Weekend Coffee Share: In Which I Narrowly Escape a Beat-Down

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you something awful happened to me last weekend and I need to talk about it.

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I was a victim of random violence on my own doorstep. I’d walked to the convenience store (it’s less than a block) about 9:30 p.m., which isn’t that late for me to be making the trek. On my way home, a guy came up behind me and bummed a cigarette.

I looked back over my shoulder, and something just told me not to stop. I passed him a cigarette over my shoulder and kept walking. He asked for a light, and I passed him a lighter over my shoulder without looking back (for fear I would get punched in the face if I did look back).

He did not return my lighter and started harassing me with questions: “Why won’t you stop?” “Why are you speeding up?” “Where do you live?” I told him I was working and needed to get back to it. Then I heard MORE footsteps behind me. I live in the very back of the complex. I made it to the last three doors and the guy who was doing the talking tagged me in the back of the head.

The blow wasn’t hard enough to knock me down, but it staggered me, my glasses flew off my face, and it cut my scalp. By the time I turned around, they were running away. It took ten minutes to rush into the house, tell my family what had happened, and find my glasses. Another ten minutes to deal with the bleeding and decide I didn’t need stitches.

This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me. I was never even in a fight in school, and my brother and I did not fistfight – we wrestled. Never tried boxing. The only time I’ve ever gone at someone with my fists was during a brief period when I studied a martial art.

I don’t typically attract this kind of attention. I’m a tall, friendly guy and I have a bit of gravitas. I don’t come across as weak or fearful. I’m not exactly traumatized or afraid to go out at night, but I am unsettled. I think my reactions – both my emotional reactions and the decisions I made about how to report the incident must be of interest to my friends.

(I’m not editing that last paragraph, but a few hours after I wrote it, someone walked up behind me very quickly and I almost jumped out of my skin. Like, my stomach rolled over. At three in the afternoon in busy, well-policed public area. So, maybe I AM traumatized.)

How I Feel About It

I did not get a good look at them, because I didn’t stop or turn around for fear of being surrounded. A neighbor who saw them come into the complex but didn’t realize what they were up to told me the next day there were four of them, all black, and placed their ages at 18-21. I live in a racially-mixed area and I am not racist. But now every time I see a stranger in the store who fits the demographic, I can’t stop myself from wondering.

That makes me sad.

I was on an absolute roll with some writing and scheduling drafts. Best day of blogging I’d had in a while. I went across the street for a little refreshment and to stretch my legs. I was planning to finish one more draft, call it a night, and keep going the next day.

Getty stock image.

Getty stock image.

This broke my rhythm to the point that I talked about it privately with a few friends, then shut the computer down and called it a night. The next day, I just couldn’t concentrate on the editorial work and spent the whole day networking. It didn’t exactly put me behind, and I made a couple of new friends that day, which is always good. But I didn’t end the weekend a month ahead with my blogging. A week later, I’m still not a month ahead because I have a job and such, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for blogging on weeknights.

That makes me angry.

I got off about as easy as anyone ever does in these situations. But I keep thinking of other things I could have done. It was early enough for people to be awake. I walked past 15 doors trying to get to my own place. I should have started ringing doorbells when I realized I was in for trouble.

I had a sheltered upbringing. I was taught to be alert to my surroundings, wary of strangers, etc. But this experience is so completely outside my frame of reference, it’s never occurred to me to think about how I’d handle it. For the most part, I talk my way out of sticky situations or withdraw. So even though I know violence happens to people every day, this hit me in a blind spot.

I was walking along, composing text in my head, and was not alert enough, soon enough, to have any options but keep walking. My thought at the time was “if I run, they’ll chase me down, and if I stop, I’ll be surrounded.” I was fortunate to escape with only a superficial injury. If they’d beaten and robbed me, they’d have gotten a grand total of three dollars.

My Reaction

Once I saw I didn’t need medical attention, I decided not to report it to the police immediately. Several reasons for this.

  • Didn’t get a  look at them, and so could not identify my attackers.
  • Assumed they were long gone.
  • Already had a freaked-out family on account of the fact that I staggered into the house with blood on my head and didn’t want them to have to deal with the police.
  • Was afraid the police would insist that I come downtown and look at photos, despite the fact that I could not possibly identify anyone.
  • I’d had some beers.

I talked to two neighbors the next day. One gave me the info about the number, race, and approximate ages and another identified the color and type of a vehicle that picked them up (but sadly, not the make or model). So they did not flee the complex on foot. They ran one building over, hid in a cul-de-sac, and waited for a ride.coffee

I really thought, since they followed me all that way, then hit me only once and ran, that they were teenagers who picked me as an easy target for some abusive fun. After talking to the neighbors, I realized three of them followed me up the sidewalk while a fourth trailed me on the opposite side of the parking lot. They were trying to spook me into panicking and running off the sidewalk (away from all the doors) so they could jump me, beat me unconscious quickly, then rob me and be gone in about three minutes. That tells me they’ve done this before.

