Dear PoPville – Be Careful Running With Headphones

by Prince Of Petworth December 13, 2011 at 10:30 am 83 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user yostinator

Dear PoPville,

I am 23 years old and moved to Columbia Heights about a year and a half ago. Like a lot of people in this city, I love running. Sometimes I run towards Logan Circle, but often times I’m running in the neighborhoods of Park View and Petworth. Unfortunately, about a month ago my friend’s roommate was attacked near Irving and Sherman at 7pm. Her face was beaten and her things were stolen. Not only was she running at night, but she also was listening to music. Although I feel like it’s common sense not to run, or even walk, at night with headphones in your ears, I see people doing it EVERYDAY. I’m concerned about everyone, but when I see young women, like myself, running around Columbia Heights, Park View and Petworth at night it worries me. Of course, I’d like to tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hello?! Do you know that you’re putting yourself in danger?”…but I don’t.

It’s my hope that you could post something about this on your blog so that readers may think twice before running at night while listening to music. In a city that is so exercise-focused, I think it’s important that people know how unsafe it is to be unaware and alone at night in these areas.

  • Chris

    I’m not quite sure I understand why you’re more likely to be mugged at night if you’re running and listening to headphones. Is the idea that you’re a target because you’re flaunting your iPod? If it’s a matter of not being aware of your surroundings, you’re already hypothetically moving at a fast pace, and I don’t think listening to music or not would make a difference. Am I wrong?

    • christanel

      Even if you’re moving at a fast pace the music in your headphones is still causing a auditory distraction. You can’t hear if someone starts running behind you and are less likely to notice someone following you.

      I confess – I’m one of those who walks to and from work with headphones in my ears. But whenever I’m walking alone I try to keep my music turned down to the lowest levels to be more aware of my surroundings.

    • hennessey

      having headphones on also gives the appearance that you can’t hear anything else or that you may not be paying 100% attention to what’s around you, even if that is true or not. that might make a person seem like a better target than someone else.

    • frankie-james

      You are wrong Chris and you recognize that before you hit post.

      I am sure it took loads for this woman to even sit down and write this post. The world is very different for woman and men.

      The OP is completely right – think twice before running at night while listening to music.

      • Chris

        frankie-james: I actually did not “recognize I was wrong before I hit post” whatever that means. I do however see christanel’s and hennessey’s point that, all things being equal, jogging without headphones is probably safer than jogging with headphones.

        The only thing I’m not sure about is how big of a difference it really makes, if we’re talking about being mugged. If I’m jogging at a fairly fast clip down a sidewalk and someone comes out of nowhere and attacks me, it won’t matter if I’m wearing headphones because by the very nature of the situation, everything would happen fairly quickly. It’s a different story if I’m walking at night with headphones. I would think in that instance you’re much more vulnerable to being mugged, particularly if you’re oblivious to your surroundings. Does that make sense?

        • dbones01

          Agree with Chris on this. We should be aware of surroundings, but running with headphones just doesnt seem like the issue to really be concerned with. For one, why would you be carrying anything valuable with you? If there is a lesson, run with a cheap ipod. What bugs me is walking with headphones. I think people need to be careful of that.

  • mtpresident

    I totally agree. It drives me crazy to see runners (and cyclists!) with headphones in. I don’t care how low the volume is, you are still less able to hear what is going on around you, and therefore more vulnerable to a potential attacker and traffic in general.

    • CoHiba

      It drives me nuts when all those insane drivers go around with their windows up and their stereos on. How can they hear those terrible cyclists and runners threatening to ding their paint jobs?

  • wardoneresident

    Have you ever walked behind someone wearing headphones? They weave like a drunk and are completely clueless that anyone is behind them possibly trying to walk past them on the sidewalk. Wearing headphones isn’t just a safety thing (although that’s a huge part of it) it’s also a common courtesy thing.

    • Canned Laughter

      I would rather people weave around with headphones on than get stuck listening to some shitty pop/dance/rap song horrible coming out of a horrible “speaker”.

