Big City Neighbors Stop Attacker
JUST LAW AND RELIGION
My friends back home in Indiana often ask how I can stand living in the big, anonymous city, where no one pays attention to others or helps anyone else. They couldn't be more wrong about the city. When bad things happen, the neighbors in my community show the basic instinct towards compassion and protecting the dignity of others that I saw in my small town neighbors.
Just this past Tuesday, after returning from a driving trip back home, I was parking my car in front of my girlfriend's house in Georgetown. I saw her neighbor running up the street barefoot. Two other people I didn't recognize were following him.
I said, "Hey Mike, good to see you." He yelled, "Call 911. A girl was just attacked in front of our house and he just ran this way." I grabbed my phone, dialed the police, and followed the chase. I immediately asked if it was Kara, my girlfriend, or Laura, his wife (neither). Then I asked if the woman was OK (yes). Neighbors fanned out, encountering other neighbors out walking dogs, and we were able to confirm that no one was spotted fleeing down certain streets. A neighbor sitting on a bench on one side of a large park was able to tell the police that no one had entered his side of the park. They focused at first on searching the other side, saving valuable time.
Within about 2 minutes, the neighborhood was swarming with police. They were diligent, courteous, and impressively dedicated to finding the culprit. The DC police often receive criticism, but the officers responding to this crime were amazingly professional. They also took the neighbors seriously as partners in the investigation and relied on our observations and followed some of our leads (including thoroughly searching a fenced construction site that we pointed out had numerous points of entry and lots of hiding places).
The reality for everyone was that the victim could just as easily been one of our loved ones. It was comforting (and humbling) to see these professionals risking their lives to quickly track down the perpetrator.
The main hero of the night was an unassuming middle-aged man walking along the street carrying only a backpack. He was not, by appearances, threatening, but the courage he showed in the heat of the moment saved the victim from danger. Ironically, he is her neighbor, living in the same apartment complex a few blocks away. He was around the corner when he heard the woman scream. He ran 20 feet around the corner and charged at the attacker with his backpack. The perpetrator dropped some items he carried and fled up the street (hopefully there are fingerprints!). One hopes to be able in that situation to have the same selfless courage to intervene. He deserves the city's accolades and gratitude.
Here is the evening's lesson for everyone: If someone attacks, scream loudly. A loud yell can activate an entire block of concerned people to come to your aid. Multiple neighbors heard the scream and called 911. Descriptions of the attacker gave police an advantage in their search.
Others like my girlfriend's neighbor, Mike, a lawyer, jumped out of his house wearing only shorts and no shoes, and ran for blocks to try to catch the guy. Multiple neighbors fanned out in many directions. Another guy driving down the street stopped his car and ran two blocks in chase. His car door was open the whole time, his car running. He was not concerned about his car being stolen, only about thwarting the attack.
Unfortunately, the guy got away this time. There are too many places to duck and hide in Georgetown. Even with the police helicopter called in for a 20-minute search of the area, the 40-second head start the attacker had let him slip away this time.
But other heroes persist. There was the neighbor, Debra, who offered the victim water and comfort while the police questioned her. That neighbor also offered her candid advice about not walking with headphones and gave the woman a can of pepper spray (she keeps them on hand to give to people in the neighborhood).
And then there is my neighbor, David, who diligently gathers police blotters and information culled from listservs, and distributes them to community email chains. This story comes full circle through the quiet heroism of those like David. This information keeps everyone on alert. If you pay attention to his emails, you stay aware that people are out there trying to do others harm. Once you read one of David's emails, when you hear a scream on the street at 10 p.m., instead of dismissing it as a tipsy and loud coed coming home from a bar, those like Mike jump out of their chairs and make sure the person on the street is OK.
In big cities we do live a little closer to each other, and we do tend to stay busier and more anonymous, but when it comes down to the foundations of what makes people tick, big city people show just as much concern for others in their moment of need. I'm proud to know some of the heroes in my big city community.
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