Global Problems, NYC

New York Diaries (Harassment on the Streets)

Note: The below is a true story that occurred near Times Square just ~1.5 weeks ago. I write this for one main reason: I was both confused and shocked that no one stopped to help the women in distress. We were in one of the most crowded parts of New York City, and everyone was either a bystander or just walked past as if nothing happened. In retrospect, I think I should have called 911 much earlier instead of waiting for things to stabilize. Lesson learned for next time.

–xx–

The noise on the streets drowned the howling of the woman in front of me. She was dressed in all black, a true New Yorker ready to roll in high spirits on a Thursday night. Her high-waisted jeans were a tight fit for her round hips which surely drew some lustful eyeballs. A black leather jacket and a tiny black purse slung over her shoulder gave her a look of boldness and femininity at the same time, and the contrasting styles further added to her attraction.

Striding along in my New Yorker pace, I clearly heard the wailing this time around. A burly unshaven man about 5 inches taller than the woman pulled her once neatly braided hair so hard, that I nearly jumped up and screamed. His fashion sense was as deplorable as hers was admirable. His khakhis were only half tucked into what looked like rugged snow boots, and his mismatched over-sized jacket hung loose on his broad shoulders.

“Leave her alone!” came the bellowing fierce voice of another woman, who desperately tried to not reveal the fear lacing her tone. She was a stout bulky woman, with a squished nose that almost seemed to sink into her face. Her short braided locks swung in the air as she leapt forward to yank her friend from the grips of this man.

“You come with me. Don’t go home with this man,” she pleaded to her friend. And right the next moment, she turned her full body towards the man and trying to stand tall so as to not look like a joke in front of him, she stared him right in the eyes, and with a stern but also begging note to her voice, she said, “You bother her once more and I’mma call the police on you.”

Jeeringly, the man calmly stood his ground without eliciting any emotion or removing his gaze from her eyes. The stout lady seemed unsettled, but she had to look brave if she even stood a remote chance of saving her friend. Continuing to stare at her face, he snatched her phone from her hand, and flung it onto the streets. Taken aback, she only managed to let out a hopeless scream.

“Try calling them cops now,” he mocked, and grabbing the victim lady by the shoulder, he jostled her forward to indicate that they should get moving. At this point, another lanky man with a cap covering his head, and sweatpants that hung too low on his waist, walked up to the friend in an attempt to provide support, but proved to be quite useless. He knew the other three and seemed to belong to the group, but had been merely standing on the sidelines laughing and watching the drama unfold before his eyes. He laughed and mumbled to himself, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do!” almost as if he was consoling himself for being such a coward.

The phone incident zapped me out of my trance. I stood frozen on the sidelines and watched in horror as this incident unraveled before me. I felt helpless and unsure of what to do. Should I jump in? Let me give it another minute and see if the situation stabilizes. Maybe it’s just a small thing and they will all be fine the next moment. But it seems more serious than that! Hold on, why isn’t anyone else stopping by to help? Am I crazy for standing here and watching and even contemplating to offer help? Surely someone else must care too, right? We are right next to Times Square, and several people have passed by, but no one seems to bat an eyelid. Maybe this is just how things are in New York. But you shouldn’t be this way. Go help her! This internal monologue raced through my head.

A passerby retrieved the stout lady’s phone and she raced forward to catch up to the man and her friend. I scurried along by her side and asked, “Can I help please?”

“No, thank you, we are good” she responded with a faint smile.

How were they good?! How can I help? What am I supposed to do? I looked around and noticed shopkeepers standing by their glass doors watching the scenes as if it were a TV show. Is this a common occurrence such that these locals seem unflinched? Am I making a big deal of this? Should I just forget about this and go home? I can’t just stand here – I have to get going with my life. This last thought is probably what most of the passerbys’ thought of as they strutted along. No one wanted to get their hands dirty in what seemed like a messy domestic abuse situation. No one has the time to help a stranger. What an absurd thought even!

No, I can’t just leave these helpless women to be beaten up.

I went up to the lanky friend and almost pleaded him to help. “You know them. Please intervene. He can’t treat them this way. Go help. Please!”

He tilted his head back and laughed uncomfortably. “I only came to drink with them and have a good time. I don’t know what’s happening. Haha. I don’t know what to do.” And he continued to laugh probably hoping it would somehow cover his balls of cotton. (pardon the language)

“Aaaaah!” The lady in black was on the ground and in clear distress. Her face wreaked of defeat. The man looked down at her and he was furious this time. I swear he could have killed her. “You want to go with her? Then go! Don’t come back to me, in that case.”

“Nooo. I’ll come with you” she managed to let out faintly through her mourning. Her friend was by her side by now; lifting her off the ground with one hand and shoving the man with the other, she was a true hero. “Yes, leave this rotten man and come with me” she told her friend and she dialed a number on her phone. But the man was too quick once again and her phone went hurling out in the middle of the street. He threw it so hard that the crowd finally took notice and there was an inkling of a commotion. The man dragged the sobbing lady and they walked ahead, with the friend right behind them.

I paced forward to help, and noticed another girl who looked like she was in her early thirties, doing the same thing. She was smart enough to be watching the incident from inside a storefront, unlike me who stood right in the middle of this scene and faced the dangers of also being attacked by this whimsical man. My friend later told me I should have been more careful.

The other girl and I both looked at each other and halted at the intersection. She was dialing 911 and pressed the green call button. I looked at her encouragingly. At that moment, I took a right and walked towards my apartment. My heart was pounding and I was still shaking as I entered the comforts of my building.

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