Photo by PoPville flickr user Mike Maguire
Friday night, around 10:45, my husband and I got out of an uber at S and 16th NW. As we stood waiting for the light to change, I noticed a man standing a few feet to the right of me, tinkering with a very large white cell phone (or a very small tablet). It caught my eye because it was an unfamiliar brand and was surprisingly large for someone to be carrying around while out and about on town. When the light changed, I started walking and glanced back over my shoulder. The man had also entered the crosswalk and was now raising his device, held horizontally, in my direction. At first, I thought he might be taking a photo of the Masonic Temple, but it quickly became clear that he was either photographing or videotaping me. He kept angling the device to track my movements. I asked him if he was taking my picture and if he was, would he please stop. He kept the device up, as if recording me and made some comment to the effect of, “so what if I am?” I asked him again to stop. He now angled his body behind a bush, and kept the device aimed at me. I was starting to get really upset about it as we were fairly close to our apartment and I really didn’t want him to take video footage of me going into my building. I again asked him to stop and he shouted, “Cracker!” and started following me again as I kept walking.
I told him that if he didn’t stop following me and taking photos of me, I would call the police. I dialed 911. I know it’s not illegal to take photos of people in public, but he was following me and seemed really aggressive. I hoped that he would either leave, or the police could diffuse the situation. As soon as I mentioned the police, however, he got aggressive and starting yelling at me and accusing me of being racist. From that moment, things escalated very quickly. He shouted something to the effect of, “Oh, you’re going to call the police on me for doing nothing, should I put a ski mask on?” As soon as I raised my phone to my ear, he charged towards me. My husband and I bolted for the door of the closest apartment building. There were several women standing near the call box. I shouted to them to move and get the door open. I ran up and tried to open the door but wasn’t able to get in.
At this point, the man had reached the bottom of the steps leading up to the door- he had pulled on a ski mask. He was maybe 5-6 feet from me. He stood directly in front of me and started yelling that he would kill me. I saw him reach into his pocket and assumed he was pulling a gun or a knife. I took off down a wheelchair ramp, followed by a couple of other people who had been standing at the door. I began screaming as loudly as I could and shouting for help. There were at least 15-20 people in the area. I knew I couldn’t outrun him, and that if he caught up to me on the wide open sidewalk, I would be in serious trouble- so I darted into the street, hoping he wouldn’t follow, or that the exposure of being in front of cars and people would make him stop. I narrowly dodged getting hit by traffic, and flattened myself against a parked car. He then caught up to me. I felt something hard striking my back and was terrified I had just been stabbed (I wasn’t – he just punched me). I took off running again. Fortunately, he decided not to pursue me any further, and ran the other direction down the street.
While all of this was going on, a neighbor who had been standing at the door when the guy ran up in his ski mask and who was also chased down the ramp, started screaming for people to help us. She made eye contact with a group of 5-6 men at the corner of the street and implored them to do something. According to her, they shrugged and said, “Nah, we’re too drunk.” and kept going on their way. Not a single person who wasn’t directly involved offered any type of assistance or even called 911. To the best of my knowledge, I’m the only person who called 911 to report the incident. I am certain numerous people heard my screams, and at least two cars were passing by when the man struck me.
I have spent the past couple of days trying to process the entire situation. In the grand scheme of things, this was a fairly minor event (a “simple assault” according to the police). I am incredibly lucky that he did not have a weapon, and that I was able to get out to the street before he could take me down on the sidewalk. Nevertheless, I am incredibly shaken and have been trying to figure out how I feel about the whole course of events. The police were very clear in letting me know that they thought I never should have addressed the man – I should have just kept walking. While in retrospect that clearly would have been the *safest* thing to do, it makes me sick to think that I should stay silent when someone is harassing me- especially when I felt I was being targeted because I am a woman (he definitely wasn’t videotaping my husband who was several feet ahead of me- just me). If all he had done was cat-call or take a single photo- or if this had been a less familiar part of town, or in a dark alley, I might have shot him a nasty look, but I would have kept quiet and hurried on to my destination- but this was familiar territory, a generally safe area, there were plenty of people around, and lots of street lights. I felt protected enough by these elements to call this guy out on his inappropriate behavior. I was hoping that by calling him out, he would be shamed into putting the device down and leaving me alone. It never crossed my mind that by simply asking someone to stop following and photographing me, I would soon fear for my life.
I’m also really upset by the lack of response from people who witnessed all of this and did nothing to help. While I wouldn’t expect someone to jump in and try to physically restrain the guy, I would have hoped people would yell at him to stop, or at the very least, call the police.
I don’t know what the moral of the story is, or how I will respond the next time I feel someone is harassing me, but I thought it was important to share this story. I am a strong advocate of standing up for oneself when being harassed, but I paid a big price for doing that. I am going to have think very seriously about how this will impact my decisions in the future. I urge all of you to think through these things too, as you may also be faced by a similar situation.
More importantly though, I want to encourage everyone to be more helpful to people in distress. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to call 911 if you see something strange or scary.“