      • lesserlesserwashington

        +100. I’m tired of listening to other people’s music. Especially on Metro. Can we get some enforcement please?

        • soozles

          Last week, a kid got on the metro with music blaring from his phone, and I asked if he had headphones. He shook his head no, and I asked if he would please turn down his music, and he did. Hearing other people’s music—often over my own—is a huge pet peeve for me.

        • novadancer

          +1000. I am blessed with supersonic hearing which is a curse every day on the metro…

    • Anon5

      Unfortunately there are many ‘common’ courtesies which are far too uncommon these days.

      One of my pet peeves is people who wear excessive amounts of perfume or cologne in public (aka stinkers). If you are going to be riding public transportation or working in a confined space, keep the fragrances to a minimum. If other people can smell you from more than three feet away, you’re wearing too much. This kind of thing actually makes some people nauseous so it’s more than a mere annoyance.

      Remember: Living in a society requires compromises. Just because the law permits you to act like a jackass does not mean that you should.

  • Mari

    Hate to say unless the crime happens to someone near and dear people will ignore warnings. How many times do we have to say stop holding your iphones so close to the metro door, till people head the warning and iphone snatching ceases?
    People like to believe crime (and accidents) won’t happen to them, so they’ll keep jogging with earphones, walking home with $500 phones held gently in their hands, and will continue to ignore their surroundings.
    Something has to get past the bias to ignore warnings.

  • lesserlesserwashington

    run with guns.

    • Anonymous

      Rick Perry does.

      • lesserlesserwashington

        If it’s good enough for the Governor of Texas, it’s better for the hard working young urban professionals of DC. You never know when a coyote or a mugger might jump you…

    • Anonymous

      Guns are too difficult to run with

      • soozles

        And sometimes they go off and accidently put a bullet in your leg ala Plaxico Burress.

        Reminds me of the bumper sticker — If guns are criminalized, only criminals will only shoot themselves while jogging. Ok maybe it didn’t really say that.

      • lesserlesserwashington


  • Anonymous

    It’s not about headphones, it’s about our tolerance of thugs beating the crap out of the gentrifiers. Totally unreal what we tolerate in this city. What’s next? Teenagers running sanctioned and police protected drug markets in our alleys?

    • Bloomingdude

      Of course they tolerate beating the crap out of gentrifiers; they tolerate shooting and killing each other. It’s a class thing — particularly as more and more black middle class residents move out and leave behind the guys who stand around on street corners with their pants around their knees and the women screaming “sit the f-ck down!” at their children on the bus.

      In any case, the young tend to think crime won’t happen to them, and they are the most likely to walk around listening to music. C’est la vie.

      • Marcus Aurelius

        I’m curious as to why these “thug” screeds always refer to the “tolerance” of crime. What is this “tolerance” of which you speak? What is your evidence that crime is being tolerated here more than anywhere else? Is it the mere fact that crime occurs that makes you think it’s being tolerated?
        I saw a headline when I was in NYC recently – “iRob City Frenzy.” The subtitle was that 50% of robberies in NYC involve the theft of portable electronic devices. Believe it or not, DC isn’t the only place where these things happen. That was a banner weekend for the Big Apple. The headline crime was about a guy who shot his girlfriend’s son in the throat – killing him – then jumped on a city bus and opened fire. Shot a father of two in the head – killing him – seriously wounded another person. Complete strangers. Told the police that he would have kept firing if his gun hadn’t jammed. Did that crime happen because NYC tolerates criminals?
        For the record, if you look at the numbers there is a whole lot more crime being “tolerated” east of the river than in the gentrifying hoods of Northwest.

