praying to stop violence

two nights ago, a friend of ours got savagely beaten. they live right across a school with a big, open playground, which is often used for wild late-night partying. he went out and asked them to keep it down. six people swarmed him and beat him so badly that a piece of metal got lodged in his skull. i haven’t been able to reach them yet (i’m still on vacation, and they, understandably, don’t answer their phone) so i don’t know what his prognosis for recovery is. i’m just glad he’s alive.

as i was lying in bed praying last night, i found myself drawn not so much to pray for our friend but to pray for his attackers. our friend is part of a strong community, people who care for him and his family. as i thought of him, i kept getting an image of someone surrounded by peace and love and light.

his attackers, on the other hand – that is where i sensed darkness. fear, anger, secrecy, guilt, shame, shock. i thought of the serenity prayer. “grant them the serenity to accept the things they cannot change”. what would that look like for them? i find that hard to imagine. how can one have serenity after doing something as horrible as that?

they swarmed and beat an unarmed man for asking for what’s rightfully his (peace and quiet) and to defend their transgression (“don’t tell us what to do”, they reportedly said).

this is probably one of the most awfully violent acts: they outnumbered him, they cornered him, they beat him not with their hands but with weapons, they did it for a reason that was completely out of proportion with the act.

i don’t know much about the psychology of swarming but i wonder whether there is also a degree of deliberation that goes into acts like that.

did they talk about something like this before, joking about how they would “show them” if someone dared to interrupt them? was there a moment of choice for each of the mobbers where they could have decided not to participate? or where they could have decided to not use weapons, or not beat him relentlessly? (apparently they only stopped because his wife started screaming, maybe afraid of the police) acts of deliberate violence are always more heinous than those where reason is completely extinguished..

what went on in these people’s minds and hearts?

what do their lives look like that they would even come close to contemplating such horrible things? most people have value thresholds – they may filch a bit of stationery at the office but they would never shoplift. or they might yell at the dog once in a while but would never beat their wife.

what happened for these people that their thresholds against taking another’s life disappeared? this is a threshold that most of us would never even come close to crossing. how many beatings did they get so that they felt beating was ok? what is it that made them so angry and violent? what is it that made these hearts and minds, the hearts and minds of boys that were once innocent children, so black and hateful?

i fear for them and more darkness that will seep out of them. i don’t mean to ignore the victim but i honestly believe that he is safely in god’s hand. he is the victim of tragedy, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. tragedy is incomprehensible, but it is a part of life. tomorrow it could hit me.

but these young men who beat him so horribly, no, i don’t see them safely in god’s hands. i see them scattered about in a chaos of guilt and anger and fear, and i am afraid that they will spread more of it. how can we stop that? how can i be part of stopping that? is there anything that i can do for them to – well, have serenity? so that instead of hatred, they can spread acceptance?

all i can think of for now is to write this and to pray some more.

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