This week was ripe for too many columns and stories. Those will now remain in the wings.
Unfortunately, a late evening telephone call a couple of weeks ago from one of my students changed directions. And because this article references the “other” newspaper in Columbia, The Columbia Daily Tribune, the election was to print the story here and not in my usual spot in the Columbia Missourian.
My student’s daughter is an Army reservist waiting to be deployed to Kuwait. For the time being, we will call her Private Smith. On March 26 at 1:00 AM, Smith was severely beaten at the Petro Mart in southeast Columbia, Missouri. It appears that the beating was initiated not because of anything she did or say but because she is an American of African heritage.
The person arrested for the alleged assault is identified as Chance E. Garriott of Columbia. Because he has not been found guilty of the crime, it is “alleged.” According to the report and her mother’s description of the incident, Smith was with her friends for an evening of enjoyment before her deployment. In the store, she avoided Garriott’s racial slurs and was returning to her car when attacked.
She was not the first that evening. Smith and her mother confirmed that the clerk at the Petro Mart told authorities that Garriott had verbally assaulted someone else that evening because of race.
It is because of the use of racially inflammatory language that the Boone County prosecutor’s office might consider adding “hate crime” to the charge of assault.
The news report said that Pvt. Smith was taken to the hospital for “treatment.” She was struck in the face by a man almost twice her size and may have to have surgery on her eye. That injury may keep her from deployment. However, her injuries and the injuries that are spreading through her family are more severe and more traumatic.
The Smith family is now being assaulted by comments made online. Her mother told me that members of her family are beside themselves with anger and distained for Garriott and what is being written about her daughter. The family perceives the negative comments as allegations that the Private encouraged or aggravated the assault. Nothing can be further from the truth.
The problem is that online commenters can hide behind screen names precluding them from accountability. For example, “Pawn” wrote, “He (Garriott) was just playing “black eye king” – no hate crime.”
“sisyphus” wrote that, “if black kids can hit a white person in a parking garage and only get five years in prison, this white guy should be able to punch a black woman in the mouth and only get a $15 ticket or something.” The writer was referring to an assault by eight black men on a white man. The attackers were playing a “game” called “Knock Out King.”
Though there is a resemblance to Adam Taylor’s assault in a parking garage in downtown Columbia in June 2009, racism had nothing to do with his beating. That was strictly stupidity.
“tastes_like_chicken_2me” asked the unseemly question, “did she say or do anything to provoke him? as stupid and scummy as the guy is, something had to set him off to make him attack her.” Does it matter? This type of violence is never acceptable.
What Smith and her family do not realize is that the majority of the responses to the online article are positive and supportive. It is unfortunate that a few who either question Smith’s actions or appear to support Garriott’s based on speculation at best, ignorance at worse, seem to the surface like soured cream. Unfortunately, sometime we only see the soured cream.
Smith, a soft-spoken woman, seemed more upset that her injuries might prevent her from military deployment than of the assault. She talked about serving her country, regardless of its faults and history, to the best of her ability. She will serve and is the true patriot and hero in this story.
Any person who is assaulted because of skin pigmentation, religious belief or lack of belief, ethnicity, gender, gender orientation, or physical or mental ability is also a victim of ignorance and hate. In all such cases, prosecutors need to consider the hate crime provision.
As “vh1” stated so well, “All crime is a hate crime as far as I’m concerned.”
It is too bad that Smith was not wearing her uniform that evening. Then Garriott could have “terrorist” added to the hate crime charge of assault.