I've spent quite a bit of time lately thinking about Saturday's Strength Against Violence event.
Background first: On the morning of Sept. 22, also a Saturday, a female jogger was attacked with the brutal intent to commit a sexual assault on the Rivergreenway. The incident took place around 11 a.m. near the bridge at the intersection of Lower Huntington Road and Tillman Road; a passing motorist disrupted the assault, though the attacker was able to escape.
A thorough description was released by the Fort Wayne Police Department and published by media outlets. No arrests have been made, with Officer Raquel Foster, a spokeswoman for the FWPD, telling me Thursday that the investigation was still open and that anyone with information that can help lead to an arrest can contact the police.
Days later, I received an invitation to attend “Strength Against Violence.” From 11 a.m. to noon this Saturday, the event is meant for attendees to come to where the brazen attack took place and, according to the Facebook page for the event, “line the trails shoulder-to-shoulder, starting under the bridge at Lower Huntington & Tillman Roads (near mile marker 8), stretching in both directions. We will stand quietly but firmly in place for 30 minutes, to show that we care for each other and that we will work together to keep our outdoor spaces safe for all who use them.”
Fair enough. Simple enough.
I decided to do some research for a possible story in order to notify the general populace about the event. I was directed to Melissa Renner, the person who is spearheading the event, and interviewed her as part of the process. During the interview, Renner explained that the symmetry is intentional -- members of the community are meant to be there at the same time the attack took place, in the same location.
And then I wondered if the short story I intended to write was enough.
In this line of work, there are many pitfalls when engaging in advocacy through columns. I don't write them often for daily publication in The News-Sentinel. Far more often, I believe my role in this medium is to report facts as best I can find them, interpret data and information that is provided, and present it to the public and allow them to decide where they want to be.
People absolutely should get to choose how much they want to know about the world in which they live. I don't get to choose what they do with the information they have.
But with this story, I kept looping back to two things.
The first: Be honest. Society, in some quarters, has already conceded that people court danger from daring to be outside from dusk till dawn. We accept that criminals will seemingly always have access to as many weapons as law enforcement. We live in a world where, sadly enough, women who are victimized are still blamed for “being places they shouldn't” and “dressing a certain way.” But this time? A jogger was attacked in broad daylight on a trail where plenty of public and private dollars have been invested to promote fitness.
The second: I admit that I'm na´ve at times. A dreamer, despite all I've seen in the places I've been. But I've always believed in this admittedly paraphrased quote from long ago, “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”
The Rivergreenway isn't a place that people have tended to need to fear, and the recent incident shouldn't change that. The FWPD's Foster told me that criminal activity has tended to be nothing more severe than vehicle break-ins at Foster Park.
The police department does an admirable job. But they can't be everywhere. They need assistance. Moreso, they need the public to be aware, to care, to be willing to pay attention. Because real life isn't like television dramas where witty detectives trade one-liners for 30 minutes, then district attorneys trade more one-liners for another 30 minutes, and the bad guy goes to prison just before the end credits play.
Sometimes, people can make a place better by simply choosing to be involved members of the community, in simple ways.
There are dozens of people who have committed to attending Saturday's event, and that is a credit to them. This column isn't meant to promote anything other than that cause, but I am promoting it. If people can fit it into their schedules, I am hopeful more will come.
Why? Because at some point -- and I would argue that this is one of those occasions -- standing up for something, no matter how symbolic, is worth the time of individuals.
Individuals standing together is what makes us a community. A community stating what is and is not acceptable is what makes us a society that can believe that at some point, heinous acts will be exposed and justice will prevail.
On Saturday, Sept. 22, a woman was attacked at 11 a.m. while jogging on the Rivergreenway. Of all the criminal activity that society has to swallow every day, is that act one of them that we can accept as business-as-usual?
Obviously, I think not.