“The lesson learned is do not chase after someone who steals your belongings on the metro.”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Barbara Krawcowicz

“Dear PoPville,

I just want your readers to be aware of what happened to me and my husband on the metro Halloween night. On the orange line headed towards New Carrollton on a fairly packed train, a young man grabbed my husband’s phone at the McPherson Square stop around 12:45am. My husband chased after him and I followed closely behind. We followed the thief into the next car on the train where we were surrounded by people who were participating in the crime. The group (both men and women) tripped us and while my husband was on the ground, several of the young men repeatedly punched him in the head! It all happened so fast. It was horrible. My husband will eventually be okay, but his eye is hurt and he is sore, and we both have bloody knees. The lesson learned is do not chase after someone who steals your belongings on the metro. Also, we need more metro police officers!”

63 Comment

  • Jesus I am so sorry you had to experience this. What the fuck is wrong with teens today? Seriously, I’ll never understand this way of thinking (I’m sure someone will say it’s because I’m rich, or white, or whatever….but do unto others is supposed to be universal. I don’t buy a culturally relativist argument). It makes me sad for DC and cities all over that this happens over phones. I hope you are all better quickly.

    • lesson learned Keep your phone out of sight.

      • That’s a good lesson too, but somehow this remark rubs me the wrong way.

        • Ally

          Does me as well.

          • I think maybe it’s the tone (or the tone I perceive): “The REAL lesson that you should have learned was not to have had your smartphone out in the first place.” Seems a bit finger-wagging… as opposed to “Another good tip to remember is to keep your smartphone out of sight in places like Metro.”

    • “wear a longer skirt” “don’t drink” “don’t take a cab, take uber” it’s all a symptom of blaming people for going about their business and being victims of crime. Not ok IMO

      • The idea that you can’t suggest basic precautions: don’t drink yourself into a stupor, take a cab/uber If the situation warrants it, etc is indicative of America’s insistence that people don’t take responsibility for their own actions. Not ok imo

        • justinbc

          +1, some people are incapable of hearing criticism, even if it’s constructive.

          • I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect to be safe from beatings on the Metro. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to not want to take a cab 5 blocks to your home at 8 p.m. Do I take cabs the 5 blocks from H Street to my house, given recent events? Yes. Do I think I should be shamed if one time I walked home instead and got mugged? Nope.

          • Generally yes, but this was no random beating (although they do happen). If you follow a thief, you may be assaulted; everybody knows that fact, I hope.
            No one is shaming you for choosing not to take a cab, but if your walk had a recent rash of robberies, I’d expect you’ve factored that into your decision to cab or not, so when I say hey maybe cab from h st to your house because robberies are on the rise in that area don’t scream victim blaming.
            I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect ppl to not get so drunk they need to be cared for by strangers, to walk on well lit streets when possible or to pay attention and not blast music when going from a to b at night. Don’t get mad at us for suggesting a precaution.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Somebody help me understand what does vs. does not constitute some sort of PC-violation here. My aim is not to offend everybody, but the rules have gotten so complex that I can’t keep up. Somebody just got his phone swiped, chased after the guy, and ended up getting smacked around. (OP – I’m sorry this happened). People here have pointed out that we shouldn’t have our phones visible and that we shouldn’t chase people who steal from us, both of which evidently occurred here and both of which evidently yielded undesired results here. It seems that the consensus is that it is ok to say “don’t chase somebody who stole your stuff” but not ok to say “don’t have your stuff out.” I recognize that these are two quite different things, but I’m seriously at a loss for why one of these pieces of advice is acceptable but the other is not.

        • having phone out = existing in a free and just society that allows for property ownership
          chasing a phone thief = escalating a situation, attempting to personally enforce the law of said society, and putting yourself in unnecessary physical harm for the sake of a replaceable object
          Exercising the first piece of advice is a huge impact on how much fear is built into a person’s life and day. In the case of rape victim-blaming (as opposed to theft victim-blaming), it’s an imposition on a person’s relationship with their own body. Meanwhile, exercising the second piece is a precaution one should take in a relatively rare situation most of us will never be unlucky enough to face.
          I am just scratching the surface of the differences here, but maybe something there will resonate.

          • “existing in a free and just society that allows for property ownership”
            Surely you see how this premise isn’t remotely true for a large and ever-growing subset of our population?

          • “having phone out = existing in a free and just society that allows for property ownership” — Would taking out your wallet and counting a large amount of cash while on Metro also count in your view as “existing in a free and just society that allows for property ownership”? And/or as “going about one’s business”?

          • Probably not, because that would be a weird and unnecessary thing to do. This may well come down to how productive and not-senselessly-bored you are standing around and not looking at your phone.