        • Anonymous

          Tolerance of crime is evident in 1) Absurdly lenient criminal penalties 2) a refusal in the part of the entrenched political establishment to push to change those penalties or how crime is prosecuted (for instance transferring jurisdiction for local criminal prosecution to the attorney general who will now be elected after the referendum). This second point is ironic because most of the crime in DC is black on black, and yet pushing for harsher penalties is considered racist because of the disparity in those prosecuted. and finally 3) An attitude, prevalent in all communities in this city, including POP commentators, that crime is what you get for living in this City, and if you don’t like it move somewhere else. Does that answer your question?

        • Bloomingdude

          What is your evidence that the city is coming down as hard as it can on teen thugs and making the pain not worth the crime?

        • Anonymous

          My want to check your crime stats bud. There is an exponentially greater amount of crime occurring within 500 feet of the Columbia Heights Metro than there is the dreaded Anacostia station. Columbia Heights Metro station has more documented crime than any other station.

          • Marcus Aurelius

            I wasn’t limiting my observation to an area within 500 feet of the metro station called Anacostia. I’m talking about the entire neighborhood of Anacostia. You want to tell me that Anacostia is a safer neighborhood than Columbia Heights, I’ve got a bridge that goes from DC to NVA that I’ll sell you at a really good price.

  • Justine

    How often does she run that same route and does she run it at the same time? That too can be a factor. Maybe she should buy some pepper spray. I carry mine every time I run at night even though I don’t feel I need it most of the time.

    • aurora

      I carry pepper spray as well when I run at night (and when I run before sunrise in the morning.) Thankfully I’ve never had to use it, but it makes me feel a little better.

      • Anon5

        Just a friendly reminder: pepper spray is illegal in the District unless registered with the police beforehand.

        Yes, it’s ridiculous, but you may still want to CYA in the event that you ever need to use it.

        • mabdc

          I run with pepper spray in my hand as well but try not to run past 6 o’clock and try to stay on busier streets like 14th and 11th. I also run with headphones but my phone is strapped around my arms.

          I’ve also handed my pepper spray to a DC policeman and asked if it was legal for me to carry it and he inspected it and said yes.

    • allison

      I believe carrying pepper spray helped stop a guy from mugging me a week ago. (I told the whole story on a comment to the post “Dear PoPville — Be Aware, Everywhere.) I just showed the guy that I was carrying mace and he backed off; you don’t have to be tough, you just have to be tougher than the next victim he can pick off.

  • 16th St

    I admit…I also live in Columbia Heights, and am guilty of running at night with headphones. It just gets dark so early these days that it’s impossible for me to squeeze a run in during the daylight hours. I try to keep the volume low and remain aware of my surroundings, but stories like these make me realize that listening to my “Today’s Hits” Pandora station probably isn’t worth the risk.

  • M

    It’s not only mugging but getting creamed by a car or bus that you have to worry about. Remember that woman from a few years ago who was run over by a bus at Florida & Conn, who was wearing headphones? Your sense of hearing is crucially important in sensing when a vehicle is approaching that you can’t see. Just today, I was biking down the street when a garbage truck almost popped out of an alley in front of me before I could see it. If I hadn’t heard it a few seconds before, I could have been toast.

  • dcwunderlust

    23-year old female who lives in Col Heights and “loves running”.
    I’m going to need a picture and phone number to confirm this over coffee.

    • Girl Who Wrote This

      Hahahhahah. Funny, but no thanks.

  • zegan

    I’ve lived on the 700 block of Harvard St. for 5 years now and every year I see an increase in young women jogging at night oblivious to their surroundings. People need to stop treating the city as if it was the same idyllic suburb they grew up in – it’s not. When you are running and out of breath or exhausted after riding your bike up the 11th street hill by Cardozo High school you’re a prime target to be mugged. Please be mindful of your surroundings.

    • Girl Who Wrote This

      Exactly. Thank you!

    • anonsquared

      Yeah, stay inside you dummies! Quit treating the city like it was Falls Church! Wise up already! Where’s your street sense?

      …cannot believe this is so accepted…

      • Girl Who Wrote This

        I don’t think people need to stay inside. What I think is that people need to be more aware in a place where crime is more prevalent. Please refer to http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0308.pdf.

