By Eric Thomas
Yes, the details are difficult. As first reported by WWJ Newsradio 950, a man named Steve Utash, 54, from Roseville, was driving in Detroit when he accidentally hit a child who darted into the street, stopped to help, and was almost beaten to death by the group of people who witnessed the incident.
Since the story emerged, there’s been dozens of comments from the bomb-throwers on both sides. Some have called this a comment on Detroit itself, on the violence that’s all too familiar in this city we live in nor near, or on the barbarism that sometimes exists in major cities across the country, or chalked it up to the racial tensions that have been part of this world since history has been recorded. Any focus on these factors robs the true responsibility from the perpetrators, who are the people that made the decision.
They decided to beat this person, who was already having a bad day, who tried to right a wrong and was punished without a pause. It’s letting them off easy to spread blame around a neighborhood, city, state or race.
Detroiters are sensitive. We’ve long felt the shame of violence and destruction, be it at the hands of politicians or our neighbors. We’ve endured race riots, breathtaking violence in the 80s and 90s, awful corruption under the boot of a mayor who was found guilty of racketeering, and the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. The scars are so numerous, there’s hardly any skin left. Any time a story like this comes up, we shudder. We’ve been searching decades for good news. Any isolated outrage sends us back several steps, shaking our heads and wondering if it will ever end.
This story has stirred those old problems. Check the comment section on any online version and you’ll find the familiar phrases about “those people” or a printed list of rules on “how to drive through Detroit safely.” The thoughts written between the lines, and some not so subtle, is that Detroit itself is to blame for this story. It’s a comment on our culture, our neighborhoods, and, lets face it, the minority populations who live within them. It’s racist, of course, but it doesn’t stop there.
Its normal to draw a line between yourself and the people who commit acts of violence such as these. How can you not? We can’t imagine what would lead a group of people to beat up someone who stopped to help someone else, but the majority of Detroiters are horrified, too. Many people disagree. They don’t look at the individual decisions, they assign a philosophy or a lack of humanity to them as a race or neighborhood.
Sometimes context isn’t necessary. Sometimes random, terrible things happen and they are anomalies. As reported by WWJ, some of the local residents are in shock. Emily Pokoj, who works at the All-American Coney Island near where the incident took place, told WWJ that most people would have kept driving if they hit someone in that neighborhood.
“For someone to actually stop, you know…people should be thanking him for that,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Many insist on blaming Detroit for this tragedy, but they are blind to the irony. The people who beat the man who stopped stood on some warped sense of righteous indignation, rendering their anger on the person who they blamed. The people who say words like “savages,” are operating on the same kind of indignation, aimed at the people who beat him. Indignation on both sides is wrong. You can call for justice without demanding vengeance, and too often the two are confused. Why is Detroit only represented by the people who commit acts of violence? Why do we define the city as the people who were beating the victim, and not by the nurse who stopped them?
Your anger is justified, but aim it at the right people. The people who deserve blame are the people who did it, and the people who stay quiet to protect the criminals. Blaming a city or a race of people, and hanging it on all of us, exonerates the guilty. This has nothing to do with humanity, it has nothing to do with a person’s race. A race does not make decisions, because every person is capable of individual choices. A small group of African Americans do not reflect the values of the population as a whole, and that goes for every race. It’s best we remember that, because it seems like we forget it far too often.
Detroit didn’t do this to the man who now lies in critical condition. That neighborhood didn’t do this. The individuals who beat him did this. The people who shrug at the police when they ask questions are helping them. Spreading blame to a race or city absolves the actual culprits of responsibility. The people who did this are disgusting.
They deserve to sit in the spotlight alone.