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FROM MUMIA ABU-JAMAL
SNATCH AND GRAB IN CENTRAL PARK
Column Written 6/26/2000
All Rights Reserved
"Next to God, we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth having." - Mary McLeod Bethune
The spectacle of hordes of young Black and Puerto-Rican men, wetting, grabbing and stripping young women in New York's famed Central Park in the waning hours of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, sent shock waves through the city, across the nation, and indeed, around the world. Almost as baffling was the lack of response by police, who told weeping, terrified, angry and barely-clothed women that they couldn't leave their posts, that they didn't have radios on them, or directing them to fill out complaints. This frenzied attack on over 40 young women would've been denied or ignored were it not for the power of videotape.
Although for most of us a natural reaction to this unhealthy spectacle would be shock, denial, or even disbelief, another response, one informed by history, might have been more appropriate: it's logical, and therefore, foreseeable.
Undoubtedly, a number of readers are asking serious questions at this point: "Logical? What?! Jamal, you must be crazy!" What is crazy is the deep and abiding hatred, fear, and envy of women that lies in the recesses of the American psyche.
This resistance to the unleashing of female power is deeply rooted in the West, as revealed in the motto promoted by the Roman Catholic Church in the 12th and 13th century: "Woman is a temple built over a sewer." The infamous book Malleus Maleficarum ("The Witches' Hammer," publ. 1487) led to the torture, death and damning of thousands of women in Europe, in the name of witch-hunting. The name, Salem, proves this wasn't just a European phenomenon.
"Ok, Jamal - What's this stuff got to do with what happened in Central Park, man?"
America's history is a history of the domination of women, and where official domination is not allowed, unofficial ways of subordination will be found.
What happened in Central Park in June of 2000 was not "clean fun," "wild boys," or an open form of erotic play. What happened was a mass attack on women, to humiliate them, and to subordinate them. It was an act designed to discipline them by instilling terror in them. It was an act of veiled hatred, that was seconded by the cavalier treatment the women received at the hands of the cops. It was an act motivated more by gender dynamics, than racial dynamics. But, there was another dynamic at work: that of mass psychology.
Psychiatrists Frantz G. Alexander and Sheldon T. Selesnic, in The History of Psychiatry (1966) cited the work of French psychologist Gustave Le Bon, who wrote La Psychologie des Foules (1895) (The Psychology of Fools), for the idea that conscience is naturally diminished by mobs:
.. Because the voice of the individual conscience is silent in a group. All that has been repressed, all that violates the standards of the conscience, is free to appear uninhibited. (p.204).
What had been socially repressed? The deep-seated misogyny of the West, or hatred of women.
It was lessons well-learned by teenaged boys, who were modeling not only disrespectful, and misogynistic videos, movies, and TV shows, but also a political culture that has, as one of its central themes, the hatred, demonization, and destabilization of poor women, especially women of color. It may not have been nice, but it was logical, in a society erected on domination.
It is time to change the lessons we teach kids, by radically transforming society itself.