      • ET

        When I was growing up in the crack 80’s in New Orleans, we just called that being prudent and having situation awareness.

  • profchris

    Cue the racial “it’s teen thug loving” anonymous or pseudonym posts. LOL I know two people mugged –then sexual assaulted–in daytime, on two of pristine, supersuburban No Va’s celebrated running and biking paths. There are messed up people everywhere–and let’s not forget that based on every data source you can find, if you are a female in America the person you need to be to most afraid of ain’t lurking black teens in search of white women to beat up as they return from yoga or who are running, or Latinos on Columbia Rd in search of a butt to grab. It’s the dude you are married to/living with/was once married to or living with.

    As for phones, yes, they tend to pull you into a zone despite the prevalence of your other senses. Some people cannot run/exercize without this zone. Perhaps potential robbers think this may be something we will have to train out of ourselves, no matter the neighborhood. One of my cousins in a toney burb of Houston got hit by a car at night because of this. A Saab, not a thug.

    • Anonymous


    • Anonymous

      So you’re saying it wasn’t some teen thug, and it was her husband who did this? Makes perfect sense.

      • aurora

        I think he’s saying that statistically, you’re more likely to be assaulted/abused/raped by someone you know than a random stranger.

    • imonaboat

      I agree. The idea that you’re safe from being mugged when you don’t live inside the big bad city is ridiculous. When I was a kid, I watched my mother get mugged in the grocery store parking lot of our safe, suburban Midwestern town. You can get mugged ANYWHERE. So I don’t walk around at night with headphones in even if I’m in Northern Virginia. It’s the sad truth, but you should be aware at all times.

      • Anonymous

        This is such a stupid thing to say. Yep, you can mugged anywhere. You could also be struck by lighting during the next thunderstorm. Odds, are not good for either. Sure you should be aware of your surroundings wherever you go. But walking alone at night in the projects in Washington Highlands is not the equivalent of walking alone at night in Bethesda. The math is there for all to see in the crime statistics. If it makes you feel better about living in the city that the odd crime occurs in the suburbs, whatever helps you sleep. But believing the odds to be the same will contribute to you making bad decisions relative to your location.

        • Marcus Aurelius

          I don’t see how this person is making a bad decision by being as aware of his or her surroundings in N.Va. as when he or she is in DC – or more specifically, the “gentrifying” parts of DC. The point wasn’t to get people in urban areas to relax, it was to get people in suburban areas to wake up.

    • Anon5

      Since ‘super’ means over/above, and ‘sub’ means below/under, doesn’t ‘supersuburban’ = urban?

  • nylonthread

    FWIW, The only time that I’ve witnessed a death was when I was waiting for the signals to change at a crosswalk at night and I saw a car hit a runner (wearing dark navy clothes and headphones). She was crossing the street against the light and never saw the speeding car.

  • ledroittiger

    I run around at night with headphones in my ear not listening to music and looking for a fight.

    • allison

      Lol now this is funny. This would actually be excellent if you were a police officer. Bait iPod!

  • Anonymous

    You know, I had a close call while biking in Logan Circle b/c of headphones (almost merged right in front of a car, prob b/c I couldn’t hear it).

    But I don’t think young girls (yeah, 23 is young) running alone in the dark in certain neighborhoods are going to be significantly safer this way. Probably a little safer – but I’d advise running with a buddy or with a group if you actually want to be safe. Pacers does group runs frequently.

  • gdopplerxt

    I think the point is that wearing headphones can make you less aware of your surroundings. But there are so many other things – if you’re tired, if you’re stressed or have something heavy on your mind, then you’re also likely to be distracted. If you’re the type of runners who runs with your head down, eyes on the sidewalk in front of you, not making eye contact with every person you pass on the sidewalk, then you’re less aware of what’s going on around you. If you’re not totally familiar with the neighborhood you’re running in, then that could be a problem too.

