Elmer Smith: The balls bounce different ways

Posted: September 16, 2011

THERE IS a tacit agreement between a man and a woman when he takes her out for the evening.

The implied contract is that, no matter how the date goes, he will return her safely. We learn it as boys, hopefully before our first date.

You don't leave her to wander off with some other girl or to hang out with your boys from around the way. You don't disrespect her or allow anyone else to disrespect her while she's with you.

My mother was such a stickler that she would never fail to point out that a guy was walking on the wrong side if he wasn't on the side closest to the curb.

It was one of those boys-to-men lessons that helped us maintain the illusion that the girls we dated were safe as long as they were with us.

It's the mind-set that would make a man consider trying to disarm a gunman who was raping his date Tuesday night near 47th Street and Springfield Avenue.

"I kept looking at his gun because I was trying to make a decision if I was going to go for that gun," the 40-year-old man told reporters yesterday. "But she was pleading for me not to. She said she needed me to be there."

She was the hero of this tableau. Even as she was suffering the indignity of this violation, she had the presence of mind to keep him from reacting out of that male code.

"He woulda had to kill me," a man who identified himself as Jose told me yesterday. Jose stood at 48th and Willows with two female neighbors describing a gruesome, medieval torture that he believed would have been a just punishment for the perpetrator.

"That's what he deserves," he said.

Jose didn't look crazy enough to attack a man with a gun. The male victim in the Tuesday-night robbery and sexual assault didn't sound that crazy either.

But who knows how this would have played out if she had begged him to intervene instead of pleading with him to just be there with her.

She may have saved their lives. But she certainly saved a measure of self-respect for a man who may never be able to erase the appalling images of that night from his mind.

Within hours of the attack, police, acting in conjunction with an FBI violent-crime task force, had arrested an 18-year-old man who, they say, robbed the couple and sexually assaulted the woman.

She may have saved his life, too. If that gun had gone off and killed someone, this perpetrator would be facing a well-deserved death penalty.

A younger assailant who took part in the robbery is still at-large. The male victim said that the boy, who looked to be about 13, tried to get the older teen to leave after the robbery, before the rape.

Philadelphia police Capt. John Darby, commander of the Special Victims Unit, was not impressed by reports of the younger boy's pleas.

"My response to that is, 'You were an accomplice,' " Darby told me yesterday. "Obviously we are still trying to develop information to identify and apprehend him. We want them both.

"You can only imagine the level of fear they must have felt. This breaches any sense of decency. The whole community was scared by this.

"The positive side is that we worked as a cohesive, coordinated group with a lot of different task forces on the street. We didn't get a tip call; we never had a composite photo or surveillance video. It was the work of a coordinated team of investigators."

Darby wouldn't tip his hand about how the investigation led so quickly to an arrest for fear that it would hamper their search for the younger boy.

"This is a great example of what we always do in cases like this. I think people need to know that. We want the [perpetrators] to know that we will be coming after them in numbers."

Send email to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: www.philly.com/ElmerSmith

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