I got roughed up by an attacker years ago.
I was left with a fat lip but was more shaken up than hurt. I remember calling the police and demanding that the guy who hit me be arrested. I also wanted him thrown out of the graduate program at Temple University.
Rizzo Mertz, a man assaulted by a group of rowdy teens shortly after midnight following the June 9 Pride Parade, had a far different reaction. He’s not trying to even the score as I was back then. He’s operating on an entirely different level. What he would really like is a chance to sit and talk to the teens who broke his nose and tried to steal his backpack. And what he wants to say to them might surprise you.
“I would love to just listen to them," he told me Thursday.
Mertz, 32, also wants to ask them: “‘What drove you to this? What’s going on in your life that no one heard you and your struggle that you felt you had to do this to feel a certain way?’”
"I just want to be able to understand. If these young people are hurting and this is how they want to express themselves, then I heard it loud and clear. Let’s continue that conversation using our words, not our fists.”
One of the teens sucker-punched Mertz as he made his way along Chestnut Street between Third and Fourth. It was just after midnight and the South Philly resident had been heading to Fifth Street to get an Uber ride home.
Mertz had noticed a group of about eight teens down the block on Chestnut. He didn’t think anything of it — until the first punch landed on his head. Mertz fell to the ground and was pummeled and kicked. He fought to hold on to his backpack because it contained his prized Pride flag that he drapes around his shoulders.
“Once they knocked me to the ground, that’s when they really started doing the blows to my shoulder area, my back, my head,” Mertz recalled. “The straps of my backpack got caught around one of the male’s ankles and it turned into a brief tug-of-war … over his leg and my backpack.”
He suffered multiple fractures on the left side of his face, around his cheekbone and jaw. His nose was broken and he needed a couple of stitches above his left eye. He was treated at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital last Monday and released.
Mertz, who serves on the Philadelphia Police Department’s LGBT Liaison Committee, is on a liquid diet and has had to take time off without pay from his job at Mobile Link USA to recuperate. His roommate created a GoFundMe to help with medical expenses.
The attack is not being treated as a hate crime, and Mertz doesn’t think he was targeted because of his sexual orientation. Police have released video of the suspects. Those with information should call 215-686-TIPS.
We can learn a lot from Mertz.
“I don’t hate these people. I’m not angry with them,” he said. “I really do want to understand what drives young people to do these kinds of things. We see this play out year after year, summer after summer in Philadelphia. I want our civic leaders, our city leaders, our state leaders to understand that we need to make sure that we’re being there for young adults … [so] they don’t have to give in to this kind of violent culture.”
On the Philadelphia Police Department’s Facebook page, Mertz identified himself as the victim and urged those commenting under the video calling the suspects “animals” and “thugs” not to “dehumanize the kids.”
He wrote: “Violence can’t be met with the spirit of vengeance.”