    Being aware of your surroundings may not prevent bad things from happening but you probably won’t be blind-sided either.

  • Lulu

    As a witness to this crime, I’d like to point out that it wasn’t that late, about 6:45-7ish on a busy street corner with a bus stop and lots of people walking around getting home from work. The guy who attacked this girl was very brazen and violent and didn’t give a shit about who might see him or chase him down.

    • Anonymous

      Brazen, indeed. But, if she’d had a few seconds warning, she might have, you know, run away.

  • Elza

    Yeah, I’m also a 20-something female in Columbia Heights and would never run at night in those areas. When I run in the dark, which is often now that the sun rises so late, I run across the Duke Ellington Bridge and down around Dupont–there are always a ton of people around and I feel safe running alone.

    A few months ago my ipod went through the wash and I was too cheap/too annoyed to replace it. I thought I’d NEVER be able to run without music, but I’ve completely adjusted and now very much prefer to run ipod-free. I especially wouldn’t use an ipod running at night. I feel safer and I run better! Seriously, take a break from constant distractions and listen to the world around you.

  • ew

    Eesh. I live in a neighborhood where I wouldn’t feel safe running after dark (weekends during the morning/afternoon are fine) and I can’t run without music so I stick to the gym. I’m also not very fast, so “running away” may or may not be an option. I wish it weren’t the case, but it is. Hopefully this won’t always be the reality in DC but for now we (joggers/runners/bikers) need to A) be less of a target in any way possible and B) work to change the complicit acceptance of our local gov’t to petty theft and violence that keeps us indoors and from enjoying our beautiful city. Uphill battle, I know.

  • JP

    I noticed this last weekend in Shaw. Young females running alone after 7PM. I don’t think women should walk OR run alone at night on quiet streets.

    Headphones are not a problem in my opinion if you use common sense. I never wear them on the Metro or any place where I don’t want to advertise that I have valuables on me. I don’t see any problem wearing them downtown during rush hour. The comment about people being distracted with them on is ridiculous. Maybe we should ban radios in cars as well because clearly people are distracted by the music.

    • Runner Girl

      As a runner, I understand the need to run in the dark these days, as most people’s job scheduled simply do not permit time to run during the day. However, people need to be cautious – if you need to run with music, run with just one headphone in. Or get a speaker that can attach to a running belt. It also doesn’t matter whether you are running at night or in the morning. I have a friend who was mugged on Capitol Hill while running around 6:30 a.m. The big problem is running alone – it makes you a target. If you don’t have friends who run, try finding a dog to run with you . . . you’d be surprised by the number of neighbors who would happily give you their dog to take on a 6 a.m. or 7 p.m. run . . . this of course means you’d have to get to know your neighbors. Just a suggestion – could be a win-win for everyone and you might meet some cool people in your hood. If you aren’t comfortable approaching a dog-walking neighbor, post a non-sketchy ad on Craigslist explaining your situation and why you want to protection of an animal while you are running, etc.. I know people who have done this and it works.

      • Shawguy

        +1 – my pup will happily run anywhere, with anyone, at any time of day or night, as long as you understand the first two blocks are “warm-up” blocks where everything must be sniffed every five feet. After that, he makes a great running companion :) I’d happily loan him out to (trusted) neighbors so he can get the extra exercise!

      • 15th St. NW Resident

        Muggers are up at 6:30 AM? That’s the most disturbing bit of info I’ve read today.

      • blazing sun

        I have multiple dogs to lend out in Petworth! Young fosters could always use a good run, and a regular run for them would be great! I would agree that running with a dog would generally keep a person safer, since people often cross the street rather tha walk by my dogs.

        Washington Humane Society even has a group of runners that regularly run with dogs in the shelter…helps to make them calmer and therefore more adoptable.

        • Anonymous

          Where in Petworth? I might take you up on that…

    • saf

      “I don’t think women should walk OR run alone at night on quiet streets.”

