Saturday, March 31, 2012

Enforced Victimization Culture

Rich Benjamin, an author and an Op-ed contributor to the New York Times recently wrote about what he refers to as the Gated Community Mentality. The trigger for this was the shooting death (I hope that we find out soon if it was a murder or not) of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Mr. Benjamin, in researching for a recent book of his, which he (admirably) does not name and thus avoided pitching in his post, resided in numerous gated communities in the US. His intention was to get an idea of how a Black man, particularly one who did not actually own property in the community, is perceived in these neighborhoods.

Mr. Benjamin looks critically at the "bunker mentality of people who live in gated communities. I too am not particularly crazy about those types of neighborhoods, but Mr. Benjamin and I both seem to have different reasons for our dislike for them.

I will briefly quote his opinion first. Excerpts from his post are below. All italics and bolding are mine:

The perverse, pervasive real-estate speak I heard in these communities champions a bunker mentality. Residents often expressed a fear of crime that was exaggerated beyond the actual criminal threat, as documented by their police department’s statistics......

No matter the label, the product is the same: self-contained, conservative and overzealous in its demands for “safety.” Gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders. These bunker communities remind me of those Matryoshka wooden dolls. A similar-object-within-a-similar-object serves as shelter; from community to subdivision to house, each unit relies on staggered forms of security and comfort, including town authorities, zoning practices, private security systems and personal firearms.
Residents’ palpable satisfaction with their communities’ virtue and their evident readiness to trumpet alarm at any given “threat” create a peculiar atmosphere — an unholy alliance of smugness and insecurity. In this us-versus-them mental landscape, them refers to new immigrants, blacks, young people, renters, non-property-owners and people perceived to be poor.
Another related trend contributed to this shooting: our increasingly privatized criminal justice system. The United States is becoming even more enamored with private ownership and decision making around policing, prisons and probation. Private companies champion private “security” services, alongside the private building and managing of prisons.

Stand Your Ground” * or “Shoot First” [No such Laws exist] laws like Florida’s expand the so-called castle doctrine, which permits the use of deadly force for self-defense in one’s home, as long as the homeowner can prove deadly force was reasonable. Thirty-two states now permit expanded rights to self-defense.

In essence, laws nationwide sanction reckless vigilantism in the form of self-defense claims. A bunker mentality is codified by law.


Despite his points, which I will address, the very beginning of Mr. Benjamin's post provides a telling glimpse of his concept of crime and of being a victim:

"AS a black man who has been mugged at gunpoint by a black teenager late at night, I am not na├»ve: I know firsthand the awkward conundrums surrounding race, fear and crime. Trayvon Martin’s killing at the hands of George Zimmerman baffles this nation. While the youth’s supporters declare in solidarity “We are all Trayvon,” the question is raised, to what extent is the United States also all George Zimmerman?

Under assault, I didn’t dream of harming my teenage assailant, let alone taking his life.
Mr. Zimmerman reacted very differently, taking out his handgun and shooting the youth in cold blood." (
Of course we do not yet know if that is the case)

I hold that the foundation for Mr. Benjamin's take on gated communities can be seen in this opening remarks. The man, robbed at gunpoint, had apparently, long-before that incident, determined that he was going to enforce the status of helpless victim on himself. Think about it- a Robbery, one committed while possessing a weapon, an act that would be a crime of the First, or most serious of degrees in any state, something that would put someone in fear of his life or of substantial bodily injury, and Mr. Benjamin was determined to submit without a struggle. To stand against the violation of his health, safety, property, and right to go about unmolested was not even a blip on his mental radar. 

