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December 1, 2014

Mayhem’s Clueless Enablers

A liberal explains away a mugging: Inequality made the perpetrator do it.

If a column by Georgetown University senior Oliver Friedfeld is any indication, the old bromide, “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged,” no longer applies.

“I Was Mugged and I Understand Why” graced the Nov. 18 issue of university newspaper The Hoya, revisiting Friedfeld’s and his housemate’s experience with a gunpoint mugging the week before. During the incident, Friedfeld was “forced to the floor,” patted down and relieved of his phone.

One would think such an experience would engender a string of emotions including fear, relief and ultimately anger at the thought of being completely vulnerable to thuggery – or far worse. In Friedfeld’s case, one would be completely wrong. Asked by a reporter if he was surprised he was mugged in Georgetown, perhaps the toniest neighborhood in Washington, DC, he was adamant. “Not at all,” Friedfeld replied. “It was so clear to me that we live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal. While we aren’t often confronted by this stark reality west of Rock Creek Park, the economic inequality is very real.”

Friedfeld goes on to cite the statistics he firmly believes were the impetus behind his takedown, noting that Washington is ranked as one of the “most unequal” cities in the nation, where the wealthiest 5% earn approximately 54 times what the poorest 20% do. Yet in Friedfeld’s addled mind, impetus quickly becomes justification:

> “What has been most startling to me, even more so than the incident itself, have been the reactions I’ve gotten. I kept hearing ‘thugs,’ ‘criminals’ and ‘bad people.’ While I understand why one might jump to that conclusion, I don’t think this is fair.

> "Not once did I consider our attackers to be ‘bad people.’ I trust that they weren’t trying to hurt me. In fact, if they knew me, I bet they’d think I was okay. They wanted my stuff, not me. While I don’t know what exactly they needed the money for, I do know that I’ve never once had to think about going out on a Saturday night to mug people. I had never before seen a gun, let alone known where to get one. The fact that these two kids, who appeared younger than I, have even had to entertain these questions suggests their universes are light years away from mine.”

Friedfeld’s own universe is light years removed from common sense. Without any way of knowing, he embraces the “root cause” argument first entertained in the 1960s. It is the one where well-meaning but equally addled people were far more concerned with what drove criminals to perpetrate crimes than the victims who endured them. He simply assumes his two assailants have no support system similar to his own, be it “parents who willingly sat down with me and helped me work through (my struggles in school),” or “countless people who I can turn to for solid advice.”

Those assumptions lead directly to guilt. “Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as ‘thugs?’” Friedfeld explains. “It’s precisely this kind of ‘otherization’ that fuels the problem.”

Young Oliver remains willfully oblivious to the reality that he and his housemate were the ones being “otherized” by a couple of young punks looking for a couple of easy marks. Furthermore, he has no idea how lucky he is. While he points to statistics regarding inequality, he fails to note that, according to 2012 FBI data, Washington, DC, had the eighth highest murder rate among cities with a population of 500,000 or more, and that rate increased sharply from 2013 to 2014. Moreover, it is virtually certain that some of those victims were every bit as “okay” as Friedfeld.

He briefly acknowledges reality after speaking with a DC cop who came from “difficult circumstances, and yet had made the decision not to get involved in crime.” But he quickly dismisses that officer as an anomaly, insisting that the decision to steal is tied directly to one’s economic circumstances – as opposed to the moral choices Friedfeld reserves solely for the victims. “As young people, we need to devote real energy to solving what are collective challenges,” he concludes. “Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them. The cards are all in our hands, and we’re not playing them.”

Last week, the entire nation was forced to “get comfortable” with a plethora of violence in Ferguson, Missouri, courtesy of people more than willing to “otherize” vast swaths of that city and its residents. Those rioters, looters and building-burners were driven by an equally contemptible sense of “morality” arising from an equally specious narrative, one that engendered “justified mayhem” as the price to be extracted for the failure to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the “murder” of “gentle giant” Michael Brown.

It was a price seemingly accepted by Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon, who refused to deploy the National Guard prior to, or during, the initial outbreak of violence, allowing rioters a free hand in the destruction of scores of businesses – the majority of which were minority-owned. It was a move Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder attributed to pressure from the Obama administration, who “leaned on” Nixon to “keep them out.” Kinder insisted, “I cannot imagine any other reason why the governor who mobilized the National Guard would not have them in there to stop this before it started.”

The mindset epitomized by Friedfeld’s column might be a good place to look for that reason. It is a mindset that purports itself as enlightened, even as it reeks with the kind of bigotry that maintains certain segments of society cannot possibly be held to the same standards of civilization as everyone else. And not because of their failings, but ours.

Oliver Friedfeld may be willing to take one for the societal team, but one suspects most Americans would pass on the opportunity to trod this particular “path to enlightenment” – or the morgue. As for the violence in Ferguson, we have witnessed scores of young black Americans assuming all the characteristics of a wannabe lynch mob, continuing with the passing out of posters reading “Wanted for Racist Murder” following Wilson’s resignation from the force. If there is a greater historical irony than that, one is hard-pressed to imagine what it is.

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