I was once held up at gunpoint. I had just parked my car and was walking to my apartment. I lived in a safe area of the city and never thought about crime. I heard pounding steps and when I turned I saw a teenager running behind me. I dismissed him as a threat and kept walking. When he got a few steps in front of me, he stopped, pulled out a gun, and told me to cross the street. There were no houses on that side of the street, only woods. He told me to get down on the ground. Thinking he would try to rape me, I refused. I asked if he wanted money, and pulled out my wallet. I only had $11, but I gave it to him and told him to leave. He did. I ran into my building and told my then fiancé what had happened. He called the police and they arrived in record time. When they found out the young man had a gun, they acted quickly. But he was long gone and never caught.
That assault happened to me in 1973 in Washington, D.C. Looking back on it, I know I was lucky. I counted on the fact that my assailant was young and wouldn’t kill me. But that was a huge gamble. For weeks afterwards, I was on edge. If someone bumped into me, I jumped five feet. But over time, the experience made me more cautious and more aware of my surroundings.
Yet a few years later, after moving to New York, I had my wallet lifted on a New York City bus. I was wearing a purse that didn’t close tightly. Standing, holding the above rail, my open purse was an invitation to a pick pocket. When I arrived at the grocery store, I couldn’t find my wallet and had to rush home to begin the process of cancelling credit cards and getting new IDs. Another lesson learned.
We are now in the midst of an uptick in crime in New York City. There are many reasons for the surge in these statistics. We all know what they are. We hear them nightly on the news. But after two years of a pandemic, when we were isolated, shut inside, not being able to walk the streets, ride buses and subways, enjoy the park, visit Times Square, staying inside seems like additional punishment. So we go out, we enjoy the city and hope we won’t become victims.
After living in two other cities, my daughter is moving back to New York with her fiancé. Being raised in New York, she’s city savvy. She and her fiancé work in tech and are adept at employing technology to keep themselves safe. But we’ve still had many conversations about taking extra precautions.
Random attacks happen. Stray bullets fly. But doing what we can to minimize risk is critical. I’ve gone back to being hyper sensitive to where I am and who is around me. There’s safety in crowds, but also danger. I trust my gut. If someone looks like a threat, I beat a hasty retreat. I live in an area that attracts tourists so am often stopped for directions to a museum or restaurant. I’m usually happy to help, but if I sense something’s not right, I keep walking. Better to be rude rather than take a risk.
Although I prefer buses – the driver is always there, an added protection – I do take the subway. I avoid riding late at night, stand far away from the platform, and never enter a car that is empty when I can see other cars are full. That’s usually a tip off that something’s wrong. I’m also not reluctant to change cars at the next stop if someone boards who looks menacing. I keep my phone in my purse so I’m not distracted. And I avoid wearing flashy jewelry or anything that might make me a target for a thief.
Having a night on the town is fun, but if you’ve been drinking alcohol may dull your senses. On these occasions, better to avoid public transportation. Taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts are more expensive, but how much are you willing to pay to stay safe? Make sure, however, that the cab you get into is a bona fide NYC cab and that you check the license plate for the Uber and Lyft you called.
Carry pepper spray? I met one young woman who does that, but whether she is skilled enough to use it correctly is another question. Take a self defense course? Knowing basic moves can’t hurt, but a better plan is to avoid placing yourself in a situation that could become dangerous.
We’re New Yorkers. We’re in this together, so if you see something, say something. I know, it’s repeated so often it’s lost its impact. But reporting a crime when you see one might mean saving someone’s life and, in the end, will help make the city safer for all of us.
Top photo: Bigstock