The former councilwoman shows us what really helps turn lives around.
In December 2016, 81-year-old Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, a councilwoman for Baltimore City, was in her parking garage when she was viciously attacked by two teenagers who attempted to steal her car. Spector suffered bruises and a black eye and was treated in the hospital.
People were outraged and demanded justice. What is this world coming to? How could two children attack an old woman?
But Spector’s reaction to the attack was rather shocking — and refreshing. When Council chairman Bernard C. Young visited Spector in the hospital, he was surprised to find that her main concern was not about locking the now 16- and 14-year-olds up, but figuring out, “What can we do for them,” according to the Washington Post.
“These are our kids. They’re our people. They live where we live. They walk where we walk. We share our space,” Spector says in The Washington Post. “We have to learn to respect and not harm each other.” Not only was Spector forgiving them, she was taking responsibility for helping them find their way in society.
The 81-year-old’s extraordinary ability to forgive her young attackers stems from her own experience as a great-grandmother, and being able to turn to her Jewish faith for guidance.
“The Talmud says you first have to have empathy,” she told The Baltimore Sun. “You have to do acts of love and kindness.”
At the initial court appearance in January 2017, Spector spoke with a reporter from WBall11 news, saying how reassured she was that the older attacker’s family was there to support him, and hopefully set him straight.
Spector also used the court appearance to bravely teach the older child a life lesson. “Kids don’t hit grown-ups,” she said to him in a court proceeding, according to The Baltimore Sun. And the repentant 15-year-old broke down in tears and gave the elderly woman a hug.
Although both boys received a period of juvenile detention, with the younger boy also being placed in juvenile rehabilitation for two months, this wasn’t a satisfactory ending for Spector.
So, she decided to take a deeper look into their lives. With the help of Michelle Suazo, vice president and co-founder of UEmpower of Maryland, Spector took a tour of the less privileged areas in Southwest Baltimore to see the reality of how her attackers, and so many other children, were living. In addition to decrepit buildings and no safe places for kids to play, Spector was shocked to see open drug-taking as well as child prostitution.
Inspired by her child-attackers’ attitude, and her tour of their neighborhood, the councilwoman, whose 39-year career with Baltimore City ended shortly after the attack, decided to dedicate her golden years to continuing to help others. In addition to personally mentoring the boys, she’s become a board member for UEmpower to help reform the juvenile justice system and get programs put in place for at-risk youth as early as possible.
Yet, one year after the event, has Spector’s mentoring worked? With the older child reporting improvements in his behavior and school grades, and the younger boy overcoming trust issues with those there to help him, Spector describes the difference as “transformational.”
And this lesson in forgiveness and compassion is spreading. As a result of her generous act of love, Spector and the older boy were honored at a gala event at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion synagogue in Baltimore on the one-year anniversary of the attack. The teen was naturally nervous about stepping up on stage and showing his face to a potentially hostile crowd. Yet the two received a standing ovation from a crowd that was so impressed with this story of forgiveness, repentance, and a hope for a better future.
“I’m going to spend my next forty years fixing the juvenile justice system,” Spector says.