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Richmond High Rape--What Do We Do With This?

Onlookers used their cell phones to take photos of the spectacle in Richmond, Calif., rather than use them to call police. When did rape become a spectator sport?
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Rape is a unique crime. Unlike other offenses, it is difficult to see any mitigating circumstances that would result in someone taking another person's humanity. There is nothing in our legal system that falls into the murky category of "justifiable rape."

Simply stated, rape is one of the most vile acts in our society. There is a Cro-Magnon characteristic that is beneath our postmodern culture.

The events last Saturday night at Richmond High School, in Richmond, CA, are a painful reminder that rape is not something exclusive to the days when cavemen walked the Earth some 30,000 years ago.

Richmond police believe as many as 20 people watched and reportedly cheered as a 15-year-old girl was robbed, beaten and gang-raped outside her high school homecoming dance.

What's most tragic, and leaves the community and the nation in disbelief, is that none of the onlookers felt compelled to do anything to stop this barbaric attack. The onlookers used their cell phones to take photos of the spectacle rather than use them to call police. When did rape become a spectator sport?

The imagery conjures memories of the gruesome photos of whites gleefully posing in front of black lynched bodies. It is the sense of elation rooted in profound hatred that is beyond comprehension for most humans.

The repeated assaults lasted more than two hours, until news of them reached someone's home several blocks from school, and a call to police was made.

What do we do this? It was not until someone at the scene had their fill of this uncivilized display, and decided to share the news with others, before it appeared to be something that warranted police involvement.

One local news broadcast suggested the crime was beyond the realm of the victim's faith community to provide an answer. It should be. Neither the faith community nor any other community can offer a definitive answer that unlocks the mystery of such a tragedy.

All faith can do is assist the community in navigating through this obvious absurdity of the human condition.

As of this writing, the victim remained hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Five individuals -- two adults and three juveniles -- have been arrested and charged on suspicion of sexual assault and robbery.

Given that the attack occurred on school grounds raises questions as to whether Richmond High bears some responsibility. For its part, the school disgracefully released a statement suggesting that it is the parents' responsibility to ensure their children return home safely.

This pathetic attempt at damage control indicates Richmond High may be more concerned about its own vulnerability than figuring out what happened.

Moreover, it is doubtful that there will be the type of protests and demands for justice that occurred after Oscar Grant III was shot and killed by a BART police officer in the early morning hours of New Year's Day.

We do not need a repeat of the violent protests by those who used Grant's death as a justification for mayhem, but doesn't this case warrant similar demands for justice?

It's unfortunate, but our justice/injustice sensibilities seem to work best when the color lines are delineated by black and white. We are not nearly as impassioned when a case is blurred by gender, sexual orientation or when the assailant and victim are of the same race.

Some might suggest that had the victim not been drinking alcohol to excess, as it has been reported, none of this would have happened. Even if alcohol was consumed, since when does drinking too much justify taking someone's humanity?

This case is reflective of a societal breakdown that is not limited to the Richmond city limits. No community is immune, regardless of its demographics. Those arrested live in various communities, and only one thus far attended Richmond High.

Someone referred to these perpetrators as animals. They are not animals. I'm confident the uncivilized acts committed at Richmond High are beneath any behavior exhibited by my dog Zeus.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him or visit his Web