“Creepy guy around Thomas Circle”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Josh

“Dear PoPville,

I was walking along Massachusetts Ave NW at about 11.15pm or so [Friday night], heading east from 14th St when I noticed a man cutting across the sidewalk from M St – we were then outside the National Air Traffic Controllers Association building. I noticed him approaching from my 10 o’clock, and I was immediately on alert since there was no one else on the sidewalk at that time and I was alone.

When he was a couple feet away, I heard him say, “You know me?” I did not make eye contact and kept walking past him, and he followed behind me. I was a bit creeped out, so decided to u-turn back towards 14th St, where there were more people and traffic. When I walked past him, he started to say very aggressively: “You scared huh? Because I’m black? Your family came from a motherfucking third world country like mine too, you are also from the motherfucking ghetto.”

I got to the CVS at Thomas Circle, where I idled outside for a few minutes while deciding if it was safe to go home and what route I should take. I decided to cross 14th St towards the Donovan Hotel to resume my walk home, and at that point, I saw the guy across the street. He looked over and saw me, and started to wait at the crosswalk across the street, waiting for the light to change.

At that point, I was seriously creeped out since he had obviously u-turned after I did so on Mass Ave, and had caught up with me. The walk sign came on and he started crossing the street towards me, walking next to a guy who was texting on his phone and oblivious to what was going on.

I decided to stay where I was, and the creepy guy stared at me throughout while he was crossing the street towards me. I feared he was going to do something, so I very quickly went up to the other guy (the one who was texting) and asked him to help me. Seeing this, the creepy guy immediately broke off and disappeared behind the CVS along Vermont Ave.

I eventually went on my way when I was sure he wasn’t in the vicinity, but the experience was definitely unnerving. The guy is African American, probably at least about 5’10 to 6 feet or so, a little stocky, and he was in a black jacket and blue jeans. He didn’t appear drunk or anything like that, but he was definitely very aggressive.

I hope I was just in a bad place at a bad time, and that he wasn’t randomly walking around picking on women walking alone.”

79 Comment

  • Not sure if it’s the same, but there is regularly a guy in Thomas Circle yelling….

  • Had a very very similar encounter up near me about 2 years ago. Middle of the day, out on a walk. Look at the guy walking towards us and he said “You scared, girl? Cause I’m black?” Etc. Fortunately (or unfortunately as it turns out) my boyfriend was with me and didn’t take his intimidation lightly. They manned up on each other and the original aggressor backed off. Only after, however, I’d gotten my phone out and said I was calling the police.
    Crazy knows no race.

    • Ally

      It’s times like this that I’m happy my husband (who has the temperament of a pussy cat) happens to look a tad like a Hell’s Angel. 😉 Glad it worked out okay for you guys. I understand that mental illness is what it is, but for those without a decent medical excuse, I wish they’d just take the aggression down a notch.

    • Allison

      Shame this guy acts in a way that makes the perceived stereotype self-fulfilling. We wouldn’t be scared of you if you weren’t acting erratically and asking us if we’re scared of you! Of course everyone acts scared of him.

  • If you haven’t done so already, please contact the police for that area. It looks like this happened mostly in the Third District, within PSA 407 (see contact info at http://mpdc.dc.gov/node/206732 ), and maybe partly in the Second District within PSAs 207 and 208 (see http://mpdc.dc.gov/node/205152 ).

    • Hi textdoc, thanks for the advice. I called one of the numbers but the officer on duty wasn’t super helpful. He told me to dial 911 even though this happened last Friday or go to the station personally to make a report. With hindsight, I should have just called 911 that night!

      • That’s frustrating. Try elevating the issue to the Third District’s commander, Jacob Kishter, whose e-mail should be in that first link I provided. From what I’ve seen, he’s very responsive (although unfortunately the same cannot be said for some of the Third District’s rank-and-file officers).

      • And it looks like I mistyped — that should have been PSA 307, not 407.

  • Please do call the police. This is exactly what they want to hear about and in my experience, they’ll be very supportive and they’ll likely know who it was. For future reference, you could have called the moment you noticed him following you. I’m very glad to hear you’re okay and thanks for passing along the information.

