“I Was Mugged, And I Understand Why”: Georgetown Student Triggers Controversy In Op-Ed On Who Is To Blame For His Being Mugged

2381DB3A00000578-0-image-7_1416962691861It is rare for a college student to trigger a national debate with an opinion column in a student newspaper but, to his credit, Oliver Friedfeld, has done precisely that. Friedfeld wrote an op-ed in the Hoya after he was mugged at gunpoint and defended the black youths who robbed him at gunpoint — a column entitled “I Was Mugged, And I Understand Why” that is drawing praise and ridicule across the country.

The senior explained in the column that

“Last weekend, my housemate and I were mugged at gunpoint while walking home from Dupont Circle. The entire incident lasted under a minute, as I was forced to the floor, handed over my phone and was patted down. And yet, when a reporter asked whether I was surprised that this happened in Georgetown, I immediately answered: ‘Not at all.’ It was so clear to me that we live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city [Washington, D.C.] that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal.

The fact that these two kids, who appeared younger than I, have even had to entertain these questions suggests their universes are light years away from mine.”

Friedfeld appears to argue that it is he — and people like him — who have the most explaining to do: “Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as ‘thugs?’ It’s precisely this kind of ‘otherization’ that fuels the problem.”

It is a thought-provoking piece but one with which I have to disagree. I am not sure what value “otherization” has a social theory, but I disagree that “it’s a lot easier for me to choose good than it may be for them.” This was a crime of violence in a city being ravaged by such violence. Indeed, most such crimes occur in improvised neighborhoods. There is a choice that is made for most people before they reach for a gun and victimize others. Friedfeld insists that this is the price that must be paid for our failure as a society:

As young people, we need to devote real energy to solving what are collective challenges. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them. The cards are all in our hands, and we’re not playing them.

While I commend Friedfeld for writing about his views, I find the sentiments expressed to be more moral relativism that has taken hold of our society. Many families in this country faced terrible poverty but did not turn to violent crime. They made a difficult choice that stayed faithful to the most basic tenets of a moral life. To relieve these men of moral responsibility for their act is to discard any notion of personal responsibility and choice.

I strongly condemn those who are attacking Friedfeld. He offers a personal and genuine view of the relative differences between his privileged life and the life of these muggers. Where I disagree with him is not that comparison, but his conclusion. I can see why Friedfeld does not feel victimized (particularly since he was not shot in the encounter), but that does not make these men any less of criminals. In other words, the wealth differential has more relevance to defining his level of victimization than it does excusing their level of criminalization.

Regardless of the merits, Friedfeld certainly produced something positive from the experience in triggering this national debate. While I disagree with him, the column is an effort by a college student to draw meaning out of such an experience.

104 thoughts on ““I Was Mugged, And I Understand Why”: Georgetown Student Triggers Controversy In Op-Ed On Who Is To Blame For His Being Mugged”

  1. How far removed from society can this boy get? First, the assumption of “need” versus want. And need what? Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, porn movies? Yes, there is “otherization” but it’s the privileged $60K education that makes the difference. I have no problem with your education. I have a problem that I may be the next victim because you find mugging OK. If I had nothing to give, would I get shot?

    So how about another op-ed comparing your experience with other outcomes. Tell anyone showing a gun in their hand they could be dead if seen by someone else with a gun. Mugging is a good way to get yourself killed.

    1. Eric – very nice – so why didn’t we partition off Iraq and contain this like Smokin Joe wanted to in 2011 since Barack thought this was a stupid war. I am sorry but all of this is for gain. It is for oil just as here when they hung them high it was to clear the land for the railways. Why not admit the sin. that is why everyone hates what we do. It is sinful. We need to come home and stop guarding dynastic oil pipeline with our tax money. I am not happy being part of an empire/socialistic nightmare.

      Meanwhile, as the government in Baghdad has drifted deeper into dysfunction, Biden’s old notion of a federal, decentralized Iraq has gone from a radical proposal to a blunt acknowledgement of reality. Stratfor, the intelligence-analysis firm, predicted last week that Iraq “will largely behave as a confederation over time.” Almost nobody is pretending that this is a desirable outcome. Daniel Serwer, who was the executive director of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, warned, “No one will agree on where the separation lines should be drawn. We call the result of armed quarrels over borders ‘war.’ ” And yet, Zalmay Khalilzad and Kenneth Pollack, Iraq experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Brookings Institution, have come to see federal separation as the “best—or perhaps just the least bad” option at the moment.

