Following the news

As many of you in the Durham area may be aware, the CEO of where I work, Martin Eakes, was brutally assaulted in the parking garage behind our office. It happened the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and there has been all sorts of media attention to the event. I haven't posted much about it here mainly because I didn't want folks (HI, MOM!) to get all worried. Downtown Durham is actually a pretty damn place to be for work or living, so I don't feel unsafe when I am coming to and leaving work. In fact, many of us around here have thought that random crime wasn't really the case at all. Barry Saunder's N&O editorial from today pretty much sums up what I have been thinking since this happened:


Here's the story itself:

Mugging delivered message

if you closed one eye and squinted real hard out of the other one -- view the assault on Self-Help Credit Union co-founder Martin Eakes in the elevator of a downtown Durham parking garage Nov. 24 as a random attack. Perhaps Eakes was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And the fact that the four thugs who used his head as a punching bag coordinated their positioning -- there was one dude on each stairwell blocking any potential escape route and two on the elevator -- why, that's what all street robbers do, right?

If you believe that, I've got a low-interest, subprime loan for you. Sign here.

Neither Eakes nor Durham police are saying he was targeted because of his work on behalf of poor people and against those lending organizations that prey on the poor.

But I am.

As someone who has, regrettably, been on both sides of the whole robbery/victim dynamic -- don't ask -- I know that planning and precision are not strong suits of predators.

Yet, Eakes said this of his attackers Monday: "They were very disciplined. They had the steps blocked ... and they focused on the head. There was not a single blow to the body."

Eakes said he felt some apprehension about getting onto the elevator with the two men who were already on it. "It was rainy, so I thought there was a possibility they'd just come in to get out of the rain."

OK, he hoped that was the case. Deep down, though, Eakes knew he'd seen a bad day.

"I knew I was in trouble. ... There was very little communication, except for one guy reassuring me everything was cool."

It wasn't. Eakes said he "punched the elevator button" and the four horsemen of the "a'parking lot" began punching him. "They were on me like a pack of wolves."

You're right: None of that is irrefutable evidence that Eakes was anything other than the unlucky passenger singled out for robbery. Funny thing is, though, robbery seemed like an afterthought. They went after the negligible loot in Eakes' pockets only after administering the vicious whomping.

C'mon now. You don't need a Ph.D. in thuggery to know that any robber worthy of his stocking mask is going to seek the path of least resistance. They'll ask first.

They asked Eakes for nothing. "Any one of them could've said, 'Give me your wallet,' and I'd have turned my pockets inside out," he said. "After they finished, they took my cell phones and wallet."

Eakes said his office has hired an off-duty Durham police officer to patrol the parking lot and deck from 4 to 10 p.m. "That's an important show of force, and the staff feels better."

When investigators asked Eakes whether he had any enemies, he and his staff laughed.

"When we first started," Eakes said, "the KKK used to threaten us. Then it was the drug dealers" who didn't want his organization fixing up rundown neighborhoods. After that, he got on the bad side of predatory lenders with usurious rates who don't like Eakes providing lending options for poor people.

"When Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are your heroes," Eakes said, "chances are you have enemies."

Eakes said he was glad he, not one of his staff, was the assault victim. "I think that'll call more attention to the problem" surrounding parking lot security downtown, he said.

King and Gandhi would be proud.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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