Sunday, November 08, 2009

Random Act of Violence

Yesterday I received a subpoenae from the Berliner Polizei to act as a witness on the record.

...Maybe I should start over.

A few weeks ago, I was out with a group of friends. We had intended to go to a somewhat famous Berlin nightclub called Berghain. Before we actually got to our destination, however, we stopped in a Burger King for a snack. While standing in line with my friends, I looked over casually and noticed that a younger man had what the Germans call a Totschl├Ąger in his hand. The dictionary translation of this item is a "blackjack," but Americans would recognize such a thing as an extendable, metal baton. You know, the kind of weapon that riot police usually brandish.

I thought to myself, "That... is a weapon. Strange that he has that in his hand right now." The baton was fully extended, and his grip on it was firm. The guy holding it randomly looked at a German who was standing in front of me in line, and said something quietly to him that I could not hear.

Within 5 seconds of my noticing the weapon, violence erupted. The baton swung and hit the German in front of me square in the temple. The victim fell immediately, attempting to cover his head with his arms. As this was literally one arm's length away from me, I grabbed one of my friends and lunged away. Two of the attackers friends joined in the melee, kicking the victim in the back and abdomen while the Totschl├Ąger continued to land blows as well.

Just as quickly as it had started, it was over. The three attackers ran out the door and into a running car that was waiting for them, and they took off.

The victim was upright, being tended to by his girlfriend and two of his other friends. He was bleeding profusely from the head. There was blood everywhere, spattered all over the floor in giant swaths from the blows of the baton. What surprised me the most about this incident was not that it happened, but rather the reaction of the customers and staff of the establishment. The manager and the workers just stared in awe and confusion, as did the customers. Angry, I took some command, demanding that she call the police and an ambulance, and asking for a cup of water for the victim. As I offered the water to him, I asked him if he was alright and if he could understand me, to which he nodded and gave sluggish responses. I am not a doctor, but I am almost positive that he was in shock and probably had a concussion from the look of the side of his head. There really was just so much blood. My group of friends (there were 6 of us in all) were almost entirely useless. Only one other person in our group even offered to speak to the police when they (eventually) showed up.

I told the victim's friends that I would stay as long as was necessary to speak with the police. I spoke reassuring words to his weeping girlfriend, offering that he could have been rendered unconscious or worse. The ambulance came first, and took him away swiftly. The friends remained with me and we all sat around somberly waiting for the police. It might be interesting to point out that during this entire episode, I was almost eerily calm and collected. I even ordered some french fries, when everyone else's appetite had (for perhaps understandable reasons) disappeared in light of this random act of cruelty and aggression.

There was no motive for this. It was not ethnically or racially motivated, as one might possibly imagine could be the case. The two groups did not know each other at all. What is known, is that the 3 attackers were not German. The accent of the attacker had a strong Slavic sound, so maybe he was from Ukraine or Russia... although I don't know enough about the differences in Slavic languages to be able to tell with much certainty.

The Polizei finally showed up, and I gave them my account, as did 1 of my friends. We both received a Vorladung (subpoenea) in the mail yesterday... so I do not know if they caught the attackers or anything. I just know that I have to be at a police station on December 1st to give them my account as a Zeuge (witness).

I mentioned that I felt very calm, almost detached, during the moment. Well, the next day, the reality of the even settled in and began to nag at my mind. The only rationalization that I could come up with was that this random violence was simply "fun" for the attackers, like something taken directly out of A Clockwork Orange.

We never got in to the club, which was probably just as well.

The world is a weird, complex place... as we all know. I read endless accounts of suicide bombings in Kabul or Baghdad, or of shooting sprees, like what happened at Ft. Hood in Texas recently, and I feel sympathy for the victims. But when it happens in front of your eyes, or when it could just have easily have been me, I suppose it forced me to pause and reflect on the nature of violence. On why humanity is so violent in nature. I do not blame the media, and I do not blame video games. Armies fight wars for political reasons (that the majority of soldiers themselves probably do not grasp, or even care about). Militias and terrorists blow up civilians for religious reasons. Disaffected youths shoot up schools like Virginia Tech or Columbine and everyone always reacts with shock or asks the elusive questions, "Why?," or "How could this happen?"

The thing that separates what I saw from the things I mentioned in that last paragraph, is the motive. Some would argue that it does not matter, that the attackers were just "sick in the head," or "psycho." But I think it is more than that. How or what exactly, I am not sure. Who is to blame? And what can I do about it? What can anyone do about it?

1 comment:

Jim said...

Well written Sam, the world is full of people that have never felt like they were worthy of the rest of us so they will hurt as many as they can to make themselves feel better.