Trying to understand violence
Letter to the editor
The young man stabbed at the Riverside light rail station in late December is a friend of mine. The paramedics said if they’d arrived minutes later he would have died of blood loss. He spent a month recovering at his parents’ house.
A week after the attack he was still white as a sheet, even his fingernails were white like milk, because of having no blood. At the hospital they didn’t give him a blood transfusion, probably because of the potential risks, which aren’t necessary to take if a patient is healthy enough to make new blood cells on their own.
He works nearby. Well, he worked, past tense, nearby. And he liked taking the light rail at night because he thought it was poetic, melancholy, romantic, moody. He’s a dreamy sort of young man, an interesting person.
On the fateful night, a co-worker gave my friend, whom I will call John, a ride to the light rail. He walked up the steps to the platform and went to check the train schedule to see if he had to wait only a few minutes or a half hour—trains were sporadic at that time of night, around 11:30. There were four young people of varying races standing in a group, three teenage boys and a girl. John said he might have given them a longer glance than he would have if they’d been a group of men in suits but he wasn’t worried about them in the sense that he felt he had to avoid passing them. One ofthe kids, the one who later stabbed him, jumped out at him and “scared me shitless.” John looked at him as though to ask,” My God, what is this, are you going to attack me? This isn’t one bit funny.” John was already in a bad mood and walking in a cloud of gloom and fear from a death threat he had received from a customer at his job. He said that people had messed with him before, so “it wasn’t outside the realm of my experience.” But he was severely rattled. The attacker approached him and asked him when the train was coming. John told him “Look for yourself, are you blind?” At that point he noticed the knife. “I see you have a knife and I don’t wish to speak to you further, ” he told him. John was carrying a cup of coffee and the attacker knocked it out of his hand. A boy in the group of friends begged him to leave John alone. John called 911 on his cell phone and learned later that one of the two other people on the platform had also called 911. The attacker said to John in a mocking tone, “Oh, 911, please help me.” The 911 operator asked John the race of the attacker and John said he didn’t know. He was uncomfortable with the question. The operator asked him what he would guess and John said he thought Native American. Right then the attacker punched John in the eye and he fell down. Almost simultaneously he stabbed his hand and then somehow stabbed him in the back of the head. John stayed conscious the whole time but doesn’t really remember it. By this time he had dropped his phone and the attacker and friends had left. John found his phone and 911 was still on the line. John told them to send an ambulance. John said he felt like he was moving slowly and silently, going step by step, from one phase of the attack to the next, just trying not to bleed to death.
I guess it doesn’t really mean anything—Not that all people of one group are the same, etc. Believing that they are is what makes prejudice possible—but still, it seems ironic to me that the attacker was Native American and my friend, who is not Native American, has been interested since his teens in Native American history, culture and literature. He’s very compassionate about what it is to be Native American in this country—what it is to be tribal in a non-tribal society. “Bury my Heart at wounded Knee” radicalized him and from there he went on to read Indian writers Sherman Alexie, Vine Deloria Jr. (and Vine’s mother), Charles Eastman, Louise Erdrich and Zitkala Sa. He has visited the medicine wheel in the Big Horn Mountains, pueblos which have been occupied for centuries in the four corners region (New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Nevada), as well as what may or may not be Sitting Bull’s grave in South Dakota.
Lucky to be alive, John doesn’t believe he was meant to survive. He just did. Kind of a chaos theory interpretation. Likewise, he believes that the fact that he has healed completely from his wounds is pure chance, the luck of the draw. He has full use of his hand, and the orbital bone under his eye was replaced with a nylon bone that will keep his facial structure intact. The doctor said he was lucky he didn’t lose his eye. His skin is back to its normal color.
John’s conclusion about the attack is that violence is irrational. What happened that night was “ myriad factors that came together and spiraled into violence.” He was engulfed in negative energy when he arrived at the platform. He assumes the boy who attacked him was also engulfed in negative energy and that their energies converged, although he doesn’t believe that the boy with the knife’s reaction to his angry/scared comment was logical, nor does he believe the boy’s intent was evil—it was anger and not thought out. “He hadn’t been living with the intention of stabbing me. It was not an insidious plot over the long-term.”
Violence definitely doesn’t produce a win-win result. The attacker, a 17-year-old boy, is now in jail. Who knows what his life will be like? John has been left psychologically distraught and paranoid. As a kid he took Ritalin for attention deficit issues, but just last June, after going to school off and on for six years, managed to finish college without it. (Since he realized he can’t control his use of Ritalin and tends to abuse it, he’s had the gumption to cut it out altogether.) He says in general it’s hard to get things done without it or similar pharmaceuticals. Getting a job five months after earning his degree was a huge relief and he had just celebrated a very hopeful Christmas with his family a few days before the light rail attack. Now he’s without a job again. His life was not so easy before and is harder now.
John’s specific interest in Native American culture/history is part of a larger interest in tribal ways of looking at the world, such as those found in Europe in the pre-Christian era. He said ideally in the aftermath of such a crime, there should be a way for everyone involved [victim, perpetrator, and the families of both] to talk about what they need in order to move on. “I don’t think much priority is given to that,” he said. The detective said the boy’s family and friends are just as appalled as are the victim and his family.
The detective said the crime was not gang related. And the detective said it is rare to be attacked when one is actually “minding one’s own business.” I guess the police hear that a lot even when it’s not true. This time I know it was true.