Is there anything I should do?
December 24, 2012 5:18 PM   Subscribe

Trying to be rational here. Is it possible that I might be targeted by a group of people?

A day ago, I was sitting on the train and the seats right behind me (some trains here in NY have back to back seats) were occupied by a couple of thuggish individuals. I was sitting on the train for around 15 minutes and then I'm putting my headphones on and I overhear one of them say "He should've put his headphones on sooner." The next stop I got off and got out of the station (I was walking, not running. Either way I had to make a call to one of my friends as there was no reception on the train and I wasn't sure if we were meeting up - this would influence which train I would be transferring to.)

So I think about it later and I think "oh well, I'm sure that was just an awkward moment."

So today (one day later), I'm walking home from the train station (another train station near me) and I see someone smoking a cigarette call out "Yo buddy..." and he's standing on the stairs leading up to the train station that are out in the open. I pretend to ignore him and then I hear him say "Yo get him... get him..." I start walking a bit quicker than usual (not running) and since there were more people walking towards me on the street it would've been a bit more difficult to get to me if someone were to try to chase me.

Should I be concerned? I usually shrug things off, but this is just making me feel slightly paranoid.
posted by antgly to Human Relations (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't mean to minimize your experiences and perceptions by asking this, but why would a group of people target you? Can you think of a concrete reason someone or a group of people would single you out for surveillance and/or pursuit?

If you can't come up with a reason right off the bat, then you're just being paranoid. Have a relax.
posted by carsonb at 5:22 PM on December 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

How can anyone here know what it was?

Is there any reason someone would want to "get to" you? Or prank you?
posted by travelwithcats at 5:23 PM on December 24, 2012

You haven't presented evidence that you're being targeted.
posted by OmieWise at 5:25 PM on December 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Well because I'm a working college student and I'm practically the perfect target. I used to get teased and made fun of when I was younger. And I'm a somewhat nerdy individual. Also I'm new in the neighborhood. It's not a bad neighborhood, predominantly Asian.
posted by antgly at 5:27 PM on December 24, 2012

To be clear, the rational thing to do in this instance is ask yourself why people would be after you specifically.

One plausible answer for the second scenario (man calling from train station you just left) is that you left something on the train, and he was trying to return it to you. That is several orders of magnitude more plausible than him trying to 'get you'. Also, if he were trying to get you or get to you, there are several more effective ways to do that that I can think of just while typing this sentence. People who are after you in the way you suspect wouldn't holler at you like that, right? They'd be laying in wait around the next corner, and you wouldn't even see it coming.

On review, the reasons you've provided are insufficient. You are no more or less a likely target for mugging than anyone else, and should that sort of thing happen it would have absolutely nothing to do with who you are and absolutely everything to do with your valuables/possessions.

You should shrug it off. Now.
posted by carsonb at 5:31 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

One is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times, it's enemy action. It seems pretty coincidental to me, being different train stations and all.
posted by procrastination at 5:31 PM on December 24, 2012

Pattern recognition is a real pain. I also used to get teased and bullied, and I have these sorts of fears from time to time, but there is a lot of room here for you to have misinterpreted how things relate to you or each other. You say there were more people on the street - maybe you misheard or misunderstood. As for the train, people on trains are often rude jerks. Could they even see you? Could they have been talking about someone else? Could they have said something else?

People are rude and aggressive in public. I still have trouble not being bothered by it and feeling targeted myself, but I've never had a real problem (thankfully).
posted by Theophylactic at 5:31 PM on December 24, 2012

Can anyone tell at a glance that you're a student, working or have enough money to make you a target? Did anyone come after you after the "get him" remark? You could try varying your schedule or route or travel with someone.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:32 PM on December 24, 2012

I still don't see how you're being "targeted" in the first scenario? Yes, if those people were commenting on you putting headphones on, that's rude, but there are rude people all over the place.

Are you OK otherwise? Feeling under threat from strangers can be a response to stress and sometimes a symptom of misfiring neurons and what-not.

If you're feeling hypercautious about being a victim of a crime (and certainly crimes happen) maybe a self-defense course could help you feel like you're on top of assessing threats in your environment.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:35 PM on December 24, 2012

Well because I'm a working college student and I'm practically the perfect target.

posted by the noob at 5:36 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is literally zero chance that the first set of people who commented rudely on your earphones are connected to the person who called out after you, even if that person was a criminal who intended to rob you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:37 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey antgly! It would be a good idea for you to talk about this with a mental health professional, because it sounds like you're pretty shaken up.

Good luck with everything!
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:38 PM on December 24, 2012 [27 favorites]

I was in the process of putting on my headphones right when they said that. I'm pretty sure I heard what I heard. I wasn't really paying much attention at them until I heard that and the timing was odd.