  • Wow. That is creepy. I would have immediately dialed 911 and walked towards the CVS like you did (good call).
    One time I was waiting at a bus stop near Dupont Circle when a guy pulled up next to me and asked if I needed a ride. It wasn’t right on the circle, but on a side street where I was alone with little lighting, so I immediately walked away while I was dialing 911. He pulled away so I hung up before the call went through, but if you feel you’re in danger its better to act. I wouldn’t even announce I was calling the police — I’d just do it.

  • Actually, could anyone else advise on what to do if someone’s following you? I said above to call 911, but I would be worried about provoking him. And sometimes, it takes forever for the dispatcher to get through identifying info before asking what the call’s about.

    • honestly, find a business or group of people and tell them what’s happening. Safety in numbers.

      • This is definitely my advice too. Walk as quickly as you can while seeming natural to a business or more crowded area and hang out there for a bit before continuing on where you were going.

    • Keep in mind how quickly and unobtrusively you can call 911. Most phones have an emergency call button right on the lock screen. If something bad is going down, even if you can’t talk directly into the phone, you’ve got an open line to the operator and they have your E911 location (which isn’t great, but much better than nothing).

      • Unfortunately the location of cell phones (even with GPS turned on) is not always that accurate….

  • nightborn

    Please call the police when these things happen! You never know if this person might become violent – if not towards you, maybe towards the next person he harrasses! Don’t be embarrassed or feel like it’s trivial.

  • Good point on using the hotel. There are always men (and occasionally women) staffing the lobby at all the major hotels in DC 24/7. They usually are on a first name basis with the night shift police and might even know the perp (if he’s regularly harassing guests in the area).
    If it’s late and you need help immediately, pop into a hotel. 99 out of 100 they are happy to help you.

  • I see your point, but I think it’s helpful to let others know about a potentially dangerous situation. I find it’s easy to fall into a sense of complacency even living in DC and stories like this are a good reminder to keep your guard up and stay alert.

  • I’ve had things like this happen to me several times just in D.C., and so has just about every other woman that I know. Really wish the city had more foot patrols and an increased presence in areas where people are likely to be walking home alone at night.

    • ^This. It happens way too often.

    • Rest assured, MPD officers are absolutely deployed according to where and when there is the highest likelihood of a serious threat to individual or public safety. But areas where there are just a few people walking at a given time — as it appears was the case in this incident — might not have any record (e.g., a crime or call for service) of a particular problem. In other words, where there are more people, there is often a higher concentration of crimes or calls for service. There are simply far too many locations in the city where a lone person may be approached or followed by an aggressive and / or scary person to reasonably deploy officers to all of these locations absent some other evidence of crime.

  • I think people tell POP because this community often reports if it’s happend to them as well – a pattern is helpful. One person might not call the cops, but if 4 or 5 people report the same thing happening to them but they didn’t report it because they thought it was a one-off thing, that’s a resource.

  • MPD allocates resources based, in part, on the number of reports/complaints in a particular location. So yeah, if this encourages a few more people to report said creepy person it might have an impact on how safe our streets are. Your “every man for himself” attitude does precisely the opposite.

  • I’m the person who emailed Popville about the incident. Perhaps you aren’t a woman or you don’t regularly walk alone around the city, and thus don’t understand. Of course I know the history of the area (I’ve lived here for four years). I’ve encountered a ton of creepy men at night but most of the time, they have been more annoying than threatening (ie kissing noises, trying to talk to you.) This guy was downright aggressive and if he hadn’t left, I would have called 911 right there outside the CVS or kicked up a bigger fuss. So why did I write in about this incident? I believe the women in the neighborhood need to be warned – simple as that.

    • Ally

      +1. Thank you for posting!

    • thank you for that!

    • Yes. Thank you for sending it. You probably aren’t the only woman (/person) he will harass, so it’s good to give people a heads up that he could get aggressive.

    • Thank you for sending this. I work nearby and would second the recommendation to try to be extra vigilant in the area at night, if possible. There are a number of people who hang out on the southern side of Thomas Circle, near the CVS, who can be unusually aggressive. I’ve had similar experiences.

