I am so upset and disgusted. I cannot get the poor girl who was raped out of my mind. What must she have gone through? What must she be going through now? She is lured by a “friend” to get raped, beaten and robbed–by several “people”, with even more “people” looking on, cheering, laughing and taking pictures… calling more to join in. Not one person helping her. How will she ever recover?
Then I read this article in the San Francisco Chronicle about her this morning. It is definitely worth sharing. Read the whole thing.
The 15-year-old victim was a vulnerable girl who attended church and wanted to be a police scout, but also worried counselors by trying too hard to please the school’s bad boys.
As for the suspects: They were a mix of the bad boys, the wannabe bad boys, and the hardened, grown-up bad boys who had aged out of school.
All it took for things to lurch out of control, investigators, students and community leaders say, was opportunity – and that came when the girl left the school dance Saturday night, walked by a group of bad boys boozing hard in the unlit courtyard, and accepted their invitation to hang out.
Fueled by street-macho bravado and inspired by sexual initiations required to get into some local gangs, they began the attack, investigators say.
On the other side of the campus, more than 400 students partied at the homecoming dance.
Easy to trace
And now it is those 400 students and the rest of the 1,600-strong student body, along with their teachers and community leaders, who are wrestling to make sense of what happened. It doesn’t take much to trace the cause, they say.
Take the poverty-driven frustration of inner-city Richmond, a youth street culture that glorifies thugs and applauds degradation of women, and the desensitization of young men through violent video games, music and language, and you have a template for trouble.
“This is like a lot of schools, where most of the kids are good kids – and then, we know which ones are going wrong,” said Charles Johnson, one of Richmond High’s security specialists.
“You wouldn’t believe the stuff we have to put up with those few who go wrong – guns, dope busts, fighting,” Johnson said. “We know that courtyard, and we’ve been waiting for something to happen there.
[WTF? They’ve been waiting???]
“I’m sorry it had to be this terrible.”
Johnson, teachers and students at least partially blame the attack on the lack of lighting, sturdy fencing or security cameras on the courtyard, which abuts a rough neighborhood on the northern end of the campus on 23rd Street. Signs for the Norteño and Crips gangs are scrawled in huge letters on a wall near the driveway leading into the courtyard.
On Saturday, district officials confirmed plans to install higher fences around the entire school before next summer, and to firm up security in general – but the challenges will still be steep. Johnson also blames the attack and much of the school’s troubles on nonstudent “outsiders” – as several of the attack suspects are – who regularly trespass on campus, and they are much less respectful of authority than the students themselves.
But as much as anything, the attack stems from the way the roughest young men treat women, Johnson and the others say. And this is a problem that extends far beyond the East Bay campus’ borders.
“This attack was about street culture, and the need to change that mind-set,” said Jay Leonhardy, a nationally recognized community organizer who heads Richmond’s Youth Works, which steers at-risk kids into work and education programs. “It’s not something you change overnight, and it is not unique to Richmond, Oakland, Portland or Los Angeles. It’s everywhere.
“As awful as this attack was,” Leonhardy said, “just maybe it can represent a teachable moment. If people pay attention.”
Hoping for healing
Few could feel the urgency as much as 14-year-old Rhonnie Schwartz, a Richmond High freshman.
Her cousin is Cody Ray Smith of San Pablo, who at 15 is the youngest of the four defendants charged in the gang rape so far. Investigators believe Smith, a student at the school, may have been the boy who enticed the victim into the courtyard.
Ever since his arrest, Rhonnie has struggled with what to say to the boy she has grown up with.
She poured her heart into a two-page letter last week as part of a class exercise, and plans to mail it to Smith in juvenile hall.
“Staying out of trouble can have a dramatic effect on your life, and give your family some stress relief,” she wrote. “Cody, paying attention in school or at least going to class can help you so much … Cody I care about you … I’ve seen you have some hard times.”
The arguments will have a way to go to counteract peer influence, judging by Smith’s MySpace page.
“Freee mah nigga … F- dem snitches,” reads one of the more prominent comments posted by a friend.
“This stuff (the rape) is just not like Cody,” said Rhonnie, who wore a button reading, “Hands and words are not for hurting.”
As for the rest of the student body, she said: “We are all shocked at how horrible this was. I mean, bad things happen, but this?
‘We’re not animals’
“Please tell people we’re not animals, like the media say we are,” Rhonnie said, eyes moist with pain. “We are not bad people.”
Teachers, who asked not be named because of district confidentiality rules, said Smith and the other two juvenile defendants charged as adults have had tough times academically.
Ari Abdallah Morales, 16, of San Pablo and Marcelles James Peter, 17, of Pinole were transferred out of Richmond High to continuation high schools. Although Peter has a shelf of city league soccer trophies, he and the others are mediocre pupils at best, sources said.
The fourth suspect arraigned in the case, 19-year-old Manuel Ortega, ran away from home and dropped out of school after his junior year, sources said. He was a disruptive student who once threw a flaming ball of paper at a teacher.
[Another example of quality offspring from quality parenting.]
One other young man arrested in the case – Jose Carlos Montano, 18, of San Pablo – is in Contra Costa County Jail but has not been charged.
“The younger ones – they mostly just watched, and they are the ones talking and giving up names,” said one source familiar with the investigation who asked not to be named, because the Police Department has ordered its investigators to keep a tight lid on information. “This was not a gang thing. It was just a mob that got out of control. It was the older ones who led it all.”