      The Administration, for lack of a better option, appears to agree. The Iraq war, and its aftermath, have always been a bitter improvisation. The Obama Administration once hoped that it would be able to cite its exit from Iraq as a measure of its success, but those hopes have evaporated. The best that Obama and Biden can hope for today is to contain further damage.

      On Monday, Biden made the break with Maliki official by using a familiar tool at his disposal: he placed yet another call to Iraq. This time, it was not to Maliki but to al-Abadi, the nominee for Prime Minister. Biden offered an American “commitment to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government.” And he congratulated al-Abadi on his new job.



      Evan Osnos joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008, and covers politics and foreign affairs.


  2. happypappies,

    I thought from “pappies” that you were a man. The pitfalls of pseudonyms.

    The 2008-2011 SOFA was an executive agreement. PM Maliki offered an executive agreement to President Obama that he rejected as ostensibly untenable, yet then in 2014, Obama accepted the agreement.

    Regime change is forced. But as the post-war transition to peace progresses, we move away from force in our peace operations as the nation rises to stand anew. We do influence by helping it to stand, though. Most of all we influence the course of a nation by protecting it from danger.

    Security is the cornerstone of stability. Stability is the foundation for the development of every part of functional civil society, including “key humanitarian and economic infrastructure” (UNSCR 1511, 2003), up to and including the conditions necessary for higher order liberties and freedoms to be viable.

    So even as we adjust and dial down our influence in other parts of a “strategic partner” nation’s society as we move on from the post-war occupation in the progressive transition, constant continued American protection from danger remains a fundamental element underlying the nation’s progress.

    Your husband’s context is service in the Vietnam War. We failed in Vietnam. We abandoned the Vietnamese people. Despite what many Baby Boomers seem to believe, however, the Vietnam War is not the sum and limit of American leadership of the free world. One American generation’s failure should not be a genetic mutation that corrupts all American generations that follow them.

    Before I served, what I understood about American leadership while growing up was based on the Vietnam War legacy. As a child, I thought similar as Jane does about the American role in the world.

    But then as a young man, my context became my service in South Korea. Of course, I didn’t serve in the Korean War. Rather, I experienced the fruits of the labor of the joes who fought the Korean War. My job was to guard their legacy.

    I learned about the horrific character of the Korean War from the perspective of the veterans who fought it. From what I gather, it was worse than Vietnam. Korean War veterans came home just as disillusioned and bitter about their war experience as Vietnam veterans, and hopeless about Korea. For a long time following the Korean War, Korea looked like a bad investment and a stupid choice by President Truman that had caused Truman to be hounded, deservedly, out of office. The challenges of Korea were similar to and in many ways dwarfed the challenges of Iraq.

    Everything said about Iraqis being unfit for our Western liberal aspirations was said about the Koreans who, if anything, seemed more alien to our social-political culture than the Iraqis. There’s a reason that President Clinton was optimistic about regime change with Iraq.

    It took a while, decades, but the Koreans have proven our cynics wrong and made returns on our liberal investment.

    Do Koreans want us in their country? Hell no, they don’t. Americans wouldn’t want a foreign military based in our country, either. They protested us from the outset in the 1940s. They protested us when I served there. They protest us today. But the majority, while proud and resenting the foreign military presence in their country, also understand (and grudgingly admit) the basic security function we serve for them. The danger to Korea is real. The danger to Iraq that manifested after we left was warned to President Obama in 2011.

    Want and need aren’t the same thing. Genuine leadership, whether household, nation, or internation, is more about need than want.

    The Iraq we left in 2011 at the 8-year mark, as dated from the regime change, was in a much better state than Korea at the 8-year mark in 1953, as dated from liberation from Japan. The insurgency in Iraq following regime change was not nearly as bad as the Korean War following WW2.

    Iraq was discernibly progressing with our help, most of all with our protection that had finally secured Iraq from the insurgency. With foundational security in place, Iraq’s progress was rapid, even startling.

    It’s possible that the impressive progress in Iraq we saw from 2007-2011 might have been short-lived regardless of whether Obama did the right thing. But the fact is we withdrew from Iraq the cornerstone foundational element of American protection in a growing dangerous environment. That’s a fundamental error we did not make with Europe and Asia following World War 2. Even the Korean War didn’t break America of our sense of responsibility to lead the free world – the one that President Kennedy talked about in his inauguration. But perhaps the Vietnam War did. The Baby Boomer generation broke it and instead of fixing their failure for the sake of the world they’ve passed onto their children (like me) and grandchildren, they seem to want to throw it away entirely.

