On a pleasant, partly sunny afternoon, an armed security guard stood watch over an apartment building in the Hubbard Farms neighborhood in southwest Detroit.
The guard wouldn’t say why he was there. But behind him last Tuesday, scrawled onto the ornate stone facade of the building, the word “rapist” could still be seen, even after efforts that morning to scrub it off. A faded blue arrow sprayed above the graffiti letters still pointed to an apartment window, still condemning whoever lived in that first-floor home.
But the 43-year-old occupant wasn’t there any longer. His family moved him, afraid he’d be killed.
Inside the homes on these tight-knit blocks and along the thriving businesses and vacant storefronts of Vernor Highway in Detroit’s Mexicantown, the former resident of that apartment is widely believed to be a rapist. His accuser is a 15-year-old girl who, as the streets have it, was cajoled into his apartment on July 17 and attacked. She’s from the neighborhood, too. She has Down syndrome. The neighborhood is furious.
The man has not been charged. Police still are investigating. And last Monday, nearly three weeks after the alleged attack, frustration over the slow pace of justice went from simmer to boil.
During the lunch hour, people located the man, whose name and image had been circulated in the community, walking along Vernor. They beat him repeatedly. Witnesses at one point saw five attackers. At least one had a baseball bat. The man spent several hours in the hospital that day and then went into hiding.
Now the community is torn. Some residents are horrified and wonder how this vigilantism happened. Others have applauded the attackers, posting hallelujahs on Facebook. The Detroit Free Press spent last week interviewing neighbors and witnesses and talking to police and prosecutors to piece together how it all came to this.
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