Okay, the media now has a press release and sketch of the man who attacked me, which is a huge relief to me from a public safety perspective, but raises a whole new batch of anxiety and sadness. Before things head south, let’s clear some air real quick.
The man who attacked me (I refuse to call him “my attacker” because it feels too much like we’re linked together in some way) is black. I have shared a basic description of him in a handful of places prior to this press release.
Sadly, I’m not surprised. This is a very white state, and even if it weren’t, the perception of black men as criminals and thugs is depressingly common in the popular imagination. The idea that this crime can and will be used by bigots to reinforce that stereotype is hugely upsetting to me (obviously not more so than to minority Mainers who will deal with the fallout), and I will make a commitment now to speak out against any racist backlash that comes to my attention.
For anyone inclined to pretend that this information was predictable or inevitable, here’s a reality check: Off the top of my head I can think of two people in recent memory who’ve murdered someone, then lit the house on fire to cover their tracks. Both of them were white. In fact, I can think of a lot of really horrific crime in the state of Maine over the past several years, but I would be hard pressed to name one in which the perpetrator was black. Criminals commit crimes, and anyone who can watch the parade of pale perps passing through our papers and still talk racist shit when a single black man commits a single crime needs to turn off their television and rejoin reality.
This assault was a crime of statistical outliers: While sexual assault is horrifyingly common, it is exponentially more likely that a woman will be victimized by someone she knows than by a stranger. But I was attacked by a stranger. Demographically in this state, it was much more likely that the attacker would be white. But this attacker was black.
Much worse, in my opinion, than my personal suffering is the fact that a violent crime like this has the secondary effect of generating fear and uncertainty, especially in a city as relatively safe as Portland. It would be a real tragedy to compound its impact by allowing bigotry and hate to become part of the narrative. This crime doesn’t need more victims.