    1. Eric said – Your husband’s context is service in the Vietnam War. We failed in Vietnam. We abandoned the Vietnamese people. Despite what many Baby Boomers seem to believe, however, the Vietnam War is not the sum and limit of American leadership of the free world. One American generation’s failure should not be a genetic mutation that corrupts all American generations that follow them.

      Eric – I think it’s great that you are using these sweeping generalizations to classify people by their generation however, don’t bother doing that with me because when they made me they broke the mold.

      I think the Truman Doctrine Sucks and we have outgrown the need to be the police of the world if we ever did need to be.

      Certainly I can understand why Harry Truman felt the need to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki as he did and obliterate them where they almost enjoy and expect fallout over there. (Fukushima Nuclear reactor accident that was the fault of GE reactors)

      Historically speaking, the United States and Great Britain have created their own problems all along with the other countries we are now having problems with and if we had never interfered with our Mercantilism and our Neo Mercantilism – there would be no problem. If you chose to ignore this, fine go ahead – do so. But personally, I am sick to death of the ME and so is my Husband.

      Don’t even wave the jingoistic flag of justice around. It’s not good enough. We caused our own problems and I for one am sick to death of paying taxes on them

  3. Paul C. Schulte: “I do not think there are going to be major changes coming from the Bush library regarding this issue.”

    There wouldn’t be anything on the classified side more binding than the SOFA itself.

    Now, Bush has lately said he agrees with Obama’s military advisors, including SecDef Panetta, who wanted to retain a sufficient military presence in Iraq. For example, see http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/10/02/bush-on-isis-america-has-learned-lesson-about-iraq/ .

    But if I understand happypappies’ question correctly, he’s asking whether Bush’s presidential “records” from that time show Bush intended for our military to stay in Iraq subsequent to the 2008-2011 SOFA. Something like that wouldn’t necessarily be classified.

    The way that happypappies framed the question comes at the issue the wrong way, though. His question presumes keeping the US military in Iraq is the end goal. Actually, keeping the US military in Iraq would have been means to an end, not the end goal. The goals were described in the SFA.

    If we reorient happypappies’ question on the SFA, then Bush would not have approached the issue in 2008 with the end goal of the US military staying in Iraq past 2011. Rather, Bush would have approached the issue as a US commitment to match the right means with the goals of the SFA. From a 2008 standpoint, it wasn’t clear yet what Iraq might need from the US after 2011. However, by 2011, the reports indicated that sufficient US military presence was needed for the goals of the SFA.

    So, the right question for happypappies is not whether Bush intended to keep the US military in Iraq subsequent to the 2008-2011 SOFA. The right question is whether Bush intended for the US to care for Iraq and the Iraqi people subsequent to the 2008-2011 SOFA, whether by military guardianship or other means, as needed. The SFA indicates that Bush did intend for the US to care for Iraq and the Iraqi people.

  4. leejcarroll,

    Revisiting your question about Bush not going after bin Laden … that was just a test question, right? You haven’t really, seriously believed for the last 13 years that President Bush did not go after Osama bin Laden … have you?

    It’s one thing not to know the law and policy, fact basis of Operation Iraqi Freedom – many people, even people like Professor Turley, have been misled about OIF. But believing that Bush did not go after bin Laden is misconception on another level.

  5. Paul C. Schulte:

    happypappies – it is unfair to ask for Bush’s records from Eric since it will be many years before it will come out, if it ever does.

    I agree that declassified records can recolor one’s view on an issue.

    Nonetheless, before you look for a classified veil to lift, I recommend first reviewing the openly available primary sources of the law and policy, fact basis. Then, you can review credible analysis of the primary sources, especially as it may cite a primary source you overlooked at first blush. Then, when you lift the classified veil, you’ll be able to understand what you find in context.

    My OIF FAQ is a decent cheat sheet that hews to primary sources, but it’s no substitute for reading the law and policy for yourself. Here’s a larger table of sources, not limited to the basic essentials, for OIF:


    Eric – that is very historically interesting – please tell me where in George W Bush’s records that he was not going to let Maliki and his government go.

    The law and policy for the Iraq regime change was developed for over a decade by 3 Presidents (especially Clinton), Congress, the UN, and of course, noncompliant Saddam. In comparison, the record of our 2011 exit is not nearly as developed, so the question of why we went to Iraq in 2003 would be easier to answer than why we left Iraq in 2011.

