I'm shaking so hard I can barely type. On my way home just now, I was driving through this local college hangout (which happens to be on my commute home) when I saw a big beefy white guy throw a girl fiercely to the ground. Then he picked up her shaking, crying, crumpled form and started screaming in her face, shaking a fist threateningly the whole time. I saw the scene unfold from down the street and couldn't believe it was even real. People milled about, no one paying attention, adding an extra layer of anesthetic to the surreal, out-of-place scene.
Real-life violence is nothing like the movies where music cues us and slow motion gives us time to process. In real life, fighting is clumsy and confusing and fear fills the air, becoming a thick smog filling your nostrils. The bully is afraid too -- that's precisely why he's so dangerous: he's not thinking. I don't know why it surprised me to instantly recognize the fright mixed with the crazy in his eyes but thinking about it now, aggression is often fueled by fear and desperation.
In a fight, Details get lost. 911 asked, but I hadn't paid attention to whether his shirt was dark gray or light gray when I was doing a panicked threat assessment ("Does he have a weapon?? What's the circumference of the whirling arc of flailing fists should he turn from her to me?") How come in movies all you have to do is scream the street address and cops are there in 4 seconds; why are they asking me questions I can't hear because I am breaking up a fight?
I didn't feel myself flinging open the car door or running but I did hear myself yell, "let go of her!"
The woman saw immediately, in the distraction, a chance to get away, and twisted out of his grasp. I was still running to them, calling at frozen bystanders to help when he grabbed her again. She looked at me gratefully, seeing reinforcement, and yelled more strongly for him to let go and, when he didn't, I pounded him in the back with the heels of my hands, thankful for remembering one small tidbit I'd been taught: fists are weak and a punch can hurt knuckles but a well-placed hit with the base of the hand is less likely to injure its owner. I was terrified he'd whirl and crush me but I didn't see a choice. I was reckless and unwise and mostly ineffective but if we don't attempt to stop bullies, if we don't stand up for eachother, who will? With each unchecked aggression, bullies grow even bolder.
I don't know if it's because I was a girl or if it was simply that someone was acting, or it was that I singled people out and asked, but the frozen bystanders leapt into action. A group of guys put themselves in danger relieving both the girl and I of the bully's attention. He turned to face them and began threatening the growing circle around him.
I was still on the phone. Fucking 911 transferred me and I was repeating "JUST GET A COP OUT HERE PLEASE" with the address when suddenly the guy wheeled around, mid-threat, and took off. It all happened so fast.
I tweeted afterwards that this was the first time I'd ever hit someone but it's not true. I remember now that when I was 11, my dog ran away and I found him in the schoolyard, some guy tormenting him. I yelled first, in a high-pitched bratty voice, "leave my dog alone!" But when he didn't, let loose a stream of completely ineffective girly punches as high as I could reach: his shoulder. He looked at me like I were an annoying insect and swung a good one into the side of my head. Knocked me down. The sound shocked me more than the sensation. Even if I knew how to fight, I don't think an 11-year old girl and a 16-year old boy are a good match but at least I got him away from my dog.
I hate confrontation. I hate fighting. I don't even know how to fight. But injustice lights a fury in me. Even though I was terrified, I couldn't turn my cheek.
As a youngster, I watched a movie on TV about actress Theresa Saldana. She'd been assaulted in broad daylight in Central Park by a deranged fan while scores of witnesses watched. No one helped. Even as a youngster, I grasped the concept of a crowd's power to intercept and never forgot the message. (Indeed, it's what brought flight 93 down in a Pennsylvanian field on 9/11.)
We are taught to read and write and make cookies and weave baskets but not how to defend ourselves, fight or face violence, even though many kids grow up experiencing it in their own homes. Shouldn't people learn conflict management as kids? I don't know how it'd best be introduced, but in a hierarchical society of primates, doesn't this seem like a necessary conversation?