I've never been a victim before. As a journalist I've read many eyewitness accounts. I've watched countless made-for-TV movies. I've even stared in amazement as a former colleague of mine recounted a horrifying tale in which she was nearly raped.
Point is, crime occurs. It's an inalienable wrong. You never think it's going to happen to you — until it does.
This past Thursday night, I finally found myself in the role of unwilling victim. After a productively exhausting day of meetings in Metro's New York office, we decided to unwind with a few post-work cocktails at a local watering hole. This is a normal occurrence, something that happens every single day in cities across the globe.
We shared stories, while imbibing for a few hours. One by one, individuals began to file out of the bar located near New York City's famed Wall Street. Eventually, around 11 p.m., it was my turn to leave. I said goodbye to a close college friend and headed for the subway. My intention was to get to Penn Station and call it a night. But my night was just beginning.
As I stumbled down the street, a man appeared out of nowhere and struck me on the side of my face. I'll admit that I was intoxicated, so naturally my first instinct was to fight back. Within seconds, a full-on brawl broke out on the sidewalk. He punched me. I punched him. We wrestled right there, hiding from no one, on the cold concrete. This man obviously wanted a quick smash and grab, but when that didn't happen he tore at my pants, ripping through my back pocket and swiping my wallet.
The culprit immediately sped off with an assumed smile on his mug. I pursued him, but the alcohol had impaired my reflexes. I ran a few yards and crashed hard on my face, chipping a tooth and badly bruising my hand. My wallet was now his.
I was alone and broke in the middle of Manhattan. Luckily, I still had my cell phone. Unluckily, it wasn't charged. I spotted a cop car and petitioned the officers for assistance. I was visibly shaken and physically scarred. I probably resembled a homeless person. My speech was slurred and my shirt was bloodied as I tried to mouth the words, "I've been mugged. Do you have a phone charger?"
The people inside the NYPD squad car threw up their hands. One of them laughed. They weren't going to help me. I walked away very frustrated with no destination or plan in mind. I just wanted to get back to Philadelphia. I walked by my office building, but the cleaning company wouldn't let me in. I kept walking until I noticed an apartment complex. I motioned to the security guard and begged him to let me in. He did. I remembered I had my phone charger in my pocket, so I sat there with this Good Samaritan as my battery renewed itself. He joked around with me and kept my spirits up. I thanked him.
Once my phone was slightly charged, I called friends for help. Finally, I got a hold of a co-worker named Alex. I gave her the address and she told me she was jumping in a cab to get me. She did. But, as Alex went to exit the cab, she realized the $50 bill in her purse was missing. She didn't have enough money to pay the fare. I had nothing but the lint lining my pockets.
The cabbie yelled at us aggressively and tracked down a nearby cop cruiser. The officer — and I use that word loosely — backed the cabbie and joined in on the diatribe, right after I detailed the mugging incident. He didn't care.
"Either you pay the fare or you're spending the night in jail," he shouted.
My initial reaction was that I had been concussed in the attack. I had always been taught that the NYPD's purpose was "to protect and serve," yet this man was determined to erase that phrase from the English lexicon. Just when it looked like we were heading to a holding cell, Alex spied the $50 bill on the floor of the cab.
The crisis had been adverted, but the stain of corruption on the NYPD is indelible. Two separate cop cars had denied me help in my time of need. I can get over a few bumps and bruises. They will heal. I can replace my wallet and all my credit cards. The banks will send new ones. But I cannot ever forgive the total lack of human compassion — no, human decency — permeating from the NYPD. I was almost waiting for Detective Trupo, from "American Gangster," to show up and flick a cigarette in my face.
I eventually made it back to Philadelphia, eight sleepless hours after the assault. But that wasn't without incident, either. Another rude NYPD officer manning the Amtrak waiting area inside Penn Station shouted at us as we tried to catch a few winks before the bus ride back home. "No sleeping in here, not allowed," he shouted multiple times before demanding that we go outside, into the unforgiving New York streets, to wait for the bus.
"Is it safe out there? I've already been mugged once tonight," I told him. He shook his head to indicate yes as a smug smirk crossed his face. Welcome to New York, I guess.
I didn't pen this column to garner pity. I don't need it. I didn't write it to slam the NYPD. I'm not that vindictive. I simply wanted to get the information out there.
I'm sure there are good guys wielding the badge, maybe a few that still protect and serve. On this night, in what used to be one of my favorite cities in America, it would have been hard to find that motto anywhere, even if it had been emblazoned on the side of the Empire State Building.