Justified or just a pussy?
June 6, 2006 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Should I be freaked out by a random seeming violent act that just took place by my house, or just chalk it up to the risk you take when you life in a big city?

I'm living in Bushwick right now. I was okay with the ideas that there were crackhouses and some other less-than-savory aspects to the neighborhood. However, walking from the subway stop to my place, I saw an ambulence, three cops a tire iron and what looked like a large bloodstain. Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I asked a couple bystanders who told me a guy was mugged and hit with the tire iron. This took place less than a block away from my apartment and in broad daylight (I'm guessing between 6 and 7 pm).

I couldn't shake the "that could've been me" feeling. First of all, is that even a reasonable thing to think? Am I making too much of this, or is this just a risk one takes in a big city? I've never really felt weird about my neighborhood before, I was just aware of myself and tried to avoid unsafe situations, not being alone to late, etc. Now, I feel a little shaken and am wondering if I really need to feel that way.

Second, if I am feeling justified in my freaked-outness, what should I (a smallish woman) do about it to feel safer?
posted by piratebowling to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
It could have been you. It also could have been me. Or anyone else posting here.

You're right- It is a hazard of living in a dangerous area and you should take that into account when planning what to carry, when to go for a walk, blah blah But it shouldn't keep you from living your life. Frankly, I'd be a little weirded out if you weren't shaken up, but short of moving what else are you gonna do?
posted by GilloD at 4:41 PM on June 6, 2006


Self-defense courses? (I dunno, not having taken any)

This is a good book: The Gift of Fear
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 4:47 PM on June 6, 2006


Well, keep in mind that the "bystanders" you asked may have been completely wrong. It could have been a drug deal gone bad, a jealous lover attacking his/her rival, or any other non-random crime that you are in no danger of being the victim of. That said, the chance you will be the victim of random violence is probably greater in the city, and if you are concerned about it, I'd recommend a personal alarm type device - something with which you can make an obscene amount of sound in a hurry. I have heard that they deter the garden variety crook without being dangerous to yourself or others if misused.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:50 PM on June 6, 2006


Being freaked out by it means you are still a human being!!
posted by luriete at 4:51 PM on June 6, 2006


Think about it. If you'd come home a half hour earlier you wouldn't have seen it.

The risk living in that part of town now is exactly the same as it was before the incident took place. The fact that you saw it is meaningless.

Look up the incidence of violent crime in various parts of NYC to see if it actually is more risky in your area or not.
posted by delmoi at 5:17 PM on June 6, 2006


If that's Bushwick, Brooklyn, you could always apply for a concealled carry permit and get yourself a pistol of some sort. This means you'll have to learn how to shoot which is a significant time/money sink.

Self defense classes are good, but they instill a bit of false self confidence - most classes don't teach you how to protect yourself from a weapon (like a tire iron). Are you sure that moving away from that area is not a better option?
posted by aeighty at 5:22 PM on June 6, 2006


Not that random violence doesn't happen in the city and it is probably more likely than out in suburbia, but the tire iron bit sounds a little extreme. Check the newspaper tomorrow and such. I think rock steady is right and there may be more involved here. A tire iron is getting personal.

On the other hand, I'm hesitant to even visit the Prospect Park neighborhood these days with all the muggings described in the paper! Jeezus.
posted by bim at 5:36 PM on June 6, 2006


what should I (a smallish woman) do about it to feel safer?

Forget martial arts. There's a reason why boxers and wrestlers compete by weight-class. You're a feather weight. A mugger will probably be stronger than you and armed.
posted by malp at 5:41 PM on June 6, 2006


I had a gang shooting in front of my house a few weeks ago, and nearly lost it when one of the police officers apologized to me for having to walk through my garden (to look for the shell casings). I think it would be weird to NOT be freaked out by random violence.

Does your police department have a community policing division? I would start by attending CAPS meetings, getting to know your beat officers, and seeing what they suggest. I heart my beat officers - they made sure to only step on the bishop's weed and tiptoed through the newly sprouted astilbe. Now that is some fine policing!
posted by kristin at 7:06 PM on June 6, 2006


Getting mugged in Bushwick is a real, live possibility. A friend of mine lives there, and one of her roommates has been mugged. According to her, he "got off at the wrong end of the platform," so who knows, maybe it could have been avoided.

