04 July 2007
A Quiet Mugging

From a link on TPI, I came across the following posted in theAikido Journal.

About a year ago, I was mugged (this article was mostly written at that time) on a BART train while returning from visiting a friend on the Eastern Bay of Northern California. I had been sensing sketchy vibes on the train right from the beginning: it was packed full of unsavory, creepy characters, wannabe gang members, or otherwise hardened, indifferent looking people who clearly had high mental barriers erected all around them. After the incident, I later wondered to myself: in attempting to retain a calm and relaxed mindset in the context of an unfamiliar and potentially threatening environment, perhaps the crudeness of atemi is sometimes the most sensible move.
I was sitting innocuously in my seat, when a thuggish looking African American man, age 25-30, came up and sat down next to me. I graciously offered the seat and even moved over for him! Imagine that. This action tied in directly to emotions and philosophies I had been grappling with during this time period related to sensing others’ energy around me and the openness (or lack thereof) of people to one another in the context of a public environment.
The previous day, while in San Francisco, I had been feeling particularly open, and the energy I observed and felt from people was almost overwhelming—I was exhausted by the end of the day. The trick to the best kind of empathy is to feel others’ emotions without letting them stay inside you; you have to let them flow through you or else you’ll going to be rendered helpless—or be taken advantage of, in this case. In the past day I had offered lychee fruit to three total strangers, feeling happy with myself for breaking down typical social barriers, thinking of all the times poor people in alleyways and trains in Morocco and China offered me food…
But then, this is America. I forgot. I forgot that we live in the most violent first-world society on the planet, even eclipsing quite a few less developed countries in our rates of homicide and levels of social and economic equality—largely relics of slavery, I am sure, considering the majority of both victims and perpetrators of violent crime in this country are young, black males.
This guy reeked of cigarette smoke. His teeth were yellow and silver. He leaned over and whispered, speaking softly to me. At first I thought he was just selling something. The second he started talking I knew I shouldn’t have let him sit down, but I was trapped by then; I allowed him entry in trying to blend in and not show fear or surprise in response to his swagger. I first thought he was trying to sell me drugs, as he had said something about “10 dollars.” Months of practice dodging scammers and potentially hazardous situations across alleyways and bus stations through unfamiliar places during travel experiences started flushing back to me. In a well-rehearsed monotone, I said, “Sorry, I’m not interested,” and turned away.
It was then that he said, very softly in a slight drawl (and it was this calm indifference that was the most frightening part), “No nigga, give *me* ten dollars…I got a piece.” He gently opened his jacket to show a slight bulge in his side pocket.
I stopped here and I realized how wrong and foolish I had been and I struggled to retain my composure. I suddenly realized that, for starters, I had no money in my wallet in the first place —and a very strong, warm rushing feeling of blood swept through my whole chest and spine. I began to recall stories about robbers killing their victims in a fit of rage when it turned out they didn’t have any money.
I said calmly, “I don’t have any money, I only have change.” He lowered his demand slightly, “Give me three dollars.” Pretty laughable, in retrospect. I realize all along he could have been bluffing, but was it worth dying over? As much as I was later outraged that this was allowed to transpire at 7:30 PM on public transportation surrounded by other people, at the time, I was not so much worried that he would truly be stupid enough to shoot me on board; I was more afraid of he and his friends following me out of the station after I got off.
All the same, I was wondering what was best to do. Should I call out? Just say no? My mom told me I should have gotten mad and said something like, “What!? Are you out of your ****ing mind?! Get the **** out of my ****ing face. This is a tactic that might work well for my mom, a 45-year old 5’4 woman, because people don’t expect a small white woman to be so aggressive and it throws them off guard. It’s part of why she’s such a fearsome lawyer, and I also know that she successfully warded off would-be attackers in the past. However, I felt that such a tactic was a little risky for myself.
I pulled out all the change from my pockets. “Gimme the money, yeah, give me all the money,” he repeated; it just so happened that I happened to have just about exactly three dollars in quarters.
As I was handing them to him, I said, “Will this help you get somewhere?”
“Do you need this, will this help you get where you need to go?”
“Ok, then take it, if you need it, I hope it helps you.”
It seems absurd in retrospect, but I think this was part of how I dealt with the situation to make it less scary; ho ho ho! Certainly this gentlemen isn’t threatening me bodily harm; I’m voluntarily giving money to someone who needs it! I think this rationalization just helped me get through these moments and allowed me to continue to act as calm and normal as possible.
Thankfully, he then left the seat and I quickly changed cars. He and his friends got off at the next stop. I got off two stops later.
I was relieved but shook up. I later felt sad and upset, not so much that this had happened to me, but that this could happen in such a veil of normalcy within a small radius of one of the wealthiest areas in the world.

I must admit I'm really not sure what to make of this.

The victim (and make no mistake, that's what he was, claims of voluntay charity aside) survived a potentially lethal encounter. It cost him a few bucks and he got home safe. However there is more to it than that.

" I had been sensing sketchy vibes on the train right from the beginning". There's the first fucking clue. If that is the case then MOVE. Get off the train and wait for another. Move to a different carriage. Don't just sit there iwth your head down and hope it will all be OK. Why is he sitting down in that situation? Sitting reduces your mobility and makes it very easy for a guy to corner you - as happened here.

I can't help but feel that the talk of energy and sadness at the inequalities of the world mask a lack of understanding about the realities of self protection, off the mat. perhaps less time handing out fruit to passers-by and more time in the real world?

I do like the comment made by J. Sorrentino:

However, given that the robbers chose YOU, rather than any of the other “hardened, indifferent looking people who clearly had high mental barriers erected all around them,” perhaps it is time for you to develop those skills. At the very least, it will give you the psychological tools to use when empathy and grace are not appropriate.

Any thoughts?

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