Alone in a crowd

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO -

It was bad enough that I was at­tacked. It was worse that no one on the plat­form tried to help me.

On a Sun­day evening this month, I was read­ing a book while wait­ing for the train at the L’En­fant Plaza Metro sta­tion when I was at­tacked. My teenage as­sailants did not try to rob me, and we had no in­ter­ac­tion be­fore they be­gan hit­ting me. While some of these youths were beat­ing me, oth­ers hov­ered close with their cell­phones, tak­ing pic­tures and video. Sure enough, video of this at­tack, ap­par­ently made by a by­stander, is cir­cu­lat­ing on the In­ter­net.

The plat­form and sta­tion were busy and fairly crowded. But dur­ing the at­tack no one tried to help me, called for help or in­ter­vened in any way. I am 6 feet tall and weigh 185 pounds, and I can run a mile in un­der six min­utes. (In fact, I was on my way home from the gym when I was at­tacked.) Most of the peo­ple who ride Metro ev­ery day are more vul­ner­a­ble than I am. I ended up with two black eyes, a busted lip and a golf-ball-size knot on my fore­head; if this can hap­pen to me at 7:15 p.m. on a Sun­day in a busy sta­tion, it can hap­pen to any­one at any time.

The non­cha­lance ofmy fel­low Metro pa­trons has raised trou­bling ques­tions for me. Have we come to re­gard this kind of ran­dom, point­less at­tack as an un­avoid­able haz­ard of liv­ing in the city? This is a dan­ger­ous idea. If we as­sume that the peo­ple who do such things will not be caught or pun­ished, we send the wrong mes­sage to the per­pe­tra­tors — and put ev­ery­one at risk. If these youths are brazen enough to launch such an at­tack at ages 15 or 16, what will they be do­ing when they are 18 or 20?

I, for one, can’t ac­cept this. There is the video of the at­tack, and there were plenty of wit­nesses. The peo­ple who com­mit­ted this crime need to be iden­ti­fied and made to face the con­se­quences. And aside from what­ever pun­ish­ment may be forth­com­ing from the ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, they should be made to ex­plain their ac­tions and an­swer to their com­mu­nity for what they have done.

I have some ques­tions for Metro, too. Can we get bet­ter, use­ful se­cu­rity sur­veil­lance? I was not near an emer­gency in­ter­com, but I’m left won­der­ing how well they work and who is on the other end. What are the safety and com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­ce­dures? Did they work in this case? Can they be im­proved? Once a crime has been re­ported, is it pos­si­ble to con­tain sus­pects in the sta­tion or broader sys­tem un­til they can be ap­pre­hended?

I love Washington, and this in­ci­dent has done noth­ing to change that. One of the things I love most about our city is that it is a small, in­ti­mate “ big city.” If you live in­Wash­ing­ton and do not know me, the odds are good that friends of your friends know friends of my friends, that your pas­tor knows my pas­tor, that friends and class­mates of your chil­dren know friends and class­mates of the chil­dren I work with at choir prac­tice.

We share many of the same joys and headaches. French toast at East­ern Mar­ket. Traf­fic on New York Av­enue. Most of us know by now that the best way to have fun at a Red­skins game is to have re­ally good food on hand. And no mat­ter what ward you live in or where you were born, ev­ery­one has to go to the Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles sooner or later.

Many peo­ple have been kind to me since the at­tack, and some thanks are in or­der. Thank you to the of­fice of Dr. Kather­ine David for tak­ing good care of a stranger with no ap­point­ment. Thank you to the of­fi­cers who are work­ing to find these hood­lums. Thank you to ev­ery­one at Foundry United Methodist Church for your love and sup­port. To the men and women on the E bus, thank you for the fist bumps, shoul­der pats, and hugs of sol­i­dar­ity and sup­port. To my first re­spon­ders, Richard, Bob, Rick and Laura, thank you for rush­ing to come get me when I needed you. To the anony­mous woman who of­fered to re­place my book, which my at­tack­ers grabbed and threw onto the tracks, thank you.

In the video, the last thing you hear from a fe­male at­tacker is that no one cares about me. Thank you es­pe­cially to all my fam­ily, friends and even to­tal strangers who have proved her wrong.

We are a com­mu­nity. If you live in the District, you and I both prob­a­bly know peo­ple who know peo­ple who know the peo­ple who did this. Let’s iden­tify them and get them off the streets. And let’s re­mem­ber to watch out for each other. This kind of be­hav­ior has no place in our city.

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