What to do about Richmond?


I live in Richmond, California. Yes, that Richmond. The Richmond that often finds itself in the news as a gang-infested hell-hole. It’s not all that unusual to read about a spate of four or five shootings over the course of a night or two. Hell, a couple of years ago it got so bad that there was talk of bringing in the National Guard as a back-up.  When many people think of Richmond the words that may spring to mind are “violence”, “poverty”, “gangs”,  and, my favorite, “the armpit of the Bay Area.”   And now, you can add to that list “gang rape.”

That’s not the Richmond I live in.  Like many of us who live in nice neighborhoods in sketchy cities, we identify ourselves by our neighborhood.  So, when people ask where I live, I don’t say Richmond, I say Point Richmond just as others may say they live in The Marina, or the Richmond Hills.  When I say Point Richmond, the words that spring to mind are “quaint”, “historical”,  or “nice”.  Yet, here in quaint, historical, nice, Point Richmond, we are less than a mile away from the Iron Triangle and North Richmond, the poorest and most violent neighborhoods around.  And Richmond High, the sight of that horrendous gang rape is only three miles away.

My first reaction to the news of that gang rape was incredible sadness.  Sad for the victim of such depraved, animalistic violence, and sad for my city that will once again be dragged through mud as a place that breeds young men with no sense of right and wrong, no remorse, and whose basest instincts are given free reign.  And yet I also feel sad for those young men who perpetrated this crime. No one wants to grow up to be a monster. No young child says “when I grow up I want to spend most of my life in and out of prison.” Yet, this is the life they, their parents, their community, and their culture have created for them.  Of course, they deserved to be punished severely. But, how will that change things?  Yes, the community will be safe, for a while, from this particular group of young men.  And yes, patrols will probably be increased in that area and new lighting installed. All of that is good and long needed.

But, what about the deeper issues?  Is there a whole generation of young men in our midst who have no capacity for empathy or compassion?  How do we keep our girls safe, self-assured and strong in a culture where that simply isn’t a priority?   How do you instill a respect for living beings and life itself, when clearly, too many see life as cheap, for others and for themselves?

I want to help, yet I am at a loss as how I can.  I am not a parent, a social worker, a community activist, or a civic leader.  I am simply a citizen of Richmond, California, saddened and horrified at an unspeakably inhumane crime, and what it says about our young men , our city, and the culture that has created them.

16 responses »

  1. As I write this response, I am sitting amidst a large group of men, many of whom could be called “repeat offenders.”

    One of the sadest parts of this cycle, is their children. I hear over and over again, “We have kids because we love each other.” Yet as an outsider looking in, I see a person who didn’t care about their kids when they were out getting high, at 3 in the morning, and carying a gun.

    As soon as they arrive here, they suddenly remember their priorities. But again, as an outsider looking in, it seems mostly their priorties only make the list if they benifit them somehow, a completely selfish list of what is important and what isn’t.

    These are the types of people thse children grow up around. The children learn skewed value systems, and in turn they grow up dependant on a system they blame as the reason of their standing in life.

    It saddens me to say this, but better lighting won’t help. Increased patrols will only last so long when law enforcement is constantly understaffed and economic trouble make it tough to fund an operation like that.

    Is there an answer? Perhaps, but I don’t know what it is. For now, I simply have to sit and watch large groups of grown men while their children are out there, somewhere, with no one responsible to watch over them and care for them.

    Its no wonder they get into trouble.

  2. When I heard about this story, I was sickened. It was so violent, horrifying, barbaric.

    I don’t feel sorry for the men involved. I don’t care about the context or their justifications.

    This act of bullying and torture was a choice, and if I were deciding their fates, the compassionate option would be ending each and every one of them.

    Guess I’m just as bad as the Texans when it comes to such a case.

  3. Adam’s comment is intriguing to me but no matter how many ways I hear, “but it was their upbringing that pushed them to this life of crime” can I ever bring myself to think it gives a perpetrator the right to receive compassion from any person or the justice system… particularly when the crime is so vicious and heinous.

    The Buddhist in me wants to have compassion though. However, the teachings of compassion are hard to keep in my head when I think of what that young girl, who is the same age as my daughter, went through for two and a half hours.

    And bad or not, the Texan in me says we should do society a favor, strap those sorry bastards to Ol’ Sparky and let that girl be the one to flip the switch.

    If I were her I’d turn it on and off for two and a half hours.

  4. After posting my response to this, I later found I wasn’t quite finished, and Julian’s comment has me posting a continuance.

    I should be clear, I don’t believe in any way, shape or fashion, there is an excuse for such a depraved act. I also believe these people should get what they deserve (however I won’t go into details about that, as I believe it should rather severe).