    Your question is, what course with Iraq did President Bush hope his successor would take, or perhaps would Bush have taken in a hypothetical 3rd term, subsequent to the 2008-2011 US-Iraq SOFA?

    Based on georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/infocus/iraq/ and iraq.usembassy.gov/american-iraqi.html, the likeliest representation of Bush’s hope or intent for the subsequent US-Iraq relationship is the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that the US signed with Iraq alongside the 2008-2011 SOFA.

    The SFA set out, as the name implies, a framework of conditions-based guideposts for the subsequent US-Iraq relations.

    However, neither the SFA nor the SOFA bound Bush’s successor to a detailed how those conditions would be met after 2011. The SFA and SOFA were signed at the end of the Bush presidency in a climate of rapidly progressing, even startling improvement for post-Saddam Iraq. As such, not binding Bush’s successor with a longer SOFA at that stage was a feature, not an oversight.

    Instead, Bush provided his successor with a 3-year working space from Jan 2009 to Dec 2011 to assess the situation with Iraq as it evolved and hopefully continued its “peaceful progress” (Obama). The idea was that the 3-year window would provide the next President with a better knowledgeable position to decide what the subsequent US-Iraq relationship should look like under the SFA – whether that meant extending the 2008-2011 SOFA, transitioning from a ‘post-war occupation’ SOFA to a ‘peacetime partnership’ SOFA akin to the SOFA I served with in Korea, or even – as President Obama opted – allowing the SOFA to run out with an enhanced State presence but without military peace operations. Or perhaps, that meant a different kind of arrangement altogether.

    Clearly, Obama’s decision for the post-SOFA, subsequent US-Iraq relationship has fallen short of the guide-posts set by the SFA.

    So, what would Bush have done in Obama’s shoes?

    My best guess is, if Bush had received the same Iraq situation assessments that Obama received in 2010-2011, especially regarding increasing Sunni estrangement by the Maliki government, plus the consideration of the burgeoning Syrian civil war next door that included AQI remnants, then in those conditions in accordance with the SFA, President Bush in a hypothetical 3rd term would have accepted PM Maliki’s offer for the executive agreement that President Obama rejected in 2011. (Note: Obama accepted the same executive agreement in June 2014.)

    Maybe there’s a more definitive answer to your question in the classified records, like Paul says. Until it’s declassified, we can look at the SFA to suss out Bush’s hope or intent for the subsequent US-Iraq relationship.

    Browse the Bush White House archive – perhaps you’ll find an unclassified memo or communication that answers your question. Share it if you do.

    1. Eric – I do not think there are going to be major changes coming from the Bush library regarding this issue. However, we know that depending on ‘factual’ material of the day changes in 20-25 years. When Winston Churchill wrote his history of WWII, he could not expose that he was getting Enigma signals as fast as the Germans. We did not find that out until many years later. Even today, more and more is coming out, like the first big computer was built to decode Enigma, but was then dismantled so that the information about Enigma would remain secret. Little by little facts are dribbling out. 😉

    2. Eric –

      So, the right question for happypappies is not whether Bush intended to keep the US military in Iraq subsequent to the 2008-2011 SOFA. The right question is whether Bush intended for the US to care for Iraq and the Iraqi people subsequent to the 2008-2011 SOFA, whether by military guardianship or other means, as needed. The SFA indicates that Bush did intend for the US to care for Iraq and the Iraqi people.

      Let me be clear that I think it was a mistake to let the Government go now that we were there, but Americans have such a way about them that does not ingratiate them with the people they are among. Not all of them of course, its the double crossing of the higher ups and their callousness. I know all about it. My husband was a Navy Seal in Vietnam and he is in the Veterans home now.

      I happen to know how much we have done for these people agriculturally being in the SE Missouri area next to SEMO which really helped them out. Most people know nothing about this. They wouldn’t like it anyway and would consider it a cost above and beyond as it was humanitarian out of the USA

      You see those two above paragraphs? They were from my original question that you were saying was not framed properly. I really do think I understand the issue quite well. I am in disagreement with you however about SOFA. I have seen conflicting notes on this. Iraq is a sovereign country and you cannot force a sovereign country into doing something for their own good.

      There are two schools of though there. There is yours which seem very Neo Mercantilistic in nature. and there is my Husbands who would say Let them all come home and let’s defend our own borders from foreign invasion

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