The sinister blow of a young, lucky coward
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Dajour Yaounde Washington is lucky. The 15-year-old was caught shortly after video footage of his unprovoked sucker punch of a 50-year-old teacher on Oct. 4 aired on local news outlets and the Post-Gazette website this week. His victim, an English teacher at the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, was briefly knocked unconscious by the blow.
Like any teacher after a long day spent with kids his assailant's age, James Addlespurger had his mind on far more mundane things than the possibility of assault on Tito Way, a Downtown alley between Liberty and Penn avenues.
Imagine Mr. Addlespurger's surprise as the teenager's haymaker caught him on the side of the head and face while he was lost in thought. The brutality of the act barely registered as he fell to the ground, hitting his head on the curb while succumbing to the call of gravity.
It was a blow delivered with the sinister aplomb of a mischievous coward. His boxing lessons may have borne fruit, but not his appreciation for a fair fight. No wonder Washington changed his middle name to "Loki," the trickster god in Norse mythology, on his Facebook page (where his declared "Activities and Interests" include boxing).
On the footage, he and his companions barely break stride after the punch, though every head turns to see the victim sprawled on the ground. For all they knew, a random stranger punched for no reason was dead.
Still, it never occurred to anyone in that circle of shrunken consciences to check on the victim, an indifference to human life as chilling as the assault itself. Like Alex's droogs in "A Clockwork Orange," the boys who strolled casually down the alley past surveillance cameras had no fear of consequences. Their hubris eventually led to Loki's identification and capture.
Still, Dajour Washington is lucky because he won't be getting away with the kind of random violence that generates so much fear and loathing of young men who look like him. He's also fortunate that his parents loved him enough to turn him in so that he could face the music while he's young enough to be rehabilitated.
Because he's been charged as a juvenile, he won't be exiled to the nether regions of the state prison system where he in turn would become the prey of older, more hardened criminals. Whether dodging that bullet is merely a postponement of the inevitable or a turning point in his life is up to him.
Some 15-year-olds consider a misdemeanor a badge of honor on the streets. It appears that Loki was well on his way, with the mayor's office reporting that he already had a probation officer. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a long stretch in prison to get over that phony sense of accomplishment.
Dajour "Loki" Washington told police he was "having a bad day" when he slugged James Addlespurger without warning. While the overwhelming majority of black youth his age are law-abiding citizens, Loki's confession is enough to confirm the worst stereotypes some people have about teenagers in general and black boys in particular.
Earlier this week, I got several voice mail messages from heavy breathers insisting that I do something about "the epidemic" of black boys "cold-cocking innocent white people."
Never mind that the only boys I'm personally responsible for are either seniors in college or in graduate school. For a segment of readers with resentments too primal to ease with logic, I'm responsible for the Loki Washingtons of the world, too.
Though goofy, I understand their panic. The footage of the assault stirred outrage among citizens of all backgrounds. No one wants to live in a community where acts of barbarism like the beating inflicted on a high school teacher by a 15-year-old is tolerated.
The failure of imagination at the root of every act of urban violence never ceases to amaze me. Besides failing to consider the possibility of going to jail if he got caught, it never occurred to Loki that he could've been shot during the encounter. What if instead of a teacher, the teenager had taken a swing at a visiting Texan with a gun carry license, a more vigilant attitude around black teenagers and faster reflexes?
Assuming the same circumstances as the Addlespurger assault, there wouldn't have been any Trayvon Martin-level outcry about Loki's death if he had been shot trying to pummel a gun owner who suspected a sneak attack was coming. The video on Tito Way would've exonerated the shooter and made him a national celebrity.
All things considered, Dajour Washington is lucky he's too young to go to prison for simple assault. He may not realize it while sitting in Shuman Center, but he's even luckier to be alive.
First Published October 12, 2012 12:00 am