Some of you may know that last December I fell victim to violence one evening I got punched in the face. On an otherwise normal rainy Monday night, I walked from my office towards the train station, a total distance of roughly 2 blocks. This evening I had items to drop in the mailbox which required me to cross to the side of the street opposite my train entrance. I stopped just before the corner as the light changed, and rearranged the letters to avoid getting them wet. I felt a hand reach under my knee-length coat and give my ass a little brush.
Two names flashed in my head: Tara, Baylie—two close girlfriends who live in the city whom if they ran onto me on the street might greet in such a way. I looked up, already almost smiling, looking around to see a familiar face. In the span of just seconds, confusion turned excitement turned confusion turned to fear. I locked eyes with a scruffy-looking man standing a few yards behind me, staring. I charged and started swinging my umbrella, hitting him several times in the head. I stepped back and watched him approach me and bring his fist to my face.
For whatever reason, the blow to my face was some kind of moment of clarity that also meant nothing. In the way I imagine life flashes before your eyes when you’re dying, the world slowed down for me in the brief moment that a stranger’s knuckles pressed to my cheekbone. I had told a friend earlier that day I was so bored, caught in a rut, and dying for excitement in my life. As I got punched in the face, my first thought was, “Finally.”
In the moments that followed, I looked around, panicked, confused, and ultimately waiting for someone to tell me what to do. Bystanders saw what happened—it was Midtown Manhattan at rush hour. It was almost too crowded for him to have been able to bring his arm back to hit me. People rushed around me and some watched, and I looked at some in the face and no one said anything. That I could hear—truth be told, I had headphones in for this entire ordeal and thus did not hear much besides Fall Out Boy while this thing unfolded. But no one came to my side, stopped to ask if I was okay, tried to stop the guy who did it. I continued southbound, he turned east. I dropped my letters in the mailbox then went to a coffee shop to wipe up the blood and get some ice on my nose. The barista was unbothered.
I went home, called my mom, and began to process this event. Everyone asked the same question: did you call the police?
For several reasons, calling the police barely even occurred to me as I stood in the rain with a bloody nose. It was rush hour. I was scared and wanted to leave the situation. No one stuck around to play witness. The perpetrator was long gone and would be further long gone by the time the cops came because again—rush hour in Midtown. And I just could not imagine standing there in the pouring rain or sitting in Taco Bell with a bloody nose waiting to tell the cops some guy they would never find just hit me because I hit him because I THINK he touched my ass.
But after further deliberation and as the attack settled into my bones, I started to think about justice. This man committed a violent attack on me. I acknowledge that that sounds really blown out of proportion, but at the heart of the event, that’s what it was. I knew that by definition this was a sexual assault, though I recognize and thank God it was “not that bad” on the scale of sexual assaults. The punch itself hurt more, and still, was not that bad—no broken bones. But still, yes, I recognize this was a random act of violence. But I also recognize that I responded with violence, and to this day I hate that about myself and about that night. At the moment it felt like the right thing to do like I had to defend myself. But the reality is, I still don’t know for sure I got the right guy, and it didn’t make anything better. I didn’t feel better about the assault. My nose didn’t hurt any less. The cops didn’t pull DNA from my umbrella. I responded to senseless violence with senseless violence.
So I just gave it away, but I did end up going to cops after a few days of deliberation. And as soon as the words left my mouth in the police station I started to regret it. For starters, I knew I did not want to send this person to prison. Even if I thought they would catch him, which I knew they wouldn’t, I could not morally send a person to prison as a response to that crime. Yes, something bad happened to me. That person did something bad to me. But I know that sending him through our so-called criminal “justice” system would likely make him worse off than he already was.
The one reason I felt compelled to report was of course to keep other people safe. If he was going around doing this to other women, yes of course I would be full of regret and wish he was put away somewhere. But the reality is, it’s not my job to punish that man for his sins. And I am smart enough to know horrible things happen in prisons, and horrible things happen to people in prisons and after they leave. I could not wish any of those things on a person that committed such a relatively small offense against me.
Further, the experience of reporting to the NYPD was laughable. For starters, I think they do only care about what happened to you if they pull up to the scene and decide for themselves. As soon as the words “a few nights ago” left my mouth the first and only question was “Why are you telling us now?” And it wasn’t just me. As I sat in the precinct waiting for officers to get their paperwork together to transport me to another station, a man came in to report his phone was stolen an hour ago. “Why are you telling us now? Why didn’t you call an hour ago?”
People are not exactly trained in emergencies. Or rather, we are trained in real emergencies—we know what to do if our building catches on fire or if someone starts bleeding from their eyeballs. But in these ambiguous emergencies—especially in a city like New York—there are not a lot of day-to-day incidents I would really call an emergency. So no, we don’t automatically think “call the cops” even those of us with the privilege to grow up without fearing police. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “Am I in danger enough to need to call someone?” And the answer is no. As for me, why did I wait days? Well, I had to have a moral dilemma about it, and those things take time. And frankly, I didn’t know any less information on Thursday than I did on Tuesday so again, it didn’t really matter to me.
Back to the precinct, after I told two officers what happened and their eyes widened realizing I was, in fact, a “Special Victim,” I sat in the lobby for two hours awaiting police transport to SVU. It’s not actually called SVU in real life, but it is a team of detectives who investigate these vicious felonies. And their office is way downtown, and no, I was not allowed to escort myself there.
