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