In February of this year I was mugged.
It happened only few feet away from the lobby of my apartment building in Arlington, Virginia. I was making my way back from a late session of “Blindfolded Trance Dance” at a yoga studio, my brain more delta wave than conscious at midnight after a long yuppie work day. It was gently snowing, which translates to streets of Mid-Atlantic America being abandoned like some post-apocalyptic scene.
Somewhere in my haze, I heard footsteps running towards me. I spin around and he’s practically on top of me, his hand grabbing my mouth and nose and eyes as I start to scream. All I can remember is the flash of thinking “Oh God this is it. I’m going to die. This is it.” Because he was just so close, saying nothing, and you never really realize how strange it is to have a stranger stand inside your own space until it happens. The second thought that went through my head was “If he’s going to rape me, please let him, and not kill me. Please God don’t let me die right now. Not right now.”
It lasted only a few seconds, and then suddenly he was gone, already running halfway down the street with my purse in his hands. I remember standing there completely immobile as he sprints down the straight path that’s North 4th street and, without his hand on my face, I see him for the first time. He’s black, medium height, wearing a navy blue peacoat, dark skinny jeans, a knit beanie and scarf. I was mugged by a J Crew commercial.
It was only my building’s late night concierge that had the wherewithal to call the police, I was shaking so bad as I entered the lobby. My mind was broken. Some little wheels kept spinning faster and faster but the big gears just refused to budge at all. And when the police come, words spill out on all the details I could remember, which were surprisingly many but all seemingly useless.
When the Arlington police come, they really come in force. Within 10 minutes of the first officer arriving, and 15 minutes of the mugging, the police are there with three cars and the canine unit. Arlington pooches trying to track the snowy trail of a Coach bag stolen by a J Crew model.
By minute 25 from the mugging, one policeman has me in his car, driving around the neighborhood, having me go over the details of the event for what must have been the third or fourth time. Something comes over the radio and he quickly drives down the street and we come upon a scene on Wilson Blvd. Four cop cars pile around a common locus, their headlights illuminating a single figure, standing perfectly still, with his hands on his head.
A black man. Tall. Wearing baggy pants, a black poncho, baseball cap, and carrying a backpack.
“Is it him?” the officer asked me, kindly.
“No, I don’t think so.” I’m confused. This man looked nothing like the man who mugged me, the man’s who description I felt like I had repeated ad nauseum. “Was I the one who was wrong?” I thought to myself. Maybe it was my broken brain. “I mean I’m not sure, but I don’t think so,” I tell the officer.
“Yeah, well we saw this guy out here about a few minutes ago, in the middle of the street. He was waving his hand around like crazy trying to catch a cab.” The officer shrugged. “I guess he was just trying to get out of the snow.”
“I guess so,” I replied. And I looked at the man again, silently standing in the cold, hands on his head, surrounded by half a dozen police officers. Snow now gently accumulating on his arms.
And then we drove away.
I don’t know what happened that night between Travyon Martin and George Zimmerman. All I’ve been able to take away from the news scandal, reading between the lines of Google News clippings and Wikipedia entries, are these two lessons. One, that the accuracy and reliability of reporting in American televised news media falls somewhere between a five year old’s homework assignment and a homeless man’s ramble about Roswell on the street corner. Two, that in America, a fight between two hot-heads at night will not just result in two hot-heads plus some broken noses and black eyes, but a dead kid and a ruined life, courtesy of our fine Second Amendment.
Whatever the actual motivations were for the two players that one fateful night, it doesn’t matter. Debating whether Zimmerman did or didn’t have racial motivations that one night doesn’t prove either way whether racial profiling exists or doesn’t exist as a problem in our society. And a conviction isn’t likely to stop the next person, be they vigilante or police officer, from acting exactly the way they have been brought up to behave.
What I do know about racial profiling is from my own experiences, and the experiences shared with me by my friends and family. And from those things that I have witness myself, I can say with certainty that racial profiling is devastating, unjust, and blight on our society. The night that was the worst night of my life, there were two innocent people made to feel helpless and terrified. In what reasonable society is it the best policy to follow the pain of a crime by doubling it? By turning one victim into two?