Race, rape and mental states

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JasonJohnsonBox

(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—It is rare to come across a story so heinous, disturbing and utterly baffling that you bypass your usual emotional reactions. You skip through shock and anger and go straight towards disgust as you go line by line through a story you wish you had never seen. The last time I felt that way was in 2007 when Megan Williams was raped and tortured by six hillbillies in a trailer in West Virginia. But now, unfortunately I have that sickening feeling of disgust again. The story of Anferney Fontenet, who brutally raped a woman in broad daylight in Toledo last week, has reminded me of just how sick some people in this nation can be.

The facts are just coming out now but the story will surely be told in graphic detail by the time my words reach your eyes and the printed page. On Jan. 22 an unidentified 26-year-old woman in Toledo, Ohio, was walking to the library in a residential neighborhood at around 2 p.m.  In the middle of your average street, on a day like any other, her entire life and the lives of everyone around her were horribly changed forever.         Fontenet, 15, walked out from behind some bushes and threatened to cut the woman’s neck with a pair of scissors if she didn’t do as he told her to. He then proceeded to push her down on the sidewalk, take off her pants and rape her in broad daylight.

Now this story alone is usually enough to turn America’s collective stomach and give us one of those odd episodic reminders of the randomness of street crime in this nation. Unfortunately the story’s condemnation actually goes further and deeper than the classic “not even the nice neighborhoods are safe.”

As has been shown repeatedly on CNN, and local news in Toledo, while the woman was being brutally raped men and women drove by and did nothing to stop the attack. This was not the ’hood, or the barrio, or a trailer park or a forgotten side alley. The assault took place on a regular sidewalk you’d see in any neighborhood in America. Eyewitnesses stated that they couldn’t tell if it was an assault or two kids having sex in the street, so they did nothing. It’s 40 degrees in the afternoon in Toledo in January; no one is having consensual sex on a snowy sidewalk in public. One woman claims that she honked her horn, hoping that would stop the pair. It was only when she drove back by the corner later to fire trucks and police cars that it dawned on her that an assault had happened. The police were able to arrive at the scene of the crime and capture the assailant only because one of the half dozen passersby decided to call 9-1-1.

I am the last person in the world to condemn people for not playing the hero. Given the choice I’d advise you start dialing. But the cowardice of the half dozen citizens who did nothing is shameful. To make matters worse the assailant, Anferney Fontenet, is African-American, the victim of his attack is White and she lives in a group home due to her extreme bipolar disorder and advanced Asperger’s syndrome. Look, African-Americans hold no more collective shame for this madman than did Whites when that group of psychopaths kidnapped and tortured Megan Williams years ago, but the racial component will complicate things unnecessarily.

The reason I consistently reference the case of Williams is that this rape has as much to do with our society’s callous disregard for the mentally challenged and women as a whole as it does with our never ending racial animus. An estimated 83 percent of women and 32 percent of men mentally disabled are victims of sexual assault. Let’s hope this case puts a spotlight on the problems of violence against those least able to protect themselves rather than another log on an all too familiar fire of racial antagonism.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)

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