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In a McDonald's restaurant in Baltimore last week, two teenage girls kicked, stomped, and beat a transgendered woman. Why? She was using the women's bathroom. The perps beat the victim to the point of a convulsive seizure, while a McDonald's employee recorded the assault. The spectacular and stunning video, posted incongruously on WorldStarHipHop, is here. (In case anyone is concerned that describing the assault calls attention to the identity of a crime victim, she has not only been widely reported upon, she has appeared on camera in an interview revealing herself and discussing the attack.) I have two points of contact with this news event that left me rapt as I watched this: the Kitty Genovese angle, and also the status of the victim. Both are, I think, worthy of attention.
First, the video is a 2011 echo of the attack on Kitty Genovese, the 28 year old woman famously stabbed to death in Queens while a dozen or more onlookers heard her cries during parts of the assault upon her and did nothing. Relatedly, I saw a suicide by drowning in 1994, as I have written about periodically in this space. It really disturbed me when it happened, and oddly, I was on my way to see the film Spanking the Monkey, which concludes with another attempted suicide in water. I was disturbed first and foremost by the death, by being made to ID the victim, and by my own failure to help the victim in time. But I was particularly disturbed by a German tourist who filmed the drowning from the LaSalle Street bridge over the Chicago River without trying to call 911 or throw a flotation device. The McDonald's assault reminds me of that. Who is this guy who thought it appropriate to record the attack? One answer is, now he's a guy who got fired by the McDonald's franchise owner. And who is the person in the audio track of the beating who warns the perps to run because the police are coming? Oy. This is worse than Genovese, it's more like the bystanders wanted to commemorate and aid the brutality.
Just as the Genovese story galvanized concern about urban crime and indifference to it, just as Rodney King's beating provoked scrutiny of police brutality and urban racial tension when many wanted to see our society as postracial, and just as the murder of Matthew Shepard drew focus to the brutalization of gay and lesbian persons, this vicious beating holds the potential to remind our society that everyone is human, and that no one should be subjected to assault in general, and most particularly not for who or what they are. It received a lot of play on Drudge Friday and Saturday, which seems to me to be a good thing, even if accidentally so.
Second, there is no question that transgendered people are about the most despised minority there is. The victim was beating for using a women's bathroom. I learned professionally of a case in which a transgendered woman was driven from using the bathroom at her place of teaching, and then did not work. She claimed discrimination, the school said otherwise, rationalizing that students felt unsafe (violence might ensue, they argued) with a man in the bathroom, never mind that the transgendered woman had a drivers' license calling her a woman. So the transgendered woman was supposed to use the men's bathroom -- no threat of violence there, right?
I have a transgendered sibling, though we haven't spoken in eight years for no reason I know of. I have also represented a company that has a senior representative who is transgendered. After learning of publicity surrounding the latter person, a coworker of mine who met my transgendered sibling cornered me to crow about how the senior company official was a "twisted freak," as were all such folks. The relish my coworker took in saying this really educated me about the evil that there is in people. I think we are liberals because there are people who are weak. We are there not to make everything right, but to stand against the playground bullies who want to hurt the weak and powerless because they can. My coworker later was essentially made to apologize. But it pissed me off enough to take the case I described in the foregoing paragraph. Sometimes you have to stand up and bear witness, even though it isn't particularly professionally advantageous. And there is a pleasure in that, doing something concrete against and on account of people being mean.
Finally, speaking of people acting badly, if you check out the extensive comment thread (448 comments) from an LGBTQ site that reported on this story, you'll see all sorts of messed up stuff. I hadn't mentioned it, but the assailants happen to be black, and the victim white, and the thread is pocked with (largely moderated) instances of gross racism and N-word dropping. One commenter laments any social injustice, and in the same breath calls the perps "bitches". There is race hostility, race guilt, sexism, and other varieties of hostility. I won't comment on it, but it's worth a read too. Even in a commentariat that seems or wants to mean well, there's a lot of The Ugly to be fought. Just saying…
Three wishes in closing. Above all, peace and healing to the victim. Also hoping that the juvenile alleged perp learns the shame of what she did and gets better. And finally, like the Shepard beating, hoping this video actually prevents rather than sensationalizes human suffering.