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TV Reviews : ‘Confrontation’ Rises Above Vengeance

The only thing more extraordinary than teacher Gary Smith talking face-to-face with the man who nearly killed him, 20-year-old Tommy Brown, in HBO’s “America Undercover” special, “Attempted Murder: Confrontation” (tonight at 11), is that Smith wanted to do it at all.

His need to understand why Brown, a total stranger without motive, would beat him with a baseball bat in a busy high school playground overrides any desire for revenge. Though this co-production with the National Victim Center is framed as a document on how victims can come to terms with their emotional and physical condition, it is more profoundly a story of how one man rises above the eye-for-an-eye philosophy that is grinding the country into a ceaseless cycle of violence.

Smith, in fact, gets an earful of vengeancespeak from his wife, who, incredibly, allowed cameras to film her as she berates Smith for even thinking of meeting the man who made him blind in one eye and ruined his teaching career. Hers, in essence, is the view that logically leads to the death penalty, and Smith will have none of it. In his own quiet way, his refusal to dismiss Brown as an animal makes Smith heroic.

When he does meet Brown, raised as “a good kid” but drawn to drugs and the street, Smith meets a confused young man with remorse. Mediated by Peter L. Bibby of the Center for Dispute Settlement, their exchange seems strangely anti-climatic after the stark news reports and the starker black-and-white re-creation of the attack.

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As for the all-important Why, Brown tells Smith that, at the time, “I had a lot of rage, a lot of stress. . . . I was at the boiling point, and I let it out on you.”

It’s clear that Smith, whose calm must stem from his teaching years in a tough Bronx school, has an easier time accepting Brown’s apology than accepting the reality that he was a victim of life’s utter randomness.

It’s also clear that Gary Smith’s act should become standard practice between victims and their assailants, rather than the notable event it is.


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