We have heard it said that “two wrongs don’t make a right,”. Well the settings in which this plays out are countless. Most recently, we saw it when three systems set up to be safety measures in the lives of Detroit residents failed in the alleged rape of an underage girl in Southwest Detroit. There were many moments in this story that preventative action could have been taken. Today I challenge our citizens to raise the bar of awareness and send out a call for constructive action to be taken.
Contrary to common thinking, there are four entities that were wounded and are in need of healing in this situation: the alleged rapist, the young woman, the community, and the justice system. Let’s address this chronologically.
According to documentation, the alleged rapist was the first to be wounded. He suffers from mental illness as publicly documented in Wayne County Probate Court records of 2012. He was assigned a caretaker to handle his affairs, but other supportive factors are not identified. He continued to be a danger to himself and others without a proper diagnosis, supportive structure, and accountability being put in place. State Rep. Rashida Tlaib puts the vulnerability, danger, and system failure in perspective. She is quoted as saying in Detroit Free Press article about the beating of the alleged rapist that “the system failed not only the victim but this alleged rapist. His life was in jeopardy as soon as he committed that crime. No one addressed his mental illness properly,” she said. “We failed both of them completely. It’s just so sad.” Too little is mentioned about when these issues began and if it possibly started out with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD), substance abuse, etc. Mental illness is one of the most misunderstood issues of a person’s total wellness because of all the forms it can take.
The circumstances created a domino effect that led to the wounding the teenage girl. Her personal life has not been easy, having lost her single mother to cancer. She also has Down syndrome, which also affects mental wellness. She was working towards independence and total inclusion in the community through her job at Cafe Con Leche. Historically, people with Down syndrome were treated very much like people with mental illness by being permanently institutionalized–out of sight, out of mind–and we didn’t have to address the issue. Though she is 15 years of age, her cognitive and social skills are of someone much younger. This puts the second wounded person in a vulnerable position when encountered by the first wounded person. The description of the man she encountered went from “a friend” to “a rapist,” which points to her personal challenges. She, likewise, was in need of some additional supportive care.
The community at large has now become wounded. This comes from the vigilante mentality put forth in response to the lack of action from the justice system. We find the careless action of a community activist rising up beyond the “innocent until proven guilty” to a “hang ‘em high” attitude of the old West. We have an innocent resident being attacked for speaking against the wave of escalating injustice. The activist now becomes an accessory to the crimes of assault, instigating a riot, lynching, destruction of private property, and more. Deplorably, we have now shifted to a vendetta mindset, with multiple criminal offenders further burdening the justice system.
The justice system has been wounded by its own efficiency and breakdown in protecting its citizens, upholding the law, and providing evidence in a timely manner for the pursuit and prosecution of crimes. This particular account has added to the wounded trust of the public in its designated officials.
The protective measures of socially acceptable barricades and stop signs were ignored. Why? Awareness, education, and accessibility are significant in answering the following important questions: What is needed? What is available? How do we put these measures in place? What do we do now? The only thing left to do at this point is take an all-around wrong situation and make something good happen. Restorative justice at a community level will help identify steps needing to be taken. If you want to help, you can send an email to Detroitfirstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact State Rep. Rashida Tlaib and your own representatives and senators and ask that they move forward the FASD and mental health bills that sit in committees. Educate yourself on the issues and challenges of living with physical and mental challenges. Create supportive social networks for those who live with mental challenges and the caregivers. The only complete travesty is that we would do nothing to make a change!