And my wallet and everything in my pockets is intact. And I know it wasn't someone asking for a cigarette because he was smoking a cigarette at the time. I just felt like a really cautious weird feeling like to stay away.

I am not overly stressed out currently. Things are going well in my life. My job is doing fine and I'm doing great in my classes.

I'm simply asking just because I want a normal opinion on it.

It's just two odd things one day after another. I practically forgot about what happened yesterday until this.
posted by antgly at 5:40 PM on December 24, 2012

Okay. It sounds like people think it is pretty normal. Another reason I mention a mental health professional is that they can be good people to ask about scenarios like this. We're good too, of course, but it's nice to have someone who can talk to you in person about something like this and provide a bit of perspective.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:44 PM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Did you have anything valuable on you that second day that was visible?

For the first day, imagine this:
Tom: "Yeah, she is a nice girl but she totally gave me [insert STD here]."
John: "Shit, man!"
Tom: "He should have put on his headphones earlier!" [You put on your headphones and Tom continues:] "It's so embarrassing - I hope he didn't hear it!"
posted by travelwithcats at 5:47 PM on December 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

OK, no offense, but were these guys Black/Hispanic, and do you maybe not have experience with Black/Hispanic people? From your prior questions you seem like you might be a bit sheltered, so that might be affecting your perceptions.
posted by schroedinger at 5:48 PM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

travelwithcats: Nah. It was two guys who looked like they were thugs.

I do have an iPhone 5. And I do listen to music on it.
posted by antgly at 5:49 PM on December 24, 2012

schroedinger: While I do admit that I'm not the most culturally open person, I really don't have a reaction to most people like that. I go to class in a rather bad neighborhood (different from where what I mentioned occurred - which is near the area where I live) and I really don't find myself threatened there. I originally grew up in that neighborhood as well.
posted by antgly at 5:51 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was teased a lot as a (somewhat nerdy, definitely uncool) kid, and even though I'm in my thirties now sometimes that residual feeling of suspecting you're being mocked or made fun of is hard to shake. And sometimes people are mocking you. For the most part, what of it?

Unless you're flashing your shiny new iPhone and your fancy headphones, or your obviously high-end handbag, or are otherwise displaying status symbols out of sync with the class context of the neighborhood you're in, you're probably not at much risk. That said, I do have younger friends who've gotten mugged and held up in the 'worse' neighborhoods adjacent to the university I live near, more because they're used to walking around with earbuds in paying no attention to their surroundings at all hours just like they would if they lived in a dorm on campus, than because of anything else. (Proportionally I know more of these folks than of people who live in legitimately worse neighborhoods that aren't borders to college kid land.) I know I'm an old geezer saying this, but if you value your safety and recognize that safety in part comes with engaging actively with your surroundings (rather than just interpreting it as remaining vigilant to potential threats--your surroundings are full of awesome things too, not just threats!), take off the goddamn headphones!

But really, that engagement is key. Personally, and especially when I'm in a public place, if I feel threatened by someone who's not actually doing anything threatening I make eye contact. When a scary person is walking toward me on the street late at night and I feel uncomfortable, I smile at him. That way if the person might mean me harm, I can read it more readily right away rather than just speculating or profiling based on, what, how burly they are, or if they're brown, or they look like "thuggish individuals"? So this is like science: I'm doing an experiment to test whether, this time, shitty stereotypes hold water. Really, I smile at just about everyone I pass on the street because it's a nice way to engage with people in a very small sense--and it helps me feel not-so-alienated in the world of strangers in the big city. With doing this, though, you also have to be ready to firmly decline requests for change, cigarettes, "hey girl can I ask you a question?", etc. (Groups of people and especially of teen and young twenty-somethings are harder though. They giggle out of embarrassment, at you because they really were mocking you, or just because you looked at them. It's part of mediating the world, even though it makes them suck sometimes.)
posted by tapir-whorf at 5:53 PM on December 24, 2012 [11 favorites]

travelwithcats: Nah. It was two guys who looked like they were thugs.

This comment is uncomfortable and really making me wonder what they "looked like" that would make you read them this way. If you're not very culturally aware then sure people who are dressed a certain way or talk a certain way might scare you, but there's not really an easy way to tell who's dangerous and who's not. Most people who "look like thugs" to you are not going to be dangerous. They might make rude jokes but rude jokes are not "thuggish" or illegal.
posted by sweetkid at 6:08 PM on December 24, 2012 [29 favorites]

I had a friend who was a mental health professional dealing with paranoid people, and he told me he never really understood paranoia until one day he was due to give a keynote speech to a very large assembly of other mental health professionals. He was a bit late and in a hurry to get there, but it was a long drive, and he hit a red light. Then he hit another red light. Then another. And another. And another. The final straw was, almost at his destination, going down a narrow one-way street only to find another car coming along in the wrong direction.

