So, I Tried To Stop A Robbery Last Week…
Well, I’m back on the blog; I’ve been moving apartments the past few weeks, and I tried running a hundred miles a couple of weekends ago; life has been busy. I wanted to write another blog post this week – get back in the swing of things – but what’s on my mind isn’t financial.
Last week, on my way home from work, I tried to stop a robbery.
There is a cello player that commuters often see at the Montgomery BART station in San Francisco. He’s a young man with long hair, usually as disheveled as his cello. Like many street-performers in the City, he’s a good performer and his music is nice to listen to. Furthermore, I just appreciate a musician on the grind, a person hustling to earn extra money. In short, I don’t know this guy, but I like him (or, my perception of him) and what he represents: honesty and hard work.
So when I saw him getting robbed…
I was halfway down the descending escalator, laden with a gym bag and a heavy work bag, and I could see three young “kids”, probably in late high school, standing around the cellist. The cellist was wide-eyed; I think he knew something was up.
They immediately aroused suspicion because 1) what young kids give money to a cello player? 2) They weren’t moving in any direction – weird at the entrance to a BART terminal. 3) They were just… awkward, glancing at one another – communicating without speaking.
About 3/4 the way down the escalator I could see one of the kids walk up to the cello player with a dollar clenched in his hand. I could see it before it happened: he was going to pretend to drop a dollar in the cello case, but instead grab some cash and run.
He approached the case – I reached the bottom of the escalator.
His hand reached into the case – I was one step off of the escalator.
He snatched a couple of bills and turned to run –
But I was in his way.
Seeing this unfold, I had already made the decision to go after the thief. What he was doing, robbing!, it wasn’t right. I didn’t know what I would do, or how things would play out, but I had to do something.
I hustled off of the escalator with my heart pounding. As he turned to make a getaway, I was already to him. I grabbed his shirt and jacket as hard as I could and pushed him over towards the wall. I still had my gym bag over my shoulder, my work bag in my left hand, and this jerk’s jacket in my right hand. I was yelling at him, “That ain’t cool, man!” repeatedly.
I had no idea what to say, what to do, and things went by so quickly.
Behind me, I could hear the cello player yelling, “Give me back my money!”
In front of me, this young kid didn’t seem phased by my manhandling him; he was focused on the cellist who was coming straight for him.
To my right was the thief’s accomplice, slowly, calmly walking up to me with his hand behind his back saying, “Let go of my brother.”
I thought this prick might have a knife so I let go of the thief to get some distance. Just when I let go, the cellist pushed the thief, and the thief countered with a frantic right swing, but missed his target.
Within a split second the thief was back alongside his accomplices about 5 yards away, cash still in hand. They brushed each other off with a calm and caring that was incredibly out of place. The thief readjusted his shirt and jacket. I could see the other guy didn’t have a knife, and regretted letting go of his criminal brother. At this point I just wanted to break bones; I was livid with these punks.
But, the cellist wasn’t making any moves forward; he was yelling alright, but he wasn’t going to forcefully try to get his money back. And I wasn’t about to re-escalate the situation for him. If he wanted to press forward, I would have his back. But I wasn’t about to lead the charge.
“Give me back my money!” he yelled, one final time.
The thieves meandered, freaking meandered, back up the stairs up into the Financial District as if they were the victims keeping their cool, turning the other cheek. Yes, we were glaring at them with as much menace as we could muster. To anyone who walked in at that moment (which, there were more than a few), it would have looked like two angry men yelling at three innocent young boys. One young gal even gave the thief a hug, I shit you not, and asked if he was okay. Clearly, she came into the situation late.
When the cellist turned back to his instrument to pack up and leave, I turned to go catch my train.
I was so angry at those punks! They robbed an honest guy trying to earn some cash. It is a despicable crime to steal that which someone else has earned. Plus, I felt like not only was he under attack, but the values he represented in my mind (honesty, hard work) were also under attack.
I was so angry with myself! Actually, I am still angry with myself. I couldn’t think quickly enough to force the money out of this kid’s hand when I had a hold of him. Clearly I was committed enough to help the victim, but was I not so committed that I was willing to hurt the thief?
I was so angry at the passive bystanders! This was a robbery, clear to all who were watching. Was no one watching? Or, if they were watching, did they just not care? Or perhaps they simply didn’t care enough to put themselves in potential harm’s way.
I’m still sorting out my thoughts and feelings about this, but the one that burns the most is the passivity of the bystanders. I realize there will always be crime. I realize that it’s hard to act fast in a situation for which you’re unprepared. What I don’t get, is how checked-out so many people are. Are most people naive? Or, perhaps just complacent?
At its root, I’m concerned that if no one would stand up for this guy against an obvious crime committed in broad daylight, by a criminal that could be easily overtaken and held by just a few people…
Does this mean that if I’m ever robbed in public, that I’m on my own?
What does this mean for more serious, or more violent crimes?
What if my future-wife is being attacked in public? Will no one help her?
For those who had their heads down I say, “It’s a shame you’re so plugged in.”
For those who had their heads up, for those who did see this robbery occur, I ask, “What was your reason for not helping? For not rising to the defense of a victim – of your neighbor? For not defending your principles? For not standing for what is right?”
I used to just chuckle when I walked down the street, or stood at a BART stop, and saw everyone with their heads down looking at their phones; you know the look. But now, I get a bit frustrated. I just want to yell out to everyone, “Heads up! Look alive!”
I remember the days following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. I remember the eye contact I made with every Bostonian. It. Was. Crazy. It was incredibly powerful and I’ll never forget it.
Stereotypically the coldest people in the U.S., I felt connected with everyone, united by the attack we had just experienced. The eye contact and accompanying nod was a way of saying, “I’m looking out for you, brother. I got your back, sister.”
It’s a shame that this isn’t the default setting for everyone. It is there, hidden. It just takes some coaxing to come out, like the witnessing of a crime, or a terrorist attack.
I think we are all better for it when we do exercise concern and awareness for our neighbors. I will certainly be doing what I can – for me, for my neighbors, for my principles, and for what is right.
What would you do in this situation? Actually, split it up into two questions:
- What would you have liked to do in this situation? And,
- What would you have probably done?
Do you have a question, or would like me to cover a particular topic, feel free to leave a comment below!