Richmond High gang rape, lack of action from onlookers outrages community

October 28th, 2009 by

Atianna Gibbs knows it could have been her sister. In a way, it was.

A hint of resignation tinges Margarita Vargas”s voice when she says, “They think it”s cool. They weren”t raised to respect girls.”

A Richmond High School student named Alexandra, worried enough about safety to withhold her last name, believes the 15-year-old girl gang-raped on campus Saturday would have died if police hadn”t broken up the assault.

They live in Richmond, a tough town, tougher to be a woman. None of them ever wound up naked and bleeding on a campus bench after the school dance.

But they can picture it. It”s why they did what they did.

“No matter who she was, who she was before, shedoesn”t deserve that,” Gibbs said.

They called the police. The police broke up the horror: a two-hour, alcohol-fueled gang-rape, as the homecoming dance waltzed on in the gym.

The investigation continued Tuesday, as police leafleted around the school to advertise a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone who participated. Detectives continued wall-to-wall interviews of students and former students, having already arrested a 15-year-old boy and 19-year-old Manuel Ortega.

“This is a fluid investigation,” Detective Ken Greco said. “There will be more arrests.”

Police will meet with prosecutors Wednesday to discuss charges for those already in custody.

Meanwhile, young people in Richmond increasingly feel as though they are on trial themselves, as a national chorus of gawkers judges them based on the inaction of the few who hooted and laughed, punched the girl as she lay semiconscious on a bench, even joined in the assault after word of it got around.

Strangers e-mailed the school, comparing its students to animals. That hurts, but it”s a familiar hurt for young adults growing up here.

Vargas only cares what one stranger thinks “” the victim “” and she wants her to know that it matters to someone.

“We called the police as soon as we found out,” Vargas said. “As soon as we found out.”

They were watching “The Proposal” on television Saturday night when word suddenly arrived from campus, two blocks away: A girl got drunk after homecoming. A bunch of guys stripped her naked and were using her. At school. Right now.

“I was on Emeric (Avenue) with some friends when some dudes walked up and were like, “There”s a drunk girl back there,— said Raul Rubio, who brought the news back to his girlfriend. “They said she was naked, and if you want to get f… ed, go back there.”

Rubio did not. Nor did he want to risk arrest. He found someone with a phone as quickly as he could, he said. Several of the women at Vargas”s walked down to the perimeter of the crime scene after calling 911 but were too afraid to proceed further without police presence. Officers arrived quickly and broke up the trouble, arresting Ortega as they say he ran from them.

The victim remained hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition. This newspaper does not identify victims of sexual assault.

The victim left the dance by herself about 9:30 p.m. to get a ride home, Greco said. She walked up 23rd Street toward Emeric, intending to phone her father for her ride.

But before she did, a classmate called to her from behind a cyclone fence separating a campus courtyard from the street. He hopped the fence, and together they returned to the shadowy, hidden spot, where a group of people were drinking and hanging out.

The victim drank a large amount of brandy quickly, police say, and was quickly incapacitated. While semiconscious, she fell victim to rape. As many as seven people assaulted her as she lay on a bench, while others jeered, beat her, robbed her and took photos with their cell phones. Police say they don”t know exactly how many people watched during the course of the attack, but some reports have said as many 20.

For several days now, the community has struggled to understand how so many could stand by and watch, and fail to call police or alert other adults in the area.

“It”s all about, “What are others going to think about me if I snitch? If no one else is saying it, then it must not be OK” to speak up, said Tatiana Colon, director of education and youth services at the Family Violence Law Center in Oakland.

“The culture that we”ve created is that it”s OK to speak your mind if you”re being tough,” she said. “Snitching is not something we equate with toughness. Being sensitive and nice and conscientious is not something we equate with toughness.”

The lack of action on the part of bystanders will make recovery for the victim that much more difficult, said Marcia Blackstock, executive director of Bay Area Women Against Rape.

“To have other people witness and not do anything about it will really compound her issues,” Blackstock said.

Witnesses who failed to report the crime could be charged with aiding and abetting if police can show their actions facilitated or goaded the perpetrators, said Dara Cashman, head of the Contra Costa District Attorney”s Office sex crimes unit. Passively watching the crime is not a crime itself unless the victim is under 14 years old.

Neil Smelser, a professor emeritus of sociology at UC Berkeley, said crowds in such situations often can be broken into four categories: those who perpetrate the action; those who actively encourage it but don”t participate; those who observe without supporting or speaking out against the action; and those who object to it and may or may not vocalize that to the rest of the group.

“They may think, “Why do I need to get involved in this if it doesn”t involve me?” Maybe they”re stunned, maybe it”s denial, or fear,” Smelser said. “You don”t necessarily want to blame these people in not getting involved and calling police. You often have to avoid simple judgments and look at all the circumstances. It”s the kind of scene that encourages a helpless feeling.”

For the school district”s part, officials plan to “review and revise our protocols,” said Marin Trujillo, spokesman for West Contra Costa Unified.

“There were two site supervisors at the dance. One left at 9 p.m., had a previous engagement. Another was dismissed by a teacher. They were going to close the doors; there were four Richmond police officers there, and they felt they had enough security.”

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4 Responses

  1. Spider-Clown

    Wow that school is evil. The whole minority thing at that school is going to piss people off and will make it too easy for racists to say “I told you so” or “Figures” and such. I went to a pretty ghetto school but I never came across actions like that. The girl should have known better to hang out in a dark alley at a bad school. The school should be in a lot of trouble, maybe even destoryed, but we should view the school as it really is now…a prison. So let the trash go to school there while the educated and or just plain “normal” whether black or white, go somewhere else. I wouldn’t blame women for leaving. But It seems race and poverty play an unstopable wild card in this case. It seems fifty fifty. Those cops there were useless though. And how do they know those gawkers didn’t say “Gang bang” or “drunk slut” as if it wasn’t a rape: they might not have known…at first. I mean once you see a girl getting beaten and forced, you know it’s wrong so I’ll say the rapers and cheerers should have there balls chopped off and sent to the booty house for life. As you can read I’m pissed by this injustice. Sluts are one thing but rape is not cool

  2. Hulk Hogan's Boots

    Those little bastards are lucky she is 15 and not younger cuz all those punks would be getting their own salads tossed in prison. They deserve life just like the dunbar village scum bags. What a waste to go to prison for, I mean atleast killers got something to brag, how does that work for young rapist? Please give them life in prison so that it isn’t so easy to do this without justice. They beat her in front of 20 so on teens and they didn’t help her. Now they should raise the age to 16 for those who don’t call for help. I hope those kids parents beat the life out of there dumbass kids before someone beats them for not throwing the conceiving them in a tiolet or cleanex.

  3. Hulk Hogan's Boots

    What a shitty school

  4. George

    When the attorneys are through with the Richmond school disdtric, they will need to go to their taxpayers hat in hand to settle the multi million dollar judgement against them. That’s definitely in that High School’s future, and they deserve it richly.

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