Who is behind the wave of assaults on students?

Are there charismatic leaders who round up the posse for “a bit of the old ultra-violence?”

by John Hoff

Most of us have watched popular television programs about criminal investigations, and the recent assaults are probably the most high-profile crime issue on campus right now. The urge to be an armchair detective is strong, so why not just give in to temptation?

If we all put our heads together, maybe we can figure out who is behind the recent rash of robberies and assaults around campus.

In these opinions and editorial pages, we have seen words like “My best friend is a student who was recently assaulted” and the gripping first-hand account of guest columnist Paula Haynes, who said the robbery motive appeared to be a front, an excuse to attack for the thrill of violence. But we don’t need to be in the middle of the assault or personally know one of the victims to have ideas about the crime wave.

I’ll give you my speculation as food for thought, but you surely have your own ideas. Please, share your thoughts about this issue.

First, let us consider that these assaults are carried out by groups ranging in size, some of the groups quite large. So let us assume, for sake of speculation, all or many of the assaults were carried out by related groups. Some nights only three members are present, other nights have 10 to 15, but assume for the sake of speculation all the groups are linked.

So what are the group dynamics? Are there charismatic leaders who round up the posse for “a bit of the old ultra-violence?” (It’s a phrase from “A Clockwork Orange,” an excellent movie and a better book.) Are there others in the group who possess less force of personality, but have ideas and concepts which are taken up by the group?

In what other group activities do they participate? We know one group ran into a house where a party was taking place, so do they seek or frequent house parties? Do they hang out together as well as rob and assault together? Do they go tagging in the very same neighborhoods where they rob and assault? Do they get stoned or hammered together?

Would they brag to a third party about their deeds? Might they be overheard talking about an assault? Could somebody very close to them, like a parent, sibling or romantic interest notice clues like bruised fists or scraped knuckles from participating in an assault? How about an extra backpack turning up somewhere? Blood stains on clothing?

Are students merely convenient victims, or is anger being directed at students? Is it possible these young men wish they were college students, but can’t hack it in college, so kicking a student’s ass and taking his possessions represents an act against college students who are both envied and hated?

Or is it possible they really are college students, but have some kind of dark, painful void in their personality which they are forced to fill with a self-constructed “gangster” identity?

Are these criminals so economically desperate they need to steal a wallet or backpack, or do the possessions have symbolic value, proof of an ass-kicking to gain membership in a gang? If so, what is the name of this gang? Or is the activity too random and unorganized to be formalized with a name?

During the assault witnessed by Haynes, the group ignored her presence while she stood with DVDs in her hand. Do the robbers have codes or modes of behavior which prevent the assault of women? But perhaps they are quite willing to harass a woman and make her fear assault. Art sophomore Evan Prokop was coming to the aid of a woman yelling at a group to get away when he was viciously attacked. Did Prokop only interrupt harassment, or did he possibly prevent a rape?

Since I am very involved in the media, I look for patterns of people being influenced by the media. Because of their pattern of behavior, I suspect the robbers read about themselves in this very newspaper, at least sometimes.

For example, during the assault witnessed by Haynes, a backpack with a valuable laptop computer was ignored, a fact pointed out by Haynes in a guest column. However, during two recent robberies which campus police say are “likely related,” two suspects in their late teens or early 20s with medium-light builds and dark complexions stole a wallet and backpack from one victim, and then a backpack from another. A dark-colored minivan driven by a third suspect was seen during the second robbery.

Because of behavior shifts like that, it seems to me the group is reading media accounts, and simultaneously changing and adapting their tactics. If the group is reading about themselves in the media, I’d like to ask them what they believe, what they think they represent. Perhaps they imagine themselves to be gangsters, and are imitating and emulating media portrayals of a gangster lifestyle.

However, their use of weapons and a getaway vehicle against random pedestrians who are unarmed, as well as their tactic of massively outnumbering victims reveals the cowardly nature of this group which, so far as I can tell, lacks a name.

They are not true gangsters, but merely Polo-shirt-wearing wannabes. Because they are amateurs, they’ve probably left a sloppy trail of evidence a mile wide. So let’s all think in unison about this rash of assaults, and use our collective intelligence to crack a mystery which threatens all of us.

John Hoff welcomes comments
at [email protected].