    Most of my thoughts were revolving around the circumstances of youth today. Criminal street gangs, lack of education (usually by their own choice, as one can plainly see by the rate of dropouts from schools increases at alarming rates, and even more so in poverty stricken areas) are just a couple of examples.

    In the end, though, every person should have in there souls capacity to know simple rights from wrongs. This is one of those cases that should be a given.

    Given this simple, and what should be a natural ability to know the difference, they have no excuse. None at all.

  5. Quick thought:

    I, also, in no way “feel sorry” for the perpetrators of this horrendous crime. No one, no matter how wretched their upbringing was, has any right to take it out on another living being.

    What I said was that I “feel sad” for the perpetrators. I think the difference between feeling sad and feeling sorry is the difference between compassion and pity – two very different minds, the latter often being mistaken for the former.

    No matter how awful someone turns out to be, at one time they were a child, an innocent child, with all the potential in the world. But, then as they grow up through life circumstances, personal choices and their environment, all that innocence and potential gets very, very sick and twisted. I personally find this sad. But, all of us, no matter what our circumstances need to be held accountable for our actions.

  6. I think the best thing you can do is exactly what you are doing, i.e. remaining a decent human being and remaining in Richmond. The worse thing that could happen would be for all the ‘good’ people to decide that the place was going to the dogs and leave.

    That never helps, but its understandable.

  7. yeah ~ nice distinction LB on the ‘feeling sorry for’ point too often confused with compassion. The best thing we lazy buddhists can pray for is that summa these fowks (n 4 me itz Specially the wonz that stood around and cheered) have sum deep heartfelt regret someday = then maybe sum thin positive could come outta this horrendous mess.

  8. just thawt this wuz werth sayin agin

    “No one, no matter how wretched their upbringing was, has any right to take it out on another living being. ”

    nice won LB

  9. LB
    You may consider yourself a Lazy Buddhist but your thoughts are of Right Mind and Right Action.
    We need compassion for everybody involved in this situation. What happened will affect them all in some way for many years to come. That is very sad. The victims ability to release themselves of this horrible burden and to heal from these deepest wounds and suffering will depend on their ability to forgive. Only then can they move forward.

  10. I read this the other day and have been thinking about it off and on. I was not familiar with the case so I went searching for it and found the ABC 7 reports of it and some newspaper stories. Horrible, horrible crime. Yet I do understand what you mean about feeling sad for the perpetrators. It is a situation, the large picture anyway, that was not created by any of the individuals involved. You’re right. The community, their parents and other generations before them, and a whole host of others are largely responsible for what happened that night.

    In the end, it is the community that has to stand up and say “No More!” It is the community that has to stand up and ask, “What can we do to change things?” And it is the community that has to get together and move those in power to change things. It is the community that has the power.

    It’s time for the community to get mad as hell and do something about it.

  11. Okay, here’s my two cents worth.

    I lived in a town like that. In fact, I was born in a town like that, but to the power of ten. To the power of a hundred, actually. And I left in the end. And did not look back.

    All I can say is, if these things do not help to deepen your renunciation than nothing is likely to.

    Perhaps you do not accept the Buddhist view (what they call correct view): recognising that we are in Samsara, and that this type of suffering is pervasive, perpetual, cyclic. And that the only solution to this is to get out. And the only way to do that is to attain enlightenment.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to preach. As I said, in the end I left Johannesburg knowing full well that I wasn’t capable of saving the world, that society, or even the people in my immediate circle. It was so much bigger than me. In fact, I wasn’t even in control of my own deluded behaviour.

    In short, my point is this: no mundane action you undertake in Richmond is likely to make much difference in the long term for any of the beings involved. While I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get involved in trying to help out, honestly, the most effective thing you could probably do to help improve the situation is to meditate on a daily basis.

  12. Everything you write about here, and the comments, too, seem symptomatic to me of the wrong direction we took 3 decades ago, becoming a more selfish, less-caring nation.

    I know it’s not as easy as “Reagonomics,” or the emptying of mental wards out onto the streets, or the glorification of Wall Street.

    Greed existed before, and compassion continues. But that turn, to Reagan, seems a watershed moment, and we are still tumbling in the wrong direction.

    More than anything, I feel for the girl. I hope good people are there for her.

  13. itz all true and eye dunt beleaf any ovit. Mundane actions are just mundane if they come from a monday mind ~ but sum body finally called the mun dane cops and that wuz weigh over due.

    No short term fixes for pervasive suffering ~ but every little bit of positive action helps and ifin itz done with the write motor vayshun thenit aint mundane

  14. Dependz, az u say, on tha motor vayshun. But if there’s no renun see ayshun, than itz mundayn, no matt her how gud that in tent shun.

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