          • HaileUnlikely

            To somebody who is about to make a purchase, counting one’s money is probably more useful than playing with their phone. I don’t buy the utilitarian argument.

          • If you routinely make large cash purchases, you are from the past and have no smartphone to worry about, so the issue is moot!
            I catch up on email and the news while riding transit; I pretty much never “play” on my phones, unless you count social media, which is a fairly important source of interaction with my social circles during the week.
            We’re just from different decades or something.

          • ‘I catch up on email and the news while riding transit; I pretty much never “play” on my phones’ — Someone who’s looking to steal your phone doesn’t care what you’re using it for.
            Just because most people now find their smartphones essential to their daily lives doesn’t somehow make them immune to theft. Small, valuable, easy to grab out of someone’s hand or off a table — what more could a thief want?

          • You must not read so good. I didn’t say they were immune to theft, just that telling people not to have them out is not as helpful or appropriate as telling people not to take the law into their own hands.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Given comments about phones vs. money vs. chasing thief, I gather that the standard is something like: it’s not ok to admonish others not to do things that you yourself do, but it is ok to admonish others not to do things that you yourself don’t do. I can buy this. I can understand why somebody would be offended by advice not to do something that they do all the time, but wouldn’t much care about advise not to do something that they wouldn’t do anyway.

          • “it’s not ok to admonish others not to do things that you yourself do, but it is ok to admonish others not to do things that you yourself don’t do.” LOL — HaileUnlikely, I think you have hit the nail on the head!

        • Yeah, I don’t quite understand this either.
          I guess we as a society have never really dealt before with having something that’s 1) become so essential to most people’s lives but is 2) small, very expensive, and easily grabbed. I think “keep your smartphone out of sight” is a good practice to follow… but somehow the earlier remark rubbed me the wrong way nonetheless.

          • Re: small, essential, easily grabbed: I remember my parents’ enthusiasm for ATMs when I was a kid. They were new and different (for the young’uns, you had to go into a bank and write a check to withdraw cash, and for purchases, you either wrote checks or paid in cash.) My parents were convinced that mugging would become a thing of the past, as no one would carry more than $20 in cash anymore, and that thieves would have no interest in a plastic card or anything else you’d carry on your person.

        • The point of the post was as a precautionary tale, so it seems strange to me people are nitpicking what related precautions are acceptable to mention.
          The only thing I find unacceptable is telling a rape victim to dress differently as a precaution. I hope we all agree on that one.

        • I think the difference is that the first piece of advice (don’t chase) was offered by the victim, i.e., “I did this thing and the result was bad so I advise others not to do it.” The second piece of advice was offered (or seemed to be offered) TO the victim, i.e., “if you had kept your phone out of sight, this wouldn’t have happened to you.”

          The issue is not the advice, the issue is who is doing the talking. The victim could have said, “lesson learned, keep your phone out of sight,” and it would have been fine. It’s when someone else says it that it takes on a sheen of told-you-so victim blaming.

          • HaileUnlikely

            So if the victim had simply relayed what happened and somebody commented that it is unwise to chase a robber, then that would be victim blaming and thus a priori not ok? If so, I get it, but holy cow we’ve gone mad.

          • I don’t think this is really a new thing, or that we have necessarily gone mad. When somebody relates a story about something bad that’s happened to them, it is generally considered rude to respond by saying “you should have done this” or “you shouldn’t have done that,” unless the individual requested such advice. This would hold true for a face-to-face conversation, an email exchange, and for a comment thread as well. It’s not about being PC, it’s about having good manners and being considerate.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I personally think the importance of the advice not to chase somebody who just robbed you outweighs the importance of politeness by a multiple of about ten zillion. I’m not quite there myself on the importance of telling somebody not to use their phone in public, but I am experiencing some cognitive dissonance over that.

          • justinbc

            @HaileUnlikely, the lesson is to just say what feels appropriate to you. You’re going to offend some people regardless, so don’t stress too much about it.
            @14thStreet, that might be true, if someone wasn’t offering up their story to the Internet comment boards. You can’t expect the whole world to go “awww honey, we’re so sorry!” in unison.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Also, I feel that it is different when discussing a matter of broad applicability on a forum read by uninvolved third parties versus taking with only the victim and nobody else. I a private conversation with the victim, it would have been pointless to tell him not to chase a guy who just robbed him, as I trust he arrived at that conclusion on even if only recently. However, on a forum, where the audience for a given comment is all readers of the comment, I think the importance vs. politeness tradeoff should be somewhat different than in a private conversation. Otherwise, there is too much important stuff that would be regarded as out-of-bounds.