At one point when one officer didn’t know why I was sitting there, they announced across the entire precinct that I was a “special victim” and my stomach wretched at the thought of a woman surviving a rape or worse sexual crime sitting here having cops shout about it to anyone in earshot. Sensitivity does not exist here.
When I finally got taken downtown, learning on the way just how poorly these people in uniforms know how to even navigate this city they’re supposed to protect, my meeting went quickly. A detective took my statement, and introduced me to a virtual lineup.
When the attack happened, I saw the man’s face for probably 5 seconds in total, and each second his fist blocked my line of vision more and more. Needless to say, I didn’t get a great look at him. Another reason I didn’t call the cops when it happened: he was Black. Not only could I not identify him, I was not about to tell the cops to add another “unidentified Black male” to their hit list. Yes his Blackness and my inability to identify him much further from memory were facts, but I’m not stupid. I know how cops abuse those two facts and ruin lives.
The detective pushed me hard to remember any identifying factors even down to the color of his hat. I did my best. He plugged all the things into their database and presented me with a stack of matching profiles. He emphasized that the perpetrator very well might not be pictured, and that this was more for me to find similar features or the off chance that he was in the stack. The features I recalled were generic: Black, average height, average build, a little gaunt, grayish stubble. I think he was wearing a beanie. I clicked through dozens of mugshots of middle-aged Black men. None made my nose quiver so I assume his picture was not in the stack. Still the detectives did surprise me with their efforts, and they called me back a few days later to meet with a sketch artist.
The sketch artist was by far my favorite cop, if I had to name one. But in his office, again I was presented with a stack of pictures. This time it was just their collection of mugshots—Polaroids from what looked like the last several decades. The point was for me to find features that looked similar to my perp’s so I could show the sketch artists and he could come up with a composite sketch. All the detectives acknowledged the slim chances we would ever find this guy, but they certainly make it look like you are the guest star in this week’s Law & Order, and they will, in fact, find this guy. I know this is probably not everyone’s experience. And I’m not saying that to say it was a positive experience for me. I’m saying the whole time I was shocked that they did put in this much effort, and also I wish they didn’t.
I’ve never been called back to the police station to identify the guy, so I’m sure they didn’t find him, and again, I’m okay with that. What would it solve? I’ve thought about what I would want to happen—I do believe in justice and that this person committed an injustice against me. But what punishment would be appropriate? This is clearly a person that needs some kind of reforming. Judging by his appearance, I did assume he was struggling with homelessness—why? Is there mental illness at play? Has he himself been the victim of abuse? A victim of violence? He didn’t attack me in order to hurt my career, he didn’t take my money, he didn’t even intend to really physically hurt me in the first place, I don’t think. But something happened in his life or in his mind to make him think it was ok or he was entitled to touch me, and sending him to prison was not going to change that.
All of this to say, I hate violence. I hate to see it, and can personally attest that despite what it looks like in comedies, getting punched in the face is really not fun. But this interpersonal violence is really just a symptom of the systems of violence producing more and more violent actors. The cycle has to stop somewhere, and it stops with a victor. By that I mean, the night of my incident, I stopped the cycle of violence. He started by touching me, I continued by hitting him, and then stopped it by walking away after his final punch. He was the victor that night. But I restarted it when I went to the police. Because the police is an institution that by definition perpetuates the cycle of violence—both interpersonally in the single acts of police brutality we’ve all seen too many times, and systemically through their contribution to the prison industrial complex. By introducing the police into my relationship with this perpetrator, I guaranteed that the cycle of violence would continue should they ever identify him. Yes, I am hoping and confident they won’t.
Why do I support rioting? Because the powers that be have proven time and time again they will not stop the cycles of violence they perpetuate. If there are so many good cops, why haven’t they stepped up to stop the cycles of violence they witness in their communities? If it’s only a few bad apples, why do we keep finding them? Black people have been the victim of so many systemic cycles of violence for far too long. There are two options: we roll over and continue to be the victim or we fight back and try to stop the cycle of violence. Right now, that might mean doing a little violence—if you can even call it that. Burning a building, robbing a store is simply not the same as shooting a person—even if the bullets are rubber. Stealing from companies that routinely rob people of labor, wages, and ideas is simply not the same as macing and beating people.
To people who only support the police use of force for people committing crimes, I beg—what does that solve? Sure, a person blinded by pepper spray might have trouble getting away with a free pair of sneakers, but who benefits from that? The sneaker makers? Then why do they have insurance? And how much of the profit from that pair of sneakers is going to the person who stitched on the logo? It just never fails to amaze me how “good” cops are at stopping crime when it’s theft or vandalism or loitering, but never when it’s mass murders or sexual assaults. “Well Kamaron, how can they stop a crime they can’t predict?”
Exactly. Crime is predictable. We have the data, we have the research. We know what lowers crime rates and what raises crime rates. The police and the powers of white supremacy are ignoring it because it weakens their power over Black people and people of color. Call me a radical, call me paranoid, but this is the fact. Communities where people are engaged and supported see far less crime—and it’s not because some police force came in and rounded up all the criminals. It’s because some teachers, some mentors, some leaders got together and said okay these people are struggling how do we help them before they find poor coping mechanisms such as…violence?