I gave all the information to the landlord. She reported it to the police and requested increased patrols in my complex. But I wonder now if those reasons I listed above are just rationalizations. I wonder if the police would have canvassed the neighbors or rolled up quickly enough to catch the vehicle.

So you tell me. Did I rationalize myself into doing the wrong thing? Should I have called 911 the minute after it happened?

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16 thoughts on “Weekend Coffee Share: In Which I Narrowly Escape a Beat-Down

  1. I’m so sorry that happened to you. It’s difficult after we experience trauma to make rational decisions. I can say from experience that the shock takes a good while to wear off. Personally I agree with your reasons for not reporting it to the police, and since your neighbours and landlord is aware of the situation, people will be more vigilant. It’s sad that that’s necessary, that you don’t feel completely safe, and that it happened in the first place.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. One never knows how one is going to react in a situation such as this. I am glad that you are okay. I hope writing it out has helped you. As for if you should have called 911, I don’t know I’m not American. I probably would not have called our police in such a situation either. But then this is Namibia, and the police is corrupt and takes hours just to get there…. although I may have reported it to the city police who are generally more efficient. They would have taken my details, and contacted me if they knew more.

    As for the racism thing, it is not racism. It is stress. My parents where attacked while taking a walk. My step-grandfather was shot in the process, and my father was almost shot. While they did give descriptions to the police, the men where never apprehended. My stepmother to this day still sees attackers in the faces of people with similar profile and wonders if it was not that guy.

    You did well, and all that should matter is that you are okay.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi, Gene,

    What a traumatic experience! Yes, you were “lucky” it wasn’t worse, but obviously it was frightening and hurt your head (inside and out). Muggings and street crime are horrible experiences.

    I won’t weigh in on whether or not you should have/would have/could have: you are the only one who was there and you did what you thought/felt was best. Period. I also agree that contacting the police, unless you did it right away (pocket dial 9-1-1 and leaving the line open is the best thing to do, if you can) is probably not going to help YOU, because, as you said, not enough info.

    HOWEVER, since you think this may not be these thugs’ first rodeo, giving the police this M.O. and what descriptions you do have may save others in the future: the patrols will have some components to look for in pedestrians, cul-de-sacs and cars.

    ALSO, as a writer, you could put up posters around town telling other neighbors and pedestrians briefly what and where this happened, and advising everyone to BE AWARE, BEWARE, WALK IN PAIRS.

    Really. Do that. you’ll feel better.

    Best to you,

    Sally

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so sorry this happened to you! How awful. I am glad it wasn’t any worse. I haven’t been involved in anything like that before, so I’m not sure what I would have done. I don’t think alerting the police at the time would have made much of a difference, but them having the incident on record is good. I would imagine any bit of information would help, regardless of how vague. It’s better than nothing. Take care of your cut and your mind. Sending hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. So glad you’re okay. I cannot even imagine. I have no idea what I’d do. I live in Canada, and true to the stereotype, things are relatively safe here, even in the urban core of the biggest city in the country. Sorry I have no advice. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m still trying to mentally process it all. I’m glad you’re ‘okay’, but I don’t think you’re really okay, obviously. You admitted that much in your edit. I’ll leave it at that. Publicly, I’ll say that this has changed your life forever and when you explore it in depth this summer; you will likely have some great advice to share with others about surviving these types of situations. Obviously, you couldn’t have predicted it or prevented it. There was no reason for you to expect being mugged; so, no reason to prepare to defend against it. You know that this crime would be a very low priority for the local police. Having a report filed via the landlord is great and will help, in the long run. I don’t think you calling in a report that night would have resulted in an arrest or the prevention of any other crime. I hope you don’t worry about that part. I think you handled it well.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, that’s quite a story. My coffee went cold while I was processing it all.
    I think it would have been a good idea to contact the police, maybe not 911, but just at the local police station the next day or something. These guys are probably doing that kind of thing or worse on a regular basis, and you never know if your information, plus what your neighbours told you, might help fill in a few missing pieces in a bigger picture. Maybe not, but it wouldn’t hurt.
    It really makes me cranky that people like this collectively take away basic freedoms for us. You should be able to walk around our own neighbourhood without worrying about this kind of thing happening.
    I hope you start feeling safer soon. I think there’s a saying that goes something like “Be alert, but don’t be afraid”.

    Like

  8. Thanks so much to everyone for these comments! I was offline all day yesterday, and haven’t had time to answer them yet, but I’ve read them and I appreciate you commenting very much!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I am glad you are safe! What a horrible experience. 😦 I think your rationale was fine. There’s not much they can do, and you wouldn’t want to identify someone falsely.

    Like

  10. First, glad you’re OK. That had to have been terrifying. I don’t know if I (or anyone) can tell you what you did was right/wrong or good/bad. I do think your experience illustrates what is true – when these things happen in life, it is absolutely not like on TV or film. No one is ever truly “prepared” to react in a certain way in such circumstances. Maybe those who actively train in something like self defense, martial arts, or whatever might react a particular way, but I don’t know,. The human being is a complex creature – even with training, factor in emotions and fear and who knows what happens. I think very few would be able to logic their way through a situation and make rational choices under those circumstances.

    Like

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