          • Haile and Justin, I agree that an internet comment board is different from a one-on-one conversation, and that in such a public forum, folks can be expected to draw their own conclusions and post their own bits of advice based on the story. I was not making an argument for or against, just working out for myself why there is at least a bit of difference between a victim giving advice and a third party. Thank you for helping think it through.

          • Looks like everyone’s had enough internet for the day. Unplug and relax.

    • @Jusedtobeindc, I’m sure they were just protesting gentrification. It was a political statement.

  • justinbc

    Did you pull the emergency stop switch? It sounds like you were stuck in the new car with them after it left the tunnel?

    • Sounds like they just got surrounded for a minute. The trains are moving slower in the orange, so that could be the issue.

  • Yes, never try to get your stuff back – focus on keeping yourself safe. Otherwise, there may be consequences you don’t anticipate – someone who was robbed of a backpack near my home at Connecticut and Kalorama a few years back was shot when he chased the thief Glad you are both OK.

    As to more police, I’m not sure how that would have helped you unless there was a police officer in the car you were riding in, or the one you chased the thief to. Is is feasible to have an officer in every other car? I think as a society we’ve decided not. So far, anyway.

    • Police at the stations can stop the thief ideally.

      • So can folks like Bernie Goetz.

        • DC CapHill

          +1 The guy was hailed as a hero.

          Apparently some people were not raised with the same sense of right and wrong, but if someone takes your stuff, you go and get your stuff back. That’s the very definition of “getting punked.”

          Also, IF the residents of DC had a modicum of faith in our Police or legal system, it would be a lot easier to swallow the “don’t be a hero, be a good witness” line. The only justice one is likely to get, in a situation like this, is justice brought by yourself.

  • DC’s criminal class of youth never ceases to impress. MPD twitter alerts on Halloween seemed to be full of groups of teens in masks robbing and beating people.

    • July 4 and Halloween are two times of the year to leave or stay out of DC if possible.

      • I happened to be out of DC for a birthday party and I have to admit it was nice. Only annoying part was bringing in anything in my yard that could be stolen or vandalized.

  • Ugh..this just sucks. Everyone in a while there is awesome video where someone tries to pulls this crap and the victim fights back and wins. But, in realty it is just not worth the risk.

    The sad realty is you have to be street smart in DC. Don’t flash expensive items in public and always look out for who is around you. Avoid rowdy teens, mentally ill, and people who look like trouble.

    • justinbc

      I have personally chased after a teen who swiped an old man’s cane (the top was gold, felt heavy enough to be near solid) before jumping off the D6 at Union Station. When he saw someone pursuing he tossed it in a bush so he could get away faster. I would do it again in a heartbeat, regardless of this person’s above altercation. Some punks need to know they can’t get away with this crap and we’re not all afraid to live in our own city.

  • northeazy

    No, we just need more jobs for the kids. If only there were a program for low-income folks to find jobs, maybe like a large stimulus bill to create jobs. Or if there was some type of program to give low income folks phones, perhaps they could be called Obamaphones. We need more government programs not more cops.

    • I couldn’t agree more! The fact that someone got robbed on the metro this weekend clearly indicates that government programs do not work, and should be regarded only with disdain and sarcasm.

    • This comment wins as the most offensive. I see what you are trying to do, but your sarcasm and hyperbole are not even remotely funny so this is a fail.

  • I think it is pointless to tell people to keep their smartphones hidden in public. Do you all take off your wedding rings, nice earnings, bracelets and necklaces when you ride the metro? I thought not. Many of these are worth more than smartphones, and just as easily grabbed. As are purses, backpacks, briefcases and any other bags one might be carrying, many of which, with or without their contents included (nice briefcases and bags?shopping packages?) are worth more than smartphones. Are you not carrying any bags on the metro now?
    Then there’s the issue of things not seen or easily grabbed that a thief could easily take from most people with the threat of some bodily harm. Like coats, like wallets, like the smartphones most decently dressed people can be presumed to be carrying somewhere on their person? Not having wallets in view has not stopped people from stealing them, people. Same can be said for cellphones.

    • Watches, rings, bracelets, etc. are not “just as easily grabbed” as smartphones.

      • justinbc

        Yeah, people aren’t usually just staring mindlessly at their jewelry ignoring their other surroundings.

        • Haha!
          Plus, they’re all wrapped in some fashion around people’s bodies. I guess a necklace that you could rip off while someone’s wearing it would be the least difficult to grab, but still not as easily grabbed as a smartphone.