    • I am a woman and live in this area. I appreciate you posting. It helps to be aware of this. I agree the naysayers might be guys or live in some la-la land where they don’t realize how pervasive harassment/stalking is and how scary it can make someone feel.

      My female friends and I were harassed a few weeks ago near 14th and P in broad daylight. I am not sure it was the same guy (this guy wasn’t necessarily aggressive but certainly very creepy). I guess I didn’t report it since I didn’t think police would care, but I wish I had.

  • I would report it because it’s possible the police are looking for a suspect matching that behavior/description and now there would be timed stamped surveillance videotape of him that could help with an investigation. You could also help prevent another person becoming the victim of crime (I’m thinking sexual assault or robbery.) My husband saw the hammer killer, that NFL players’ brother with mental problems that killed that poor Air BnB guest up in Petworth, days after the murder, acting squirrely and carrying a hammer (?!) on the 64 bus. He called it in. The guy was caught in a police sting just a few days later. They prob already had a line on him but seriously you might be the one that solves a case.

  • “When he was a couple feet away, I heard him say, “You know me?” I did not make eye contact and kept walking past him, and he followed behind me.”

    I think not making eye contact is a mistake. Whenever I encounter someone on the street acting a bit odd I look them straight in the eye and nod to them or say hello to make sure they know I have acknowledged their presence.

    • “I think not making eye contact is a mistake.”
      I do too, but I feel like there’s plenty of disagreement on this point.

      • Hm. As a woman, I usually do not acknowledge them. These creepers tend to think that any sign of engagement shows you may be interested in them. I find it makes the harassment worse. No thanks.

      • Yeah — I think making eye contact with non-crazy people is advisable, but given that this guy was apparently crazy, I’m not sure that initial eye contact would have made any difference.

        • I think you can tell as much from looking at someone’s eye’s as you can from looking at any other part of their body, if not more. I don’t suggest it has any effect on their behavior but the less you’re aware of what they’re doing the more you’re at risk of being surprised by their actions.

    • Ryan, I hear you on that. I initially did not make eye contact. But when the guy and I crossed paths again (outside the CVS), I stared at his face while he was crossing the street towards me. He held my stare throughout (he remained expressionless) – it was creepy to say the least. Of course I can’t speak for what he would have done, but I was pretty certain he would have done or said something if I hadn’t approached the other guy at that moment to ask for help.

    • I disagree. With people who are aggressive and/or crazy, I am not doing anything to engage them. Trying to get away from them is generally safer and less likely to escalate things.

    • Mansplaining alert!
      PS – as a woman who actually does make eye contact in these circumstances, I can tell you that about half the time it seems to simply be perceived by the creeper as an invitation. If you think a woman can win in these scenarios, you know nothing about perv psychology.

      • Yes, if your instinct is to not make eye contact when harassed, then that instinct is always right. When a man harasses a woman, he is trying to get her to engage. Refusing to engage but ignoring them and walking away often makes them realize you are not a good target, so they leave you alone. Obviously, you are keeping an eye on them and what they are doing, just not engaging with eye contact. Eye contact, in my experience, often involves escalation of the threat, and sometimes an assault.

  • In my experience, it’s best to call 911 while looking for a place to step in. A store, restaurant, or hotel are good places to stop and wait while an officer comes to where you are. Never announce that you are calling 911, just dial. If no place is available, hail a cab or a bus while you are dialing 911 and let the driver know that someone is following you. Be observant of all details, where you are, what the harasser is wearing, etc.

    ABOVE ALL: As a woman, I tell people (guys too) this all the time: Avoid walking home alone at night. Take a cab or call a friend. Always have an uber/lyft app on your phone and use it instead of walking alone. You might feel safe in DC, but it’s still a city and dangerous situations can still happen. It’s not being paranoid, it’s being safe.

    • justinbc

      As a guy I can’t imagine ever taking an Uber just to avoid walking home alone, even through the worst neighborhoods.

      • As someone who’s been jumped and beaten twice on separate occasions while walking home from U Street through a quiet residential neighborhood I will never, ever walk home alone on quiet streets after dark again.

