Protection

Via Gawker, I didn't realize this now infamous beating at a McDonald's was basically a hate crime and that the woman was transgender:


"They said, 'That's a dude, that's a dude and she's in the female bathroom,' " said Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, who said she stopped at the Rosedale restaurant to use the restroom. "They spit in my face."

A worker at the restaurant taped Monday's attack and created a graphic video that went viral last week. After the video garnered hundreds of thousands of views on websites, McDonald's issued a statement condemning the incident, and on Saturday the worker who taped the incident was fired. 

The video shows two females -- one of them a 14-year-old girl -- repeatedly kicking and punching Polis in the head as an employee and a patron try to intervene. Others can be heard laughing, and men are seen standing idly by. 

Toward the end of the video, one of the suspects lands a punishing blow to the victim's head, and Polis appears to have a seizure. A man's voice tells the women to run because police are coming. 

 "I knew they were taping me; I told the guy to stop," said Polis, a resident of Baltimore. "They didn't help me. They didn't do nothing for me."

A couple of related points. We debated some last week, in the Crystal Magnum thread, about how the law should handle people who show persistent a pattern of violence. The issue with Magnum was one of mental health, and whether she belonged in jail. But there's a similar fault-line when young people (in this case ages 14 and 18) perpetrate horrific acts of violence. The notion is much the same--we should be helping young people, and it's pretty clear that jail does no such thing. We also talked, last week, about how when you live without a safety-net, when you're close to violent crime, it tends to make you favor more punitive measures. I have to say that on this count (though not on legalization) I plead guilty.

In this YouTube era it is not especially uncommon to see a vicious beating on video that shocks the senses. Except that, in my experience, in distressed neighborhoods throughout our cities, these sorts of scenes are so common as to be unremarkable. Having caught one in my own time, having lived as a child who structured his day around violence, I can tell you that it's scary how quickly violence becomes normal to you. So much so that when I talk about my own victimhood I tend to couch it in euphemisms like,  "Yeah, I caught one on Liberty" as opposed to what actually happened "I got my head stomped by six dudes, while a bunch of adults walked past and did nothing." (Liberty is a major street, by the way.)

This isn't really about pride, when I was coming up everyone I knew either had been jumped, or soon would. That's the point--everyone I knew could tell a similar tale. And let's be honest here--some of them could tell it from both ends. Violence becomes normalized, and getting through the day doesn't really allow for you to dwell on the specifics, as you're much more concerned about making sure it doesn't happen tomorrow. Moreover, no one's particularly impressed by the details. Even now when people talk of bullying, I blanch--I don't think I know a single boy who wasn't "bullied," in the current usage. 


I grew up into a pretty big dude, and so there was a point in my life when this sort of violence became much less of issue. (Though it never disappears.) But in all my time, living in D.C., and New York, it's been clear to me that, for kids, the violence is still around them. 

I've spent much of my life studying the systemic reasons why this is so--a deficit in wealth and broad social capitol, poor services, and all the attendant maladies. But even knowing that, when I read about two young people beating down a transsexual woman for kicks, when I read that one of them..

had previously been arrested for punching a mother of two in the face, then beating her with an umbrella, then trying to rip out her hair, while friends attacked the lady's daughters.

...surely it occurs to me that their might be some issues at work, and it occurs to me that said young people may well "need help," but before any of that it occurs to me that citizens have a right to feel protected. 

Forgive me. I am a mash of contradictions here, and speaking from personal place. I'm ambivalent on hate crime laws, and I don't believe children should be charged as adults. But I do think that assault, battery, murder, attempted murder etc. should all carry a serious penalty. 

I do think that victims of wanton acts of violence should have some degree of confidence that they aren't going to turn on the news and see the same person who beat them with an umbrella, in front of their kids, at the same McDonalds, doing the same fucking thing.

It gets tiring. And if you live in a place where this is a constant, and you start to lose confidence in the society's ability to protect, you been to seek out other societies, and other means of protection. And there is thin line between your own protection, and perpetrating your own acts of wanton violence.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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