      This has been bugging me all day.

      Yes, be aware of your surroundings. No, don’t live in fear, or say that because we are women we should be limited.

      • victoria

        If you don’t think women are free under present circumstances, to move freely about the world you should be actively be working to change that – not just saying bloggy things.

  • GLA

    I, like a lot of others, run in the morning. I’ve never seen a mugging or assault at 6am. I guess the muggers like their sleep.

    • 14thstgal

      I’ve seen stats that muggings/assault actually happen more often in the early hours of the morning. The problem is the thugs haven’t gone to sleep yet and are more likely to be amped up on booze/alcohol.

      • GLA

        Right, from midnight to 3AM. That’s not a time that anyone would be out jogging, that’s when the bars close.

        • wdc

          Yesterday, an elderly woman was carjacked at 7am. A few weeks ago, a violent mugging down around Union Station at 6am, IIRC. There is no safe time of day, apparently.

    • Elza

      Yeah, I usually run between 6 and 7:30am (in areas with lots of other runners where I feel safe if it’s still dark), and I’ve always felt that if anyone took the initiative to mug me at sunrise, well, they are a pretty talented and energetic mugger.

      • Elza

        Plus I would literally have nothing to steal but a set of keys, an ID, and the clothes off my back.

  • shawguy

    As for the “white headphones make you an attractive target for theft” component of the debate, a few friends and I had this discussion a couple years ago, and we all bought each other a little $40 iPod Shuffle for the holidays that year. It was a pretty cheap gift, and the big upsides are that it holds a charge forever, holds hours of music, and comes with a clip so you don’t need pockets or armbands to bring it with you. Best part is, especially in summer, it’s pretty obvious that mugging you is going to be worthless since your headphones are going to a tiny used $25 Shuffle, not a $600 phone. Not that someone wouldn’t rob or even kill you over $25, but it’s a lot less tempting.

    I won’t comment on the need to be able to hear your surroundings and how that plays into the should vs should not impact listening to music while working out component of this debate, because I admit I usually go down to the National Mall with a buddy and run laps there, where the chances of being hit by a car are quite limited due to the very limited number of roads. Personally, I find music helps keep me going.

  • ustreetonian

    I dont think it’s fiar to blame the victm. Living in fear, and changing our actions is just giving in to the thug criminals. Residents and responsible citizens need to take back the streets. Maybe we could start a night time running group for CoHi? Safety in numbers!

    • textdoc

      I don’t remember anyone blaming the victim in this thread.

      What the OP was proposing was merely that people “think twice before running at night while listening to music.”

      There’s a difference between being so paralyzed with fear that you always go home immediately after work and stay inside until the next morning, and simply being aware of possible dangers and taking precautions.

      Yes, it’s crummy that we’re living in an environment where it is entirely possible for someone to be mugged while running. But being aware and slightly modifying one’s behavior shouldn’t count as “just giving in to the thug criminals.”

  • petworthnw

    Stop exercising! That stuff will get you killed.

    • snob

      A young woman was forcefully robbed of her iPhone directly in front of our house at 7 pm on Friday night while walking down the street talking on it. We’re in between 13th and 14th on T Street on a well lit and well traveled street. She screamed bloody murder and a dozen people immediately came to the rescue. They caught one of the guys almost right away — a 15 year old kid. He was armed with a box cutter. Absolutely cannot blame the victim, but man does this happen a lot.

      • apartius

        We just need to be wary and call the police if we see anything suspicious. The police will almost always be on the scene immediately after they are called. We also need good neighbors to actually confront these people like your neighbors did. This will discourage people like these to mug others on the street.

  • Chris R

    Got it for my wife after an attack in DC – helped her get over her fears of running a bit.

  • Anonymous

    I think the point of this is that we really need to keep an ear and an eye out for each other. We can have more police presence but it does not mean that the police will be near when a crime actually happens. We need to be on the lookout and help each other when attackers attempt to mug us.


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