MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, in our weekly money coach segment, we talk about whether and why African-Americans have been disproportionately affected by the recession. That conversation in a few minutes.
But first, we want to bring you up to date on a horrific crime that is setting off deep concern about the behavior of some young people today, as well as provoking some difficult conversations about race and class and ethnicity.
So far, six suspects have been arrested in connection with a gang rape of a 15-year-old student at Richmond High School in California. The rape took place on campus grounds during a homecoming dance. Police say they believe as many as 20 individuals witnessed the assault and failed to intervene or report it and that some even took pictures.
In addition, the Contra Costa Times newspaper has reported that authorities are investigating a racial element to this because the alleged victim is white, according to their report. Four of those arrested are Latino, although, one of these young men, a 21-year-old, has been released for lack of evidence. One of those who remains in custody is African-American and one is white. All are between the ages of 15 and 21.
We wanted to talk more about this, about how the community is responding to this situation, so we've called two members of the Richmond High School community. They've been designated as spokespersons by the group Youth Together. That's a non-profit organization aimed at enhancing leadership skills among young people. Norma Bautista is a senior at Richmond High and a lead student organizer with Youth Together. Norma also serves as vice president for Street Soldiers. That's a violence prevention program.
Also with us is Ronald Bremond. He's a biology teacher at Richmond High. He's in charge of Street Soldiers. He's also president of the Richmond chapter of Junior 100. That's a mentoring program for African-American males. You can see they're both very involved in the community. So I welcome you both. Thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. NORMA BAUTISTA (Student, Richmond High School): Yeah, thank you.
Mr. RONALD BREMOND (Biology, Richmond High School): My pleasure.
MARTIN: Norma, can I start by asking you, how did you hear about what happened at the homecoming dance and what did you hear at first?
Ms. BAUTISTA: First of all, you know, like I have a lot of connections with the students and with the teachers. And one of my student friends, they told me, they go, Norma, do you know what happened today (unintelligible) No, I don't know what happened. And then everybody told me that my friend got raped.
MARTIN: When people talk about this, how did they talk about it? Did they talk about it as, oh, how terrible? Or oh, just, this is what happened.
Ms. BAUTISTA: No, it is how terrible and also this is what happened because a lot of our students, especially the young girls are really devastated and also our young men.
MARTIN: Ronald, talk to me too, if you would, about how you think people have been talking about this - how the community has responded to what's happened?
Mr. BREMOND: Well, the teachers at Richmond High have taken time to have talking circles where they can share their ideas. And so there's been a range of reaction from the students. Some were, mainly shocked and disbelief, but also kind of looking at the causes and what may have caused it and allowed people to be involved in this.
MARTIN: What are some of the causes? I think that's why - I think that's - I think the thing a lot of people were struggling with. What are people saying about what could cause this?
Mr. BREMOND: My belief is the fact that there are certain rules that young people go by that are involved in activities that are pretty negative. And one of the rules is a negative view of women. I think that's at the bottom of it that would allow a group of young men to abuse and rape someone that's 15 years old.
MARTIN: Some of the media reports of the story suggested there might be a racial aspect to the story. As it is customary - news organizations customarily do not release identifying details about the alleged victim of a sexual attack. But it has been reported by one of the newspapers in the community, the Contra Costa Times as we said, that the alleged victim is white. And there was a multiracial cast of characters involved among the alleged perpetrators as we know.
There was an interview with some of the friends of the alleged victim who are also white. And they said to the reporters that they felt very conspicuous being white. And there is some speculation that that might be an element here. Norma, I want to ask what do you think about that. Do you think that that might be true?
Ms. BAUTISTA: No, that is not true because personally, like in our school, we have a large percentage of Latinos and African-Americans, and we have a little bit of, you know, American white people. And I know, in my belief, it wasn't a racial thing, no it wasn't. It could have happened, you know, to an American girl, a Latino girl, like also an African-American girl.
MARTIN: Why do you think that?
Ms. BAUTISTA: Because firstly, I know, like in our school, we are nice with, you know, like the white people. We're cool with them. We work with them, you know. We never put them aside because we're all together in our school, because in my school, like everybody, you know, is cool with everybody, you know.
MARTIN: Do you think that they would agree with you?
Ms. BAUTISTA: Yes, they would agree with me. You can ask anybody in our school, they'll tell you the same answer.
MARTIN: Mr. Bremond, what do you think about that?
