When I first moved to Jamestown in October 2014, I already had a bitter taste of this city’s rough reputation – my car’s window was smashed in The Post-Journal parking lot the previous week. I was prepared to carry pepper spray, to lock my doors and keep one eye fixed over my shoulder, just in case I needed to crack out my rusty karate moves. But what happened to me recently surpassed the grimmest of my expectations.
It was a mid-September afternoon. I was basking on the Prendergast Library lawn under the shade of a tree, engaged with writing and web-surfing on my laptop, when I looked up and found a band of teenage ruffians had closed in around my turf. I ignored them, yet they lingered. After a brief episode of jeers and taunts, which were actually rather funny, one lunged to wrench my laptop from my hand. My grip prevailed, but another thug swiped my backpack. I stood and watched as they howled and fled with their booty behind the chapel across the cobbled street.
I send my gratitude to the library staff, the director, the police personnel and the citizens present at the crime (special thanks to the man whose cane they kicked out from under him, who later found my pack for me; I hope you get well). Everyone responded swiftly and aided me in the recovery of my possessions, which had been dumped behind a nearby house like so much garbage. I am extremely fortunate nothing was stolen, and that the act appears to simply be a part of their dirty game. I would rather recount this incident as one which highlights the altruism of this community, the overwhelming presence of people who look out for one another and heed each other’s need. Yet my optimism is clouded.
I always had imagined that when I was mugged in Jamestown, it would be the dead of night, and I would be caught defenseless by a huge, simian hoodlum at knife-point behind an alleyway dumpster. But this happened in broad daylight, on public property, in sight of dozens of witnesses and security cameras. What is this lawless, post-apocalyptic land into which I have cast myself?
Later I learned that Prendergast Library is sacked by these mongrels as routinely as Rome was plundered by the Huns. Before this incident, the perpetrators had already been banned from library property – yet that appears to be a diplomatic gesture as impotent as a cease-fire, and we all know how well those hold up. Just look at Ukraine – they’ve shot down four of them in one year.
What’s their secret weapon? Because they are below the legal age of incarceration, they are free to run amuck for several more years. It is a shame that public schools are powerless to discipline this behavior. The most they can do to punish children is lunch detention – even suspension is ruled out. Perhaps what some kids really need is a public spanking.
Would it smell suspiciously of authoritarianism if I were to suggest fortifying Prendergast’s ramparts with trained security forces? Aside from obvious financial implications, you can disagree – when I texted my liberal girlfriend about the incident, she argued that such a measure was reactionary, and instead to address the income inequality and race warfare that incites crime. While that is a legitimate observation, it is naïve to smear that context over every single act of human cruelty. I don’t know how poor these children were, but they were definitely not black, and they did not wish to rob me. For whatever sadistic pleasure, their intent was to harm and torment the library patrons. Just for the fun of it.
I’m afraid that means I have regressed into belief in a simple, primitive caricature of evil. There is a madness that lurks in the halls of rotting tenements, under grimly arching bridges, within neon-lit pubs and even the gnarled sidewalk weeds, and it infects every human’s heart. “The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, kill, and destroy.” But I have no faith in prophets. Throw out the beatitudes, I say. Evil is a mystery that cannot be pacified or understood, only subdued and defeated – even killed, if it must come to blows – by those which evil would seek to ruin.