      • You can’t even imagine it? Weird. I’m a guy and I have done this at times; especially if I’ve had a bit to drink or I’m really tired.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I’m a guy, I’m not small (not huge but not small) and have some martial arts training. Having had a gun in my face a couple of times has changed my perspective on this sort of thing. I still walk alone plenty, but once in a while I just get the feeling that tonight’s not the night to walk home alone, and I’ll get a cab or an uber without any shame at all.

        • justinbc

          I don’t think there’s any shame in doing what makes you feel safe. Just saying me personally, I’m fine taking that risk as part of living in a city.

          • I don’t know your personal history, but you might be singing a different tune after having someone grab you and point a revolver at your face on a quiet, beautiful evening. Even if you’re intellectually OK, your “lizard brain” will likely – and wisely – hold on to that experience for a few years too.
            After it happened to me, it was quite a few years before my flight or fight mechanism wasn’t immediately triggered to immediately perceive any black male teen as a probable mortal threat, even if I knew that the emotion wasn’t rational. I’ve never again felt entirely comfortable with solo walks down the pretty and peaceful streets of our fair city. You live, you learn.

          • I’m with you, Xochipilli. My lizard brain is similarly wired, rationality be damned.

  • Ask your mom or your sister why someone would post this information on a blog read by many other people who might have to walk alone in this neighborhood. jeez.

  • I have no clue if this is related, but when I was walking home in North Dupont last night and was waiting for the light to change, I noticed someone, who meets the description above, getting very aggressive with a tourist couple across the street. He didn’t appear to have a weapon or was trying to rob them, was just very much in their space and was blocking they was so they couldn’t escape. I was reaching for my phone to call the cops when they managed to run around him and sprint into the Hilton. Once they ran away, he just kind of sauntered down the Hilton driveway and sat on a bench outside the hotel. I didn’t call the cops because I assumed the hotel would take care of it, and since I didn’t know for sure what was going on. But now I wish I had.

    • “because I assumed the hotel would take care of it”
      Never assume that someone else is “taking care of it”. If you think *someone* should alert the police, then *you* should alert the police. (Not scolding you in particular, I just think this point deserves emphasis.)

  • This happened to me when I first moved to the Thomas Circle area a few years ago. Called the police at the time, they said a man following me and talking to me on the street isn’t a crime.

    • So ridiculous. I guess he has to rape and murder you before they care. Bullshit.

    • Can anyone else confirm if this is typical? Was wondering myself whether or not calling 911 with an “I’m creeped out right now” would do any good.

      • I take the “when you see something, say something” mantra pretty seriously and call 911 a few times a year. Although I haven’t ever complained about being followed, I have found that the police almost always take my concerns seriously and follow up pretty quickly. Often within a couple of minutes.

    • Yes. I had a similar thing happen to me near Eastern Market a few years ago, with a guy literally threatening to hit my friend and I in the face while we waited at a bus stop. A cop car pulled up to an intersection close by, and I ran over to tell the officers about the incident through their patrol car window. Their response? “Yeah, that’s pretty typical for around here.” I remember those words and my helplessness like it was yesterday.

      • That’s terrible. If you run into this again, please complain to the commander for that district.

  • Walking alone at 11:15 at night in dark section of Mass. Avenue that doesn’t have a lot of pedestrian traffic? Had you been drinking too?

    • Nope, nope, nope. It’s too nice outside for victim blaming.

      • it’s victim blaming, yes, but it’s also undeniably safer to not walk around alone at night. i go back and forth over when someone is blaming the victim (“you asked for this to happen by walking around at night drunk and alone”) versus stating a fact (“it can be unsafe to walk around alone at night, especially after drinking). fwiw i’m a woman.

      • Haha. Great response. Thank you!

    • I had one glass of wine, if you are curious. To be fair, the block where this happened (right outside the National Air Traffic Controllers Association building) is usually not a deserted street. There is usually a fair amount of oncoming traffic headed towards Thomas Circle and pedestrians on the sidewalk, even at times later than that hour. So perhaps it was just bad luck that this happened while no one else was around at that exact moment.

