Finding the Compassion to Counteract Mob Violence | Not in Our Town

Finding the Compassion to Counteract Mob Violence


Editor's Note: Like many around the nation, Not In Our Town was shocked and saddened to hear about the horrific gang rape of a 15-year-old girl in Richmond, a town close to our office in Oakand.  We received this thoughtful piece by the Reverend Brian Stein-Webber at exactly the right moment, and we wanted to share it with the wider NIOT community.  Rev. Stein-Webber eloquently expresses the shock and pain that we feel when our communities are rocked by such violence, and offers hope that we can work toward a better future. He is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa.
by Brian Stein-Webber
This is now the second time in a matter of months that Contra Costa County has been in the national news for distinctly unsavory reasons.  This time it is the heartbreaking gang rape of a 15-year-old student outside a Homecoming Dance in Richmond.  There has been a lot of talk about the monstrosity of those involved, how so many observed the situation but did not report it or try to stop it, but even texted their friends about it and video-taped the scene.  It is turning out to be a devastating narrative, and we can only imagine what will be the long-term effects, especially for the victim, but also for those who might spend decades of their lives in jail as result their "choices," and for the community that will need to pick up the pieces.
But I am brought home to hear some commentary and discussion about how those involved in the assault were not necessarily more heinous the average person.  The now infamous sociology experiment at Stanford University in which regular students were asked to simulate/live a prison-like situation, where half of the subjects were prisoners and the other half guards, uncovered the brutality that lies under the skin of most human beings.
As it turns out, it is indeed the exceptional person who can stand up against mob behavior, especially a mob that has already picked out a victim or a scapegoat.  The person who tries to side with the victim risks becoming victimized also.  That insight is probably shared, on some level, by all human beings.
Which is what makes mob behavior so powerful and so enormously frightening, in person, or when examined afterward in the bright light of day.  Just ask law enforcement officers responsible for stopping the drunken victory rallies for college football teams, rampaging through the towns of their alma maters.  Or the communities that have been historically targeted by lynch mobs.  Or the mayhem that occurs in the midst or wake of battling armies.
But if the power of human mobs is so great, what hope is there to counteract it?  Rene Girard, Stanford (again) emeritus professor, would suggest that it is the bringing to consciousness of these unconscious mechanisms, the willingness to recognize communal sacrifice for what it is, and the conscious pursuit of true virtues -- love, compassion, self-sacrifice, non-violence.  Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this.  Mahatma Gandhi knew that.  Our religious founders have known this.  You can't get rid of the one kind of behavior if you don't have something to take its place.
So the problems we are faced with in this recent terrible incident are not of new vintage.  They date back to the dawn of civilization.  We are simply buffeted by them because we might have expected civilization to have progressed beyond them.  We might be glad, if that's the word for it, that such events can shock us.  And we might rededicate ourselves once again toward creating a more mature, safer, more thoroughly spiritually-informed, world.
Richmond High School is accepting cards and donations for the victim and her family, which should be mailed to the school at 1250 23rd Street, Richmond, CA 94804-1011. Checks should be made out to the Richmond High Student Fund, with "For sex assault victim" written in the memo line.



Thank you for your thoughtful words, Reverend Stein-Weber.

Here's a story about how people--including the high school students are taking action.

Compassion is a virtue, one in which the emotional capacities of emphathy and symphathy are regarded as a cornerstoneof greater social interconnectedness and humanism equivalent to the highest principles in philosophy, society and personhood. <a href="">State of Compassion</a> at

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