Beasts In The Park
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Republished by on September 25, 2003

(Central Park Jogger attack)

The Times (London)
April 29 1989

NEW YORK—Spring in America goes off like a bomb. Well into April, Manhattan's many parks are brown and sere from winter's crushing grip. Then the temperature begins to seesaw wildly, into the 70s and back down to freezing. The trees imported by public-spirited natives to line the canyon-like streets suddenly bud and burst into blossom so heavy that you wonder how their boughs support it.

Every prospect pleases, in the words of Heber's great missionary hymn. And only man is vile. Some men; children, really, if not animals.

At about 10pm on Wednesday, April 19, a 28-year-old woman was jogging in Central Park when she was attacked by a roving gang of teenagers. She was beaten with stones and a lead pipe, raped repeatedly and left, naked, bleeding profusely and unconscious, in a pool of water where she was discovered four hours later. She is still in a coma. She will probably have permanent brain damage, if she lives.

New York is obsessed with this atrocious crime. The youths apparently responsible have been arrested, largely because they continued to attack other passers-by until the police caught up with them. They range in age from 13 to 17. Interviews with their families and friends fill the newspapers. Pundits pontificate. Politicians utter pieties and appeal for calm.

There are hundreds of murders and thousands of rapes in New York every year. Some voices can be heard asking why this one has attracted so much attention. The favoured explanation is racial: the victim is white, the perpetrators all black or Hispanic (Puerto Ricans or Mexicans.)

Another theory suggests class: the victim is an investment banker who, like the rest of the city's elite, including journalists, might normally have hoped to be insulated from the welfare underworld of her assailants.

Both these claims are deeply perverse. It is a simple fact that most violent crime in New York is committed by blacks and Hispanics: they constitute more than 90 per cent of the prison population. There is no shortage of white victims of every social status, if anyone cared to look.

All New Yorkers are terrified of crime. But they are also deeply inhibited about discussing it openly, for fear of the possible racial implications. So something like the Central Park rape can always trigger an erratic but intense response.

A dangerous consequence of this inhibition is public ignorance. For example, it is now being reported that wolf-pack attacks by teenagers—they call it 'wilding'—have quietly become rather common in New York. This particular gang had been active in the area for some time; another even recently attacked Bloomingdale's, the famous department store in the heart of the shopping district. And a city employee provided this enlightening justification of the regular official claims that Central Park is safe: 'You could go through there nine times out of ten and nothing would happen ..'

Which are odds that last Wednesday night's rape victim, only three years in Manhattan, might have liked to know.

A tragedy as profound as the collapse of public order in America's cities ultimately defies commentary. The police manifestly lack the powers to deal with the problem. The politicians, equally clearly, are not going to hand them over. Powerful taboos surround the subject. Columnists who write about it risk being labelled cranks. It's far more acceptable to dwell on the threat to world civilization posed by Colonel Oliver North.

Perhaps a specific point offers a more suitable focus. 'Throughout the day', the New York Times reported from Harlem on Monday, 'blacks debated what they said were the larger issues the incident brings to light—needs for better housing, education and job opportunities.'

In fact, most of the youths already live in subsidized housing located on some of the most expensive land on earth. And their relatives and friends, no doubt hoping to establish their good character, soon began insisting that they were comparatively well-situated, to the point where a later story carried the credulous headline 'Park Suspects: Children of Discipline'.

Readers of Tom Wolfe's extraordinary Bonfire of the Vanities, which really says all there is to say about New York, will remember that in these circumstances a child who has not actually murdered a teacher is called an 'honour student'. But nevertheless, the New York Times felt able to hand-wring editorially: 'How could apparently well-adjusted youngsters turn into so savage a wolf pack? The question reverberates.'

The answer reverberates too. It had already been provided in the taped confession of one of the youths involved in the attack. Asked by police why he had whipped the woman about the head with a lead pipe. Yusuf Salaam, who is 15, replied: 'Because it was fun.'

There are males who think it is fun to rape women and batter them to death. This is a reality that cannot be reasoned away. It can only be crushed.

The author is a senior editor of Forbes magazine in New York.

[Originally published in England, spelling and grammar vary slightly from American style.]

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