martes, julio 17, 2012

New York's newest epidemic

We've been seeing it all over the news and on community online forums. There is an epidemic hitting the streets. Women are being groped and/or assaulted in what seems like record numbers. But if you ask Bloomberg and Kelly, New York is the safest big city in the country. So how is it that we know what's going on and they are blissfully ignorant and unwilling to do anything about it?

My theory: the victims are women. If there were female serial gropers riding by on their bikes trying to get a handful of whatever guy is on the sidewalk, I am willing to bet it would get a response from NYPD immediately. But in Astoria, where I live, this summer as well as last, there are several gropers attacking women who go ignored by our infamous 114th precinct (infamous for doing the bare minimum).

Most recently, I heard, on the community blog Why Leave Astoria, that just the other night, a girl was assaulted walking from her friend's apartment to hers, just 4 blocks away. The attacker rode by on his bike, grabbed her, penetrated her with his finger, then rode off. Apparently, the victim called the police when she got home and the response from the glorious police of the 114th was less than appropriate given the crime committed.

She was on her phone and likely unaware that the attacker was riding up behind her or in front of her. He was apparently on the street and came at her from in between parked cars. Which she probably didn't notice. Her attacker was described as "Latino". That's it. Short, tall, fat, skinny, we don't know.

As I said, this was not the first time something like this had happened in Astoria, a very family-oriented and "safe" neighborhood. Last summer, one or two gropers in Astoria were caught - just not by the cops. One was caught by a good Samaritan just after he was ballsy enough to attack a woman while she shopped on Steinway Street, a main thoroughfare, with her child. Some guy hanging out nearby saw what happened, went after the attacker and caught him, a Latino about an inch taller than me (I'm 5'1").

I can get scrappy when the occasion calls for it, so my first reaction when I saw the attacker's picture was "why hasn't he gotten his ass beat before this????" I once got my ass grabbed by some Mexican kid not much taller than me as I was walking home a few years ago in Sunnyside, not far from Astoria. I turned around and decked him. So to me, why a woman can't take it upon herself to do this, for her own sake, is a tad unbelievable. But not everyone has those kinds of reflexes, nor are they comfortable doing what I did. I have to understand that.

It seems to me, from what I have read, that women who are attacked are usually by themselves, sometimes inebriated, sometimes just walking home from the subway. They are usually in some way unaware of their surroundings. They are walking with their heads down. They are on the phone. They are listening to their iPods. There is nothing wrong with what they are doing, per se. But we women need to know that we are being watched.

It may sound silly, but before JA came around, I would walk while carrying my keys in what I like to call "Wolverine Style", two keys sticking out from between my fingers. I can also remember, more than a few times, walking home alone in the dark, being drunk enough not to be able to recall how I got myself from the cab that left me outside my building to my apartment.

It took a robbery in Nicaragua and JA to make me realize, I have to take care of myself before I expect anyone to take care of me. Crimes are awful and traumatic. They are also not always just a result of bad luck, and there are preventative measures that can be taken. The most important thing is to be aware of your surroundings at all times and to not let your guard down.

In Nicaragua, some guy (probably a desperate teenager, poor and high on glue fumes) broke into the room my mother and I were staying in in San Juan del Sur. There were parties all over town, so random guys ambling through the streets was not abnormal. We were traveling with family, driving SUVs with diplomatic tags. We would take our iPhones and iPads downtown to get the only wi-fi signal available. Of course, we were being watched. When we went to sleep, my mother locked the door to our room. But we ran out of TP, and I had to go down to the kitchen to get a new roll. Chances are I was being watched then too. I went back to the room. I let my guard down. I didn't lock the door. An hour later, a guy came into our room, took my mother's bag and jewelry and took my bag and was rifling through the night table drawer right next to me when I woke up and chased him out of the room and away from the house. He unfortunately ran off with everything. If I hadn't done that, the guy would have broken into my mom's friend's room next door, and her door was unlocked too. My luck was horrible that night, but I also didn't lock the door. Me, who has three locks on my apartment door and is anal about locking the windows before I go to bed or leave the house. I don't blame myself for the robbery, but I know I could have prevented it.

Now, I'll take a cab home if I'm coming back from a party or from dinner, no matter how much I've had to drink. If I am coming home late on the subway, I'll ask JA to pick me up at the station. If he can't make it, I take a cab. To me, it is the safe thing to do.

I have a huge problem with the fact that a lot of women have no interest in hearing how to protect themselves. They want to feel free to be women, dress the way they want, act the way they want. I get it, and I agree that they should be able to do that. But that's not the world we live in. Some women who are victims of sexually motivated attacks would much rather complain about lack of police protection than learn to take precautions so that they never get attacked again. I applaud women who carry mase, whistles, baseball bats, learn self-defense, are otherwise bad-ass, or simply know to scream loudly when an attacker approaches them or they feel uncomfortable. It's better to hurt someone else who is attacking you than just get attacked.

The other epidemic sweeping our city is theft of iStuff on the subway, iPhones in particular. This one is easier, because it's the product they want, not you. If some asshole demands it from you, may as well hand it over, as much as it hurts. Even better, though, carry it in your bag and listen that way, or just put it away altogether. Never have it out in your hand - it honestly looks like you WANT to hand it off to someone.

What sucks about life in the city is that you don't get to be carefree. You just don't. There is a thing called street smarts, and they sadly do not teach it in schools. It doesn't matter that you know Shakespeare or the process of osmosis or binary numbers inside out. OK it does matter in general, but not when some guy's jumping out at you from behind a bush on a dimly lit street and you've had a few too many PBRs. If you've had a few too many PBRs, what are you doing out by yourself anyway?

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