There were a lot of people to lead.
On the night of the attack, the victim left the homecoming dance at about 9:30 p.m., before it ended, and walked to the back of campus to call her father to pick her up, detectives say.
That’s when someone invited her into the notorious courtyard.
The group of about a dozen boys and young men was already well into 2 gallons of vodka. After they liquored up the girl with brandy, they proposed sex, according to several accounts by friends of those who were there but asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.
The girl said no. Some of the men placed her on one of the two red cement benches set alongside the main brick building of the school and said they were going to have sex anyway, according to the accounts.
“They had her down on the bench and the bitch tried to kick ‘Tweak’ (one of the men) in the nuts,” said one young man, who said he had a first-hand account of the attack from Smith but was afraid of being named. “He went off on her, started hitting her, and then it was on. They pulled a train (a gang initiation-style rape, one after the other) on her.”
What ensued was 2 1/2 hours of beatings and raping, at times with a foreign object. The scene attracted onlookers, some calling others over by cell phone, and eventually there were as many as 10 men or boys sexually assaulting the girl while another 20 looked on, laughing and snapping pictures. Teachers and students were searching last week for at least one video that many said was filmed of the attack.
The rape finally stopped, around midnight, after students at a house down the block heard of what was going on and called police. The girl was found, semiconscious, beneath a picnic table.
“Her face was purple and blue and she wasn’t moving when they finished and ran,” said Eraclio Lopez, 23, who lives nearby and ran over when the police cars rolled up. “I guess those kids thought what they did was tight, was cool. But it was terrible.”
The girl was released from a hospital Wednesday, but her recovery has only begun, police Lt. Mark Gagan said.
“This was a barbaric crime, and I find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that so many watched and didn’t report it,” Gagan said. “That poor girl will have a lot of healing to do.”
This was not the first time the churchgoing sophomore had hung out with the wrong crowd, said one educator who asked not to be named for fear of offending school district sensitivities. That has caused anguish for not just her but the advisers who helped her over the past couple of years,
“She really is a smart girl, but it’s not always easy to fit in,” the educator said. “I think she can be a little naive, and she’s been harassed by guys in the past who took advantage of her when she tried a little too hard.”
Deeply caring girl
English teacher Jessica Price, who knows the victim and most of the arrested suspects, said the girl has helped in conflict-mediation groups. She told Price she wanted to join the Police Explorers, a Boy Scouts group that lets boys and girls learn law enforcement with local police.
“She’s an emotional, deeply caring girl, the type who would care so much if this happened to another girl,” Price said.
The girl and her family have not spoken publicly, but her parents issued a statement read at a community meeting Saturday, urging everyone moved by the attack to “please channel your anger into positive action.”
That such a girl could be so brutalized speaks more to a pack mentality, stoked by booze and street machismo, than it does to the general character of Richmond High’s youths, Price said.
“Those boys who did what they did weren’t picturing that girl as a human,” she said. “I think you see these kinds of boys at a lot of high schools – so desensitized it was like they saw her as a toy. Boys like that – there aren’t many like them, but they can be so hard. All they needed was something to set them off.”
She told a school district safety panel last week that some girls trying to find out who had watched the rape were being threatened in the hallways – and that, too, she blames on a desensitized mentality.
Price has been helping lead counseling sessions on campus, and to support the hundreds of students who staged rallies and gatherings to denounce violence. Their hope is to tell people in the Bay Area and everyone else who has seen national coverage of the case that the attack does not define Richmond High.
It’s not an easy message to get out in a city where 18 percent of families live below poverty level and the always-struggling school district became in 1991 the first in the state to declare bankruptcy. The CQ Press crime index last year rated 102,000-population Richmond the ninth-most-dangerous city in America, based on crimes including homicide and rape.
There are hopeful aspects. Richmond High, which is 76 percent Latino, had the highest increase in its district last year in its state Adequate Yearly Progress scores. It was only a decade ago that the school drew international acclaim when basketball coach Ken Carter forced members of his undefeated team to sit on the bench until they raised their grades.
“I have friends who go to school in Concord and say, ‘Aren’t you scared to go to Richmond High?’ And I say, no – you can do very well academically here,” said junior Vanessa Bejarano. “I take two AP classes. I am headed for college. I feel safe, and it makes me mad that people only see the bad side of us now.”
Even the neighborhood ex-cons who lounge against their cars all afternoon at the back end of campus are outraged. For all the sensitivity training going on, this is still a rough city – and there is rough justice.
“If we’d gone over there earlier, before it was over, those mother- would have been shot. For real,” said 24-year-old Chuckie Pelayo, leader of a pack that hangs out at the corner of Hayes Street and Emeric Avenue, one block from the rape scene. “We’ve all been to prison, and we know the code of how you’re supposed to behave. These younger guys, they don’t know the code.
“Some of us know a few guys who were there, and we’re out looking for them,” Pelayo added, the others nodding. “They better hope the cops find them first, because when we find them the same thing that happened to that girl is gonna happen to them.”
[AMEN to that!]
Donations for the Richmond High School rape victim may be sent to: Richmond High Jane Doe, account No. 041-30-1188, Mechanics Bank, 3170 Hilltop Mall Road, Richmond, CA 94806.
E-mail Kevin Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just to keep the spotlight on these cocksuckers so they hopefully will get the ass-kicking and raping that they so richly deserve, I came across a photo of yet another one of them, Salvador Rodriguez: