The news stories write themselves. Lucy Knight, a mother of six from Auckland’s North Shore, ‘struck’ while attempting to intervene in a bag-snatching at Northcote Countdown. ‘Good Samaritan injured trying to stop handbag snatch’, the headlines read. ‘Such a courageous act by this woman and not many people would try to stop or interfere with thugs’, says Angel and liked by over 150 people on the NZ Herald Facebook page.
Since the incident on Tuesday night, there has been a massive outpouring of concern – and money – for Lucy. At the time of writing, a fund set up for Lucy had already attracted $124,000 in donations. Following a Campbell Live segment on the ‘extraordinary mother of six’, and extensive media coverage elsewhere, that figure could well double. What this money will go towards (given that we live in a country with a strong public healthcare system, and an accident compensation scheme that would ensure Lucy is protected from future loss of earnings) is not clear.
It’s heartening to see a community rally behind Lucy like this. Indeed, there is no doubt she is a good Samaritan; a caring person who put herself at risk to help a stranger. But the problem with the villain/hero dichotomy is that there must be a villain.
Here, that ‘villian’ is 17-year-old Hendrix Hauwai. We know nothing about Hendrix except for the fact he comes from Manurewa, and that he is accused of aggravated wounding and assault with intent to rob after he allegedly tried to grab a woman’s handbag on Tuesday but ended up striking Lucy Knight.
We do not know if Hendrix is living at home, or whether Hendrix even has a home. We don’t know if Hendrix is in school, where we think of most 17-year-olds being on a Tuesday afternoon. We do not know if Hendrix has a parent in prison (although, if he does he’s far more likely to go to prison himself). We don’t know if he is employed (the fact the attack occurred on a Tuesday afternoon would suggest not). We don’t know if during his life he, too, has been a victim of crime – be it abuse, neglect or otherwise.
While we don’t know much about Hendrix, we can guess a few things. He probably has a mother or father, and quite likely some siblings, too. Tonight, they have a son and a brother being held in custody pending a bail application tomorrow. Soon, they may have a brother or son in prison.
What happened to Lucy is tragic and cruel, especially when she could’ve chosen to remain a bystander but instead opted to try and help someone in her community. But what is happening to Hendrix is also tragic. He is a 17-year-old that simply reacted to a situation; a split-second reaction that could shape the rest of his life. It’s hard to speculate, but it’s unlikely Hendrix went out with the intention to commit any crime – let alone sending a woman to hospital and being front-page news. There are many possible motivations behind snatching a stranger’s bag. It could be to buy cigarettes and alcohol. It could be to buy food for his siblings. We simply do not know.
What we know about 17-year-olds, however, is that their decision-making and cognitive functions are not fully developed – and are not fully developed until they reach their mid-twenties. What this means in practice is sometimes teenagers – especially teenage boys who develop cognitively at a slower rate than females – make bad decisions. In fact, they are often not really even making decisions – they’re simply reacting. In a situation like this, it’s unlikely the offender intended to harm Lucy. ‘Striking’ Lucy, as it has been described, with the force to knock her to the ground is likely to have been a split-second reaction in an attempt to get away.
I bet I know one thing about Hendrix, though. I bet he’s really, really scared. He’s not old enough to buy alcohol or cigarettes or vote or get married but he’s old enough to be spending the night in the cells, pending a trial that could see him sent to prison with a whole bunch of older, more serious offenders. A lot of people who saw the photo of him standing in the dock today before the court remarked how young he looks. It’s because he is.
We know a lot about Lucy, and what we know makes this a heartbreaking story. What we don’t know is anything about Hendrix, but there’s a good chance there’s a heartbreaking story there, too. There is no finite amount of empathy; no need to carefully ration out sadness and concern in fear of running out. Here, there is a family with a mum in hospital, and a family with a son in police custody, and both deserve the support of their community.