Saturday, October 22, 2011

he was holding her by the neck.

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?


  1. You did good.

    Shame people who were closer didn't do it first.

  2. I'm stuck between "Go, you!" and a "That wasn't safe of you!" response. I think I'll just sit here stunned for a while. So glad you and the other lady are OK now.

  3. Yeah, but the "safest" thing to do was do nothing, like everyone else did. Sometimes the right thing in life is not safe. Sometimes the right thing in life is not 100% good, clean, or happy either. That's what makes doing the right thing so hard.

    The only thing I worry about is actually hitting the guy -- and you know what? I won't even tell you that is wrong. It just has potential consequences.

    I applaud your comment on learning conflict mediation, but that only works at certain points. Once violence begins, the world is a different place. The biggest change, to me, is realizing that once someone chooses to cross that line, you realize that most of the rules of our society are not any sort of real truth, but a nice convention that we all agree to play by. That's why people who resort to violence are so dangerous -- they may not be thinking the first time, but they eventually figure out that there is not anything really keeping them from doing any of these things, it's all this societal agreement that if you really want to break, you can. And yes, ultimately, there are hopefully consequences -- but not always. In fact, in some circles, not often.

    You can bet that if this was in College Park that that guy probably hasn't done a lot of time for beating on people. Probably hasn't even gotten a straong reprimand before. So, though there are varying thoughts on level of response, breaking through that "polite barrier of society" and responding back on a level that shows him there is consequences is the way to go. Ideally you do it in the most non-violent way possible, and get law enforcement or authorities there as fast as possible . . . but if that is all you do and all you rely on, yes, that person who IS willing to break those societal laws has free reign until the LE gets there unless someone else acts. Also, in breaking that barrier and scolding him, you showed other people a bunch of things -- 1. He had done something that had to be reacted to. It couldn't be ignored. 2. That there was an option other than just putting your head in the sand, and 3. and it sounds like you finally spurred others to action by showing them it was OK to act/react.

    Not that there's an easy way to do it, but I think that people SHOULD be exposed to violence at some point, and then they should have frank conversations about it. I think that kids (especially) are given very mixed messages about a lot of things, and often don't have the right context to even begin to make the right choices. In some ways, I think I was fortunate to be exposed to violence early in life (and fortunately NOT at home) in ways that were really minimal in hindsight, but that made me realize more of what people were truly capable of. I had a very different view on fights than kids who hadn't been in them. But it took me a potentially lethal and very real incident of violence as an adult before I could fully get perspective, and I can't wish that on anyone. But I did learn from it, and it's changed my world view ever since then.

  4. I wish you didn't have to. I'm incredibly glad you're safe. I'm glad you did; some things aren't just worth the risk, they're what makes us human. The ability to step out past your own personal risk to help another person is what binds us together. I've been in a similar situation and gotten pounded for it later. It still was worth it.

    With regard to the group, over and over it's been shown that if one person breaks the barrier of action, others will almost always follow. Someone has to take that step, though. Again, I'm relieved you're safe but good on you for being the one.

  5. I hope I would have had the guts to do what you did. Even though it wasn't the safest course of action, it was certainly the right one. Glad you are safe.

  6. As you know "No good dead goes unpunished" but that shouldn't stop us from doing them. One of the biggest problems with America today Is depending on someone else, whether it be govt or llaw enforcement etc. America came to be by brave people taking action...good for you and your truly heroic efforts.

  7. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (or women) do nothing!" ~ Burke

    You did good!