Mr. BREMOND: I tend to agree. In the discussions we've had for several days, race has never come up as one of issues. And there have been pretty honest discussions. And I would think that if it was racial, that something like that would have come up. Possibly because there are so few white students here, they maybe feel victimized in that sense, and very sensitive to it. So from my point of view, I don't think that was an issue.
MARTIN: Can I ask you about the bystander aspect of this. Mr. Bremond, what about this? And Norma, I want to ask you about this too. The fact that - if the reports are true, that this many people stood by and watched this, what's that about?
Ms. BAUTISTA: One thing I will say that I can be in their shoes because like I said we have a lot of bad people everywhere. These cases, like they mentioned in the report, that every nine seconds a woman gets raped, not just in Richmond but everywhere in the United States. And like I said, you know, the students, I don't know, you know, that's them, they watched it. It was a really horrific thing that they did and everybody in our school says that.
MARTIN: The boys and the girls?
Ms. BAUTISTA: The boys and the girls. Like Mr. Bremond mentioned, like, we had our circles. This happened school-wide on Thursday. We had circles every - in every single classroom, and everybody had different attitudes and like different views on it. But they thought it was really like very, very terrible. They would never ever, like, support that.
MARTIN: You don't hear anybody defending it, saying, oh, she deserved it because blahdiblah. You don't hear any of it - you're saying you're not hearing any of that.
Ms. BAUTISTA: No.
MARTIN: No. Mr. Bremond, what do you think about that, the whole bystander aspect of that? Do you have any thoughts about that?
Mr. BREMOND: Sure. I think, again, when you have a group of young men, a lot of times, if that group mentality - and one - another kind of unwritten rule is that you don't stand up. You know, if something like that is going on, you don't step out to try and stop that. And as sad and as sick as it sounds, that's kind of the rule that they follow.
Mr. BREMOND: I think a lot of it has to do with the message they get from others, you know, in media and music. You know, there was actually a song that said, it's no fun unless the homies have some. It's almost like, I mean, that's the music they're getting and once that's put out in the music, they kind of tend to take that on.
MARTIN: Norma, do you think that's true?
Ms. BAUTISTA: Yeah, that is true. Like you see, like in the music you see - seeing us women as minority and treating them like trash. And it also all depends on the families too, like how their children are raised. In some case, it is and some cases there isn't because you have families like, you know, they raised their children right. But once they, you know, they get into groups and all that kind of stuff, they get a lot of pressure in doing stuff.
MARTIN: Norma, one just quick question. You mentioned that you know the alleged victim in this case. Do you know any of the young men who were arrested?
Ms. BAUTISTA: No, I don't. And it doesn't matter right now. because the people that hurt her, I hope they get arrested and get what they deserve. And I hope the young girl is really good right now.
MARTIN: Does it, like you, does it concern you, though, because it is believed that there were so many people involved in this either as participants or bystanders that only a small group has been apprehended and one person has been released for lack of evidence, as I said. Do you feel at all concerned that people who may have participated in this are still maybe at school?
Ms. BAUTISTA: I think they're not in school. It probably could be other people from outside the community. And what I'm going to say is that those guys are going to really get their pay. And we are going to get them no matter what. We are working as a community trying to get any information that we have and get it and get those guys that did that. And they are going to get it. Because like I said, in this life, you pay for everything. You will never get away with the bad things that you do.
MARTIN: Mr. Bremond, if I could have a final thought from you. What - if I could just ask, what impact do you think all this attention has had on the school community? And what would you like to see going forward? Is there anything you'd like to see going forward to come out of this?
Mr. BREMOND: Sure. I think we have all these wonderful students that we are reaching, but unfortunately, there are a lot that are slipping through the cracks, and I think we have to have more of an outreach to reach those students, the ones that really need the message and need to hear the message. And a lot of times, we as adults use the excuse that you can't save them all. But I think the reality is you just can't save them all at the same time, and we can't give up trying to reach them.
MARTIN: Ronald Bremond is a biology teacher at Richmond High. He is also the leader of Street Soldiers. He's also president of the Richmond chapter of Junior 100, that's a mentoring program for African-American males.
We were also joined by Norma Bautista. She's a senior at Richmond High and lead student organizer with Youth Together. Norma also serves as vice president for Street Soldiers. That's a violence prevention program. You can hear that they're both very busy, and we were glad that they were able to take time out of their day to talk to us. They joined us by phone. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Ms. BAUTISTA: Thank you.
Mr. BREMOND: Thank you.