Every member of society has not only a right, but an obligation to defend himself to the utmost degree possible. If he had determined that he would not be able to defeat a firearm-wielding assailant and opted to play it cool for the moment, then that is one thing, but Mr. Benjamin makes it painfully clear that he would not even have considered doing his duty, even if he felt that his odds were good. In doing so, the victim willingly contributes the climate of  crime and fear. Not only his assailant, but others who exist in that grey area of those who may or may not become violent criminals, grow more and more emboldened each time they become aware of yet another sheep that willingly and submissively turned his neck towards the wolves's mouth.** By referring to his assailant as a "teenage assailant", he effectively twists the situation inside-out. I perceive that in doing so he remakes the assailant into a victim. "Poor kid, he never had a chance, that's why he is pointing a gun at me"(paraphrasing). How about this, "How dare this guy point a gun at me, who does he think he is?" 

The intellectual snobbery of such individuals not only  affects themselves, but also other bad guys, any future victims, and those who would defend themselves but become reluctant to do so because, hearing and reading about those like Mr. Benjamin, begin to doubt their responsibility or their right to take action. Mr. Benjamin, in shirking his duties to himself, the community, and society in general, is not content resting there. He wants to demonize those who would at least plan to stand up for their rights and thus shoulder their share of the burden.

While I do not like the idea of gated communities for most people, I do not have the same reasons, nor do I harbor the resentment as does he. I consider gated communities to be places for older or disabled people, or maybe single parents who would appreciate the comforting notion of being able to have their kids come back from school to a home that has been watched by someone. In short, they would work for those who would have more difficulty in protecting or defending themselves but want to be able to live in a manner relatively free of fear. 

I do, though, have a bit of a problem with the mindset of people who would otherwise be able to take measures to protect themselves but choose to live in secure communities. Many of them have such an aversion to violence of any sort that they would rather live behind guarded walls, let someone else fight (if necessary) for them, and leave people who cannot afford to leave high-crime areas to their own devices. The latter commonly live with excessive legal restrictions on what types of measures they would allowed to take to protect themselves. I consider it a safe bet that, contrary to what Mr. Benjamin asserts, that many people in gated communities do not approve of the private ownership of firearms. I hold that many people who choose to live behind walls suffer from what Samuel Huntington, author of  "The Clash of Civilizations" refers to as "the illusion of permanency" - the idea that they can always be able to maintain a certain way of life. These people tend to be among those who would be utterly lost if they were to become unable to employ the measures that protected them for so long.

Mr. Benjamin notes, without any specifics, the "exaggerated" fear of crime or the "actual criminal threat" of local police department statistics, which I am certain that he extensively researched. In doing so, he, in a casually dismissive fashion, writes off the fear of some people as being unfounded. If I am uncomfortable in confined spaces, is  it an exaggerated response for me to take the stairs as often as possible to avoid the elevator? It is really none of his business if he interprets local crime statistics in a manner differently than those who moved behind walls. It is also not the fault of a person that if, at this point in history, certain groups of people contribute an amount of violent criminals disproportionate to their actual numbers and that this fact results in others taking measures to live among those they perceive to be more like they are.

I will agree with Mr. Benjamin  that there are people who take things way too far. The mere sighting of a person who is of a different ethnic or religious group from the bulk of the demographic makeup of the neighborhood does not necessitate following him. I do not, though,  know nearly enough of the Martin death to give an opinion on what happened. I don't expect to be able to do so for some time. Whether or not  Mr. Zimmerman committed a criminal act should have no bearing on how others take action to protect themselves. Mr. Benjamin's mindset if one of forced victimization. Because he is not willing to do his job when attacked, you should not be able to do so either. We should just accept what is happening to us and report it to the cops if we are still alive once the bad guy has left. Mr. Benjamin, while correctly noting some concerns about hunkering down behind walls for safety, is dead wrong in considering people who prepare for and are willing to protect themselves and others to be vigilantes. A brief consultation of a dictionary would have helped Mr. Benjamin. People who refuse to meekly submit to violent crime are not vigilantes. 

Western Societies recognize that the individual must not only be willing to protect himself and the community, he must also be prepared for such action. Mr. Benjamin will have plenty of options if he goes about searching for a place to live that does not accept the mores of Western Civilization.***

**On acting like sheep:

*** On the rights and responsibilities of people in Western Societies:

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