Column: We still feel entitled to our rage
DETROIT — Why such anger, I wonder?
The first was the funeral for a beloved soccer referee, killed with one punch from an angry player.
The second was the sentencing of a man who attacked a motorist and, joining many others, beat him senseless.
The third concerned a high school student who poisoned his teacher’s coffee.
What united all three stories is that none of them had to happen.
No one forced Bassel Saad, a 36-year-old Dearborn, Mich., business owner, to allegedly punch a referee named John Bieniewicz during an adult soccer match. Saad was angry over something. He could have run the other way, or complained later to friends over coffee.
Instead, he was so upset he allegedly had to express himself through a sucker punch. A punch that killed the referee from blunt force trauma to the neck. Now Saad faces second-degree murder charges.
Likewise, no one forced James Davis, a 24-year-old Detroiter, to join a beatdown in April of Steven Utash, whose pickup truck struck a 10-year-old boy who had ventured into the street. Davis, who presumably didn’t begin his day looking to clobber somebody, could have stayed put, watched from the curb or, even better, put his efforts toward helping the boy, as Utash was attempting to do.
Instead, something inside him was so angry that he joined more than a dozen others in kicking, punching and pummeling Utash into near-oblivion.
Now he will spend a year in jail or a work release program.
And certainly nobody forced a 17-year-old Livingston County, Michigan high school student to poison a math teacher by putting Visine eye drops into her coffee day after day. The male student — who was not identified — could have kept quiet, done the homework, like every other student, no matter what was thought of the teacher.
Instead, somehow this teenager was so upset that it justified poisoning a drink — which left the teacher, Mary Aldecoa, with severe symptoms, she told authorities. It wasn’t one day of eye drops in her coffee, but multiple days, repeat performances. Some kid had to want to keep doing this.
Why such anger? Where does it come from? It’s not poverty. It’s not political suffering. These were common events, a soccer match, a math class, even an incident in traffic. Yet we have somehow become so hair-trigger in our reactions, that we grab hammers to kill gnats.
“This is the result of sin,” a cleric was quoted as saying at Bieniewicz’s funeral. Perhaps. But there may be something else at work here, too.
We seem so dissatisfied with our lives these days — despite having more than at any point in history — that big, assertive action attracts us, it elevates us, it lets us pound our chest and feel that we, at that moment, are in charge of things. As opposed to all the moments feeling that we are not.
This, of course, is a pathetic justification, the excuse of an overindulged society. Around the world, people face real problems, starvation, disease, rocket fire, religious oppression. Here we are just angry. We don’t get enough respect. We don’t get paid enough. We don’t feel celebrated enough. We feel pain so we enjoy mocking others’ pain, partaking in a group beating where you can’t get hurt, or secretly poisoning a teacher to watch the symptoms, maybe even laugh about them.
Why such anger? It doesn’t help that the sentencing for such awful acts reflects a justice system cuffed by bureaucracy and technicalities. The kid who put eye drops in the teacher’s coffee will face no charges — no charges? — due to “insufficient legally admissible evidence,” according to the prosecutor’s office.
Davis got one year in jail for beating Utash, a sentence at the low end of the guidelines. Two of the attackers won’t do jail time at all, thanks to their age. Meanwhile, Utash released a statement saying his head “looked like a mushroom” after the beating, and his family claims he has suffered brain damage.
That’s what I keep asking myself, as story after story like these pile up. For what? Because a soccer call ticked you off? Because you didn’t like a math teacher? Why such anger? Why such rage? Until we get control of that, we’ll have no end to our head shaking.
Mitch Albom is a Detroit Free Press columnist.