    • it is a lot harder to grab a wedding ring or other jewelry off people, are you serious? And yes, purses and briefcases are just as easily snatched as smartphones…which is why they’re often snatched as well. I don’t think it’s pointless to tell people to be aware of where their stuff is, since people might not be thinking about that.

    • I would guess that it is much easier to grab a cell phone out of someone’s hand than it is to take their rings, backpack, earrings, or a cell phone from their pocket. It’s not impossible to grab these things, but it is more difficult. So the advice to not hold your cell phone in your hand on metro is perfectly reasonable. Phones are clearly a target for thieves, and they are a much easier target when they are out in plain sight.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Good points here. Having just purchased a kind of expensive piece of jewelry for the woman who is now my wife a couple years ago, I have wondered how common it is for robbers to demand jewelry when performing a robbery on a target of opportunity. I suspect that it is pretty rare, for two reasons: First, I find it pretty difficult to eyeball the difference between a ring that would have cost the original buyer about $10K versus one that could be bought at WalMart for $24.97, especially when it is on somebody’s finger and they’re not holding still and showing it to me. I suspect that few in the demographic that commit most robberies on targets of opportunity would have any idea. Second, I suspect that the mechanisms by which a $10K ring can be converted back into cash are largely unknown and largely inaccessible even if known to the demographic that commits most robberies on targets of opportunity.

    • Yes, when I had a sparkly diamond on my finger, I chose not to wear it in questionable areas or turned it around late at night. For bags, the equivalent would be to say mind your bags: put them on the inside while seated, don’t put them near the fence while dining, etc.
      You’re trying to compare apples and oranges to make a point, and it’s failing. Yes, someone might take your coat if they show a weapon, but they’re probably not simply snatching it off your back if you’re wearing it fully.
      Simply providing tips to prevent what’s preventable I.e. Snatch and runs of phones which are the primary way they’re stolen on metro is the best we can do, and that’s ok.

  • More Metro police officers? I have used Metro since 1996 and have never once seen a Metro police officer patrolling the cars. The one time I needed one, we waited at the station manager’s booth for over 30 minutes. I gave up. Had to get to work.

  • Defend Yourself instructors suggest that people don’t resist in property attacks. In about half of all robberies, the attacker has a weapon whether you see it or not. (www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=nvat). The question of whether you own anything that is worth risking injury for is important, and no one can answer it for you. But my belief is that the answer is no: Nothing is worth the escalated risk of injury. If you think you’re saving money by holding onto your phone/purse/jewelry/shoes/bike etc., take a look at how much a visit to the ER — and possibly months of therapy — cost.

    Sexual assaults, physical assaults –that’s a whole different equation.

    It’s not your fault, and I’m sorry you have to go through this. All the best on your recovery.

    • justinbc

      The link you included doesn’t really support your claim, unless there’s something more specific buried within that page that you didn’t reference. It also seems like an incredibly difficult statistic to verify. If you never saw the weapon, how would anyone know whether the person had it? The robber might be arrested later, and then have a weapon on them, but that isn’t proof they had it at the time they robbed you.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I agree with Justin regarding the data (relevant variable was called “weapon use” and was coded as “Yes, attacker had a weapon” vs. “No, attacker did not have a weapon.” Without downloading and reviewing the entire coding manual, I”m pretty sure this refers to whether a weapon was displayed or used in the crime, not whether the attacker had a weapon unbeknownst to the victim).
        However, I agree with Lauren regarding the point – one of the times I was robbed at gunpoint, the f*ckers just put the gun in my face right away. The other time, the f*ckers first surrounded me and demanded money without displaying a gun – I told them I didn’t have any, and then one of them took his gun out. In retrospect I’m actually glad they pulled the gun out without first escalating things physically, because now that I think about it, if they had tried to fight me and it wasn’t going their way, then I might have actually gotten shot.

  • The situation was nasty — several teens threatened another passenger who was trying to keep the doors open to hold the train at the station, and multiple other passengers told them they were being horrible, which they ignored and smirked at.

    OP — I was in your train car and went into the next car shortly after you got off and used the emergency call to notify the train operator. The group that stole your husband’s phone didn’t get out until L’Enfant Plaza and a metro police officer did find them and was questioning at least some of them. If you’re able to pursue it or look at surveillance video, one of the guys was wearing a JROTC sweatshirt and another one had a on clown mask with flaming red hair. There were at least two girls with them as well.

  • I also witnessed this crime (in the first metrocar), and am so sorry this happened to you. A few of us reported it to the metropolice at the McPherson square ticket booth. I hope the teens were caught. Besides the needless violence, it was dissapointing to see the indifference of other metroriders, who rushed to watch for entertainment. Everyone: this could have just as easily been you.

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