At that point, he told me, he lost it, and became completely convinced that it was a plot.

Which is to say, yeah, pattern recognition can really screw you up in situations like this.

Take a break. Calm down. Don't smoke any non-standard brands of tobacco, get plenty of sleep, and treat each incident as separate.
posted by unSane at 6:31 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

(I will add that NYC is the only city in the world where I have actually been stalked. I was assisting at an art show at the Armoury in the late 80s, and we had to carry some of the stuff we were showing from the Armoury to our hotel... several trips. There absolutely were characters on each street corner watching and following us. We went in pairs, hearts pounding. But that was the 80s and NYC was different then).
posted by unSane at 6:34 PM on December 24, 2012

It is certainly possible that the second man might have intended to mug you---muggings do happen. It is certainly possible that the first group of people may have been intentionally being rude to you---intentional rudeness does happen.

I'm still concerned about how you're getting from there to "targeting" though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:39 PM on December 24, 2012 [11 favorites]

These events are almost certainly unconnected. Both are also pretty innocuous in the grand scheme of things.
posted by milarepa at 6:52 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I generally don't like bringing up a poster's history, but I'm going to paraphrase one of your earlier questions: "Sometimes some people tell [you] that [you] think too much and that [you] over think things."

That is what this is.
posted by notsnot at 7:38 PM on December 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

Oof: to clarify my earlier comment, "Proportionally I know more of these folks than of people who live in legitimately worse neighborhoods that aren't borders to college kid land."

What I meant to say is: Proportionally I know more young, maybe-oblivious people who've been mugged in neighborhoods near the university than I know friends who live in other, less-good neighborhoods who've been mugged there.
posted by tapir-whorf at 8:05 PM on December 24, 2012

New York subways are, in most cases, completely anonymous environments. There are just too many people for anyone to orchestrate whatever you are imagining.

I would be concerned if the two events tied in together. If the same people who said "He should have put his headphones on sooner," also tried to intercept you the next day in another part of town, or if this was all going on around the same subway stop, or if there was anything at all to connect these completely random events beyond "I was on the subway" and "there were people around me".

But the way you describe it? Nope, you're not being targeted. Carry on.
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, the thing is, in both these cases, if those people had wanted to "get" you, they could have--but they didn't. The only thing that happened is that you heard something that might or might not have been directed at you, then another day someone else tried to get your attention. These things only really seem sinister because they happened soon after one another; by themselves they aren't suspicious at all. Nobody made a move to chase you, nobody surrounded you or touched you, though they certainly could have in those situations. So I'm thinking you're making more of this than is there. (I have some experience with these things, being something of a worrier myself, so I've learned to look hard at the conclusions I'm drawing from small events like these.)
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:47 PM on December 24, 2012

Everything I want to say has been said already. I'll just nth:

(1) your worry that you are being "targeted" (for what?) is irrational;

(2) if you have frequent concerns like this, maybe see a mental health professional about it; and

(3) your use and treatment of the word "thug" seems problematic and make me uncomfortable.
posted by anthropomorphic at 12:09 AM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

travelwithcats: Nah. It was two guys who looked like they were thugs.

And therefore...they would never have a personal conversation with each other? From your question I was already tending toward thinking along similar lines to the young rope-rider, and the addition of you actively rejecting an at least equally likely hypothesis (my first thought was that the dudes wanted to make out) for such a trivial reason just makes me agree more. You do seem to be so shaken up that you aren't treating this entirely rationally, and a mental health professional could help you figure out why.
posted by solotoro at 3:08 AM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

On paranoia - We all feel it sometimes. For example, I don't generally hang out in cities; when I visit them, I tend to feel a near-constant hint of what you describe, not so much as a conspiracy but the subtle fear that every dark doorway has someone lurking inside. I find it helps to know the route to your destination, stick to populated areas, and keep moving.

On college students as victims - College students, in general, have no money. No one would bother robbing them (unless you conspicuously flash a wad of cash). Depending on their family backgrounds, they may well have lots of nice stuff, but you don't tend to carry all your toys around at once. And as much of a resale value as they have, thieves can get things like iPads a hell of a lot easier and safer than outright mugging someone - You'll just put it on the counter, pay for your coffee, and when you turn around, gee, you would have sworn you had your tablet with you, huh, must have left it in the car.