    • This is a quite busy and well trafficked part of the city. It’s not like she was walking through a dark alley far from the metro at 3am.

  • Aglets

    You might also want to send a recap of this to the National City Christian Church. If this person is receiving services from them (they have a food and clothing bank) they should know.

  • So if you feel unsafe, always call 911. That’s our job. We’re there for 8 hours and we’re happy to respond to investigate. If the suspect is indeed mentally ill, then he can be remanded to CPEP under an FD-12 which is a Mental Health Order for observation.

    That’s the difference between creeps (guys who are leaving the Brixton and think they have a shot with you and like that you’re wearing a skirt) and threats. And almost everyone, especially women who are subject to street harassment on every nice and not nice day wearing hot and not hot clothing, know how to tell the difference between the two.

    But if you think police, then call the police.

    • Harassment is harassment Any woman can tell you that harassment happens regardless of what one is wearing – I have been harassed wearing sweatpants and a loose t-shirt, glasses, hair a mess, walking to CVS and I have been harassed when dressed in plain jeans and a sweater and a parka and I have been harassed in a summer dress with flip flops. Both of the situations you describe are a threat – that guy leaving Brixton could attack me just as much as the random crazy yelling stuff while walking down the street.

      • Did you not notice their qualifier? “And almost everyone, especially women who are..wearing…*not hot clothing,* know how to tell the difference between the two.”

        Anon MPD isn’t victim blaming, s/he is explaining that *anyone* who’s ever been harassed–for any reason–tends to be able to tell the difference between garden variety catcalling, and super creepers.

        Sure, those guys leaving the Brixton can be a threat, but they don’t tend to ask creepy questions from across the street first, they tend to walk fast, catch up to you and attempt to make small talk first. 😉

  • This has happened to me. A Black man a couple years ago yelled at me, “What? You can’t walk on the sidewalk with a Black man??” when I crossed the street opposite him. I felt sorry for him. I can’t imagine going through life with such self-loathing and paranoia that you think total strangers are actually giving you the time of day in their thoughts. And the reason I walked across the street from him was because [now hold for it] I WAS GOING THAT WAY.

  • Thanks for the heads up! I live across the circle. I called police once because a guy groped me as he passed me walking on 15th near Mass (daytime). Yeah, I did feel frustrated that he was able to run away while the dispatcher asked me questions. But, the police did come quickly and encouraged me to call if i ever saw him again.

  • Something similar has happened to me a few times in my neighborhood (Eckington). I always debate whether or not to acknowledge the creeper. I’ve simply ignored them before and that’s escalated things because they kept trying to get my attention, upset they’re being ignored. I’ve also never called the cops (but will in the future) because I assume they’ll just blow it off. I generally never walk alone at night except when I have my dog with me. She’s a sweet, friendly dog, but a lot of people are unjustly afraid of her based on her appearance (pitbull mix).

  • I think it’s important to post things like this for a different reason than most of the other commenters have mentioned. When something like this happens to you, you lose a couple very valuable seconds just processing that this is actually happening to you right this minute – you are actually being threatened right on the street in a neighborhood you know well where that type of thing is (fortunately) uncommon.
    Reading about it makes you think in advance, even if just for a second, “well, if that happened to me, I would scream as loud as I could to attract attention / go into a hotel / duck into the CVS that’s right there / call 911 / some other response”. Hopefully, having thought it through before, even if just in passing, if it ever does happen to you your brain gets to autopilot a few seconds faster. Instead of thinking “this is actually happening to me!” and losing a few seconds in a panic, you think “this is happening – I’ve thought about this before and I know what to do. I’m going to _____”. Sometimes, just those few seconds makes the difference between a scary threat and a scary attack. So, as someone who walks through the circle often, and sometimes by myself, thank you for posting this. I’ve now thought through a couple options I could pursue there if I needed to.

  • Just an update on the situation – I went to the MPD today and reported what happened. The police officer gave me some grief for not calling 911 that night and then grudgingly took down notes and filed a report. Thanks everyone for all your comments!

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