About respect for Keenan and Reuben

A friend called me like she does once in a while (since I never call anyone). We talked about current happenings in our life, so naturally I told her about my posts and attempts to bring attention to the Amboli attack which lead to the murders of Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes. Justice for Keenan and Reuben campaign.

She had seen it in the news. She was very surprised to know that we had to try a lot to get attention initially. She comes from an abusive family in slums and had several things she wanted to say and she agreed that I could write them as long as I kept her name out (family complications).

She began with saying there was no need to make public heroes out of Keenan and Reuben. They got into a fight with drunk thugs over eve teasing and won. Then they were the victims of a revenge attack. An attack they had no choice but to fight off how they could.

She said that it is common to make a victim larger than life (she lost a cousin who died trying to save someone) and turn them into paragons. She thinks there is no need. She thinks by making the “heroes” people see them as far better than themselves and thus capable of far more heroic acts than themselves…. and you get the drift?

In other words, she thinks that by making people heroes, a large part of the crowd effectively rules those actions out for themselves. Thus, in her opinion, if people keep making heroes out of strangers they didn’t even know, they will end up doing the exact same things they do currently, since they don’t see themselves like them. They are usually a part of the crowd, and now they know about the heroes, but that doesn’t bring them out of the crowd and wading in to help.

Her words seemed important to me, because as a part of the Justice for Keenan and Reuben campaign, we are also hoping to bring about social change where people take on the challenge and actually make it theirs. I agree with her that it isn’t going to help to attribute unknown qualities or intent to Keenan and Reuben and in the process overlook the real significance of their deaths and our own culpability in it.

It is one thing for those who knew them to speak of their courage and quite another for utter strangers to say things about them that they have no clue whether they are true or false, simply because they are touched by their deaths and want to say something. More useful for those utter strangers to look at the consequences of behavior similar to theirs. Keenan and Reuben may or may not have been heroes. Given a choice, they may indeed have taken on the fight faced with overwhelming odds and weapons or they might have ran off to fight another day – which incidentally is not cowardice – it is actually excellent advice EVERY self-defense expert will share and wiser.

I would like to imagine that instead of the bloodthirsty versions I get to hear, the two smart men would probably do the smart thing if they had a choice.

The main point in this situation really is two fold. First – the kind of mentality rampant and rising on the streets that objectifies women and sees nothing wrong in harassing them for cheap thrills. The other is that in the face of crimes being committed, no one came to help. Even if there were non-heroes being attacked with weapons, they deserve the people around them preventing them from losing their life. Or at least trying. It isn’t about Keenan and Reuben. It is about you and me.

It brought to mind a tweet I read yesterday. Someone said that they would have been the people watching in the crowd, and that they would not have felt able to do anything in the face of a fight.

This is a problem I had spoken of in an earlier post on how to combat domestic abuse. The problem I see is similar. For domestic abuse, people don’t interfere because they see it as the victim and perpetrator’s private business. It is an excuse to avoid being unpopular. On the street, the business may not be private between the victim and perpetrator, but the result is the same. Instead of calling it their private business, the common man instead minds his own business. Same difference. Witness wrong, do nothing.

And I think many of the ideas for preventing domestic abuse in that post may be applicable to all kinds of abuse from sexual harassment and molestation to street crime and I may create an adapted post later for practical tips to combat these things.

But it all hinges around speaking up and not assuming that being witness to a wrong means that you can’t be a participant. The best way to deal with something gone wrong is to right it. How you can.

Today, as the story of the murder is alive in our minds, it is easy to be angry with the spectators, to be shocked and to create a blizzard of social networking activity demanding change.

Demands for extra-curricular justice abound. But that is our anger. Our impotence eating us up. But falling over to the other side doesn’t restore balance. To stand up against a wrong, we can’t promote the “equal and opposite wrong”, but we need to put our trust in our constitution and laws. Think of it as the civic version of turning to a greater power in times of need.

There are people indulging in hate for the crowd, the restaurant, self hate even. Hate will not help either. As the saying goes, “don’t get mad, get even”. Fix this inaction over eve teasing, street crime. THAT will be justice for Keenan and Reuben. That will respect it more than any poems about bravery.

My friends, we have to BE the change. We ARE that crowd. It is high time we stopped parroting things we imagine two men we didn’t know were, and started talking straight on what we know for sure about ourselves in that situation. To look at it honestly, and hold it to the same exacting standards we held the onlookers of the murder to, and see how we measure up. Would we act like heroes?

If not, what changes are needed in us so that we may find that ability we wished for in the spectators to exist in ourselves? How can we remove our hesitations, how can we think through the viability of taking a risk and still keep this standard we have set higher than our fears and inhibitions paralyzing us?

If we can look deep within and dare to voice those answers, we may be able to devise and promote solutions that can help others (and ourselves) become more proactive and respond coherently as a society in such a situation.

Think about it, because that would be the real tribute. Concrete. Based on something YOU know for certain, rather than offer “mumbai spirit” style shraddhanjalis of words because they sound like something a hero would be. It would be the real tribute if the social change needed for the goals of the Justice for Keenan and Reuben campaigns succeeds.

Unfortunately, that will mean investing yourself for the cause rather than throwing around words. It will mean risk, it will mean soul searching, it will mean confronting the less than admirable within us, and rather than mummifying it as a villain, embracing it and helping it change, by creating an environment where change is possible.

It will mean stopping minding your own business and taking charge of your world. It will mean going through the awkward learning stages of change that are less than superb. It may mean that your voice shakes when you confront someone harassing a stranger on the street. It may mean that you fail and get harassed right along with the victim. And it will mean that you have to do it anyway.

And for that, you have to look deep, deep within, in those ugly spaces of less than ideal qualities and pinpoint those that have to be changed. Non-negotiable.

The key point here being it IS your business, because it is your world too. Keenan and Reuben have added 2 numbers to the statistics of street violence in YOUR city. It is YOUR people unsafe. It is YOUR city’s name slipping down on whatever statistics are being kept.

So stop saying things you don’t know, just because people who knew them are saying them. Instead, say things you do know that will help.