On thugs: The real ones generally don't "look" like thugs. You don't make a successful living mugging people by looking like you plan to mug them. That clean-cut (but not spiffed up) looking guy that you couldn't quite pick out of a lineup if you saw him every day for a month? There you have your thug. As for those who take issue with the asker's use of that phrase - Seriously? Get over it. How you present yourself affects how others will see you; Whether an unkempt youth thing, or cross-cultural, or whatever - If you dress like shit and loiter on street corners randomly trying to look tough... Don't act offended when people don't appreciate your love for puppies and French Impressionism.
posted by pla at 4:44 AM on December 25, 2012

I also wondered what you meant by "thuggish." It sounds a bit like stereotyping, of something. Or that there's racial overtones. I think it's really unlikely that two separate groups of people on the train were out to get you. Have you been in a heightened state of anxiety lately? Sometimes when I'm tightly wound I get worried about things that wouldn't normally bother me.
posted by mermily at 5:46 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is the weird thing. In order for you to be "targeted by a group if people", a few things would have to line up.
There would have to be a group if people orginized enough to communicate information to each other so that different people could pick you out of a crowd, or conduct complicated survalence in order to keep track of your whereabouts. You would also have to be a valuable enough of a target in order to make that kind of effort worth while. Your phone is worth a "smash and grab"- not a coordinated black ops mission.

Basically, you're discribing living in a city. I get bothered by people who want to pan handle, show off to their buddies, ask for directions, make a pass, think they recognise me from somewhere- Or are just lonely/crazy- every damn day. They dont meet in the morning to synch their warches, I promise.

I would expect an increase in bothering in the summer, and on holidays: it brings out the crazy. Good luck.
posted by Blisterlips at 8:04 AM on December 25, 2012

No, you shouldn't be concerned about whether people are targeting you, because this doesn't sound like that at all. Every once in a while I get a sort of negative vibe living in the city, because things do happen, but (and I don't mean to offend you) it sounds like you are seeking confirmation that you should be feeling this way, even in the face of many people saying that it sounds like a stretch. That would concern me, personally.
posted by sm1tten at 9:39 AM on December 25, 2012

Lifelong NYC resident, I know this "world" better than you. You are NOT being targeted.

No offense intended, you offer no value to thugs. Thugs worry about real dangers to themselves, and they target those people. Those people are not sitting on a subway train listening to their iPhone. You would be a waste of time for any thug.

Finally, the final proof in case you still doubt - no self-respecting thug will hesitate in carrying out the act against you once he targets you. In both of your situations, that did not happen, and your swift walking had nothing to do with that.

I'll advise worry less about organized targeting, and instead make sure you don't end up getting mugged during fantasy distraction. Muggings are a much more realistic reality for you.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:40 AM on December 25, 2012

I went back to look at your other questions and saw that you had referred to being a man dating men. Gay-bashings certainly do happen, so it's completely rational to be alert to those possibilities, but again these incidents as you describe them don't sound like the other parties were intending anything like that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:26 PM on December 25, 2012

I think it is a coincidence. However, it could be productive to do something with these feelings. Maybe you could engage your surroundings, as someone else suggested--such as by looking around at everyone in a non-threatening way when you get on the train car, or smiling. You can be cautious, but also open.

Another way to feel productive is to write down these events, and then leave them unless something else happens. If something happens, remind yourself to write it down later (or note it soon after) and then think about the next thing that is on your plate, the next place you need to go, etc. Come back after some time--days or weeks--and look at the log critically. Look at when and where those things happened and try to be rational. ("... because everyone is out to get me" isn't a rational reason to think something is going wrong.) The purpose of writing these things down is to help you say to yourself, "I am dealing with this. I am not just putting it out of my mind when it could be a problem. I am just responding to it and processing it in a rational way."

You could also think, "Okay, assuming these people target me, then what?" Sometimes when I follow a line of thinking to its conclusion, I see my response more clearly. It makes me face the specters of unformed ideas and hypothetical threats (many of which it turns out don't make sense). Unless something actually happens, your options are limited here--you can be more vigilant, you can think about calling the cops, you can alter your route... but that's about it.

The book "The Gift of Fear" is very helpful for informing your intuition about what is happening in your surroundings. Intuition and feeling is a good thing, but sometimes it can get a little haywire, based (perhaps) on past experience being bullied, as others have mentioned.
posted by ramenopres at 7:13 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

antgly: Well because I'm a working college student and I'm practically the perfect target. I used to get teased and made fun of when I was younger. And I'm a somewhat nerdy individual. Also I'm new in the neighborhood. It's not a bad neighborhood, predominantly Asian.

These aren't reasons to be targetted. These are reasons to think you're being targetted.

See a therapist. You have deep issues of insecurity and fear that desperately need professional attention. Be brave, do it.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:44 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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