These are violent days in America, and wherever I go, I’m asked about it. Why is the crime rate out of control? Why is common decency so uncommon? When mayhem becomes mundane in a so-called civilized land, what can stem the tide?

The questions intensified after the now infamous “wilding” last April. The senseless crime in New York’s Central Park left us all shocked and outraged.

Few people are unfamiliar with the facts of the case. The young investment banker had been warned about jogging by herself at night; but, as a friend remembered, “She was the kind who said, ‘Why would anybody want to hurt me?’ ”

But a group of boys between the ages of 14 and 17 did want to hurt her. There was no special reason. She was raped, stabbed, beaten, and left for dead. Somehow, she survived.

Frighteningly Normal

New York police are familiar with gangs, drugs, neglect, abuse, and how young people from such backgrounds can turn on others. But these kids were a bit different. They lived on the edge of Harlem, to be sure. But four of the youths lived in a building with a doorman. One was enrolled in parochial school. Another had just received an A on a book report. Another played the tuba in his school band. These kids were frighteningly normal.

They were normal—except that none voiced any remorse about the crime. In jail the boys joked about the attack as if they were boasting of video-game victories.

In every commentary on this horrific case is the same question I’m so often asked. Why?

Some answers are as outrageous as the crime itself. Forensic psychologist Shawn Johnston explained that the boys are “damaged … in pain inside … acting out their pain on innocent victims.” As Harvard educator Alvin Poussaint put it, “They’re letting out anger. There’s ...

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