step, then by all means go get counseling or do whatever it is you need to do to mitigate the damage that your experience has done to you. I’m absolutely not being snarky now. Just, please, first go meet that minimum obligation of any grownup, even a newly minted one, who was there that night and saw what happened.
Now, you kids get off my lawn.