I live in the LES, and apparantly someone was mugged and killed right across the street from our building a little over a year ago. The weird thing is that the whole thing happened in front of a relatively expensive restaurant on a more-or-less gentrified street.

I think a lot of it depends on who you are and what you do. It may not be politically correct to say this, but it's true - in poor non-white neighborhoods, being white can definitely be a liability. However, I'm white, have lived in some pretty bad neighborhoods in NYC and STL, and have never been mugged. Never even come close. This is probably because any time I've had money, I've never been flashy about it. Any would-be mugger would not think that I was worth his time.

And there you have it - urban camouflage.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:31 PM on June 6, 2006


I totally dig the urban camouflage idea Afroblanco - I was a major proponent of that philosophy for a long time whilst living in Sao Paulo, one helluva big ugly city. I think one of the most important things is diminishing your visibility, and coupled with high awareness of your surroundings, will make you about as safe as you can be. The only time I was mugged in Sao Paulo was when I was doing something stupid and touristy and not paying attention. Totally my fault.
I saw lots of crazy things in Sao Paulo, and one of the things I relished about moving to a smallish city in the US was an increased sense of security. At first it was great, I let my guard down - I could take walks without constantly looking over my shoulder, and scanning the faces of other pedestrians to try and ascertain who was most likely to mess with me.
My peace of mind has been all blown to hell though. Recently my husband and I witnessed a shooting in our neighborhood, and now I have to go testify about it in court. It should be heaps of fun, considering that it involves drugs and gangs.
The point I want to make is this: I lived in a big ugly nasty-ass city for years and years with nary a hair harmed on my pretty head. I move to Raleigh, NC, and now I am a key witness to a shooting. Bad shit happens everywhere. You have to anticipate it and plan more when you live in large urban areas, but it is the price you pay for getting to live somewhere neat. But just living somewhere seemingly 'safe' by modern American standards does not exempt you from random violent acts.
posted by msali at 7:46 PM on June 6, 2006


Definitely be freaked out a little bit. But don't change your life by moving away or walking with a razor hidden in your palm at all times.

Just be a smart urban type who uses common sense at all times. That means spend the extra 10 dollars on a cab if it's 4am instead of the subway. The freaks come out at night and are drunk and rowdy and sometimes the subways can be dicey. Don't get lulled by our city's great low crime rates.

For example in my neighborhood Astoria, which is just 20 minutes by train from Manhattan, I see many new residents, some even new to NYC as well walk around with their $400 ipods strapped to their arm walking without a care in the world.

Now don't get me wrong, I applaud their idealistic bravery, but I would never flash my ipod on the train or in public in NYC and I'm 6'2" 300 lbs and have never been mugged or assaulted.

Just be eternally vigilant and you won't be the victim of a random crime. Memorize your route home stay in well lit areas walk with the flock and just don't walk down dark blocks or linger at the front or back of the subway platform , but stay in the middle where the exit is accessible.

Truly random out of blue stuff is too rare to press the panic button and start packing heat or anything silly like that.
posted by stavx at 7:48 PM on June 6, 2006


What everyone else said. If it was one block over or earlier/later in the day or whatever, you would have never seen it and your life would be continuing as normal. Just because you happened to see something (that you don't even really know the details about, like Rock Steady said) doesn't make you more at risk. Continue to be careful, continue to be hyper-aware of your surroundings no matter where you are, and continue to not make silly decisions like taking the subway home alone late, etc.

That said, I know its nuts to actually SEE something happen like that (or, in your case, the aftermath of something happening). It still doesn't change the fact that you are still in the same boat you were last week, and if nothing else, take this as a reminder to be careful, as I'm sure you already are being.

(stavx, I'm in Astoria too, and I have the same thoughts about people and their iPods/laptops on the subway/etc....theres this one ATM on the street that I walk by every day, and I can't tell you how many times I've seen people walk away from it counting their $20 bills. Dopes. There is an actual bank that you can go into a block away! And yet they insist on getting their cash on the sidewalk.)
posted by AlisonM at 8:18 PM on June 6, 2006


For those that aren't intimately familiar with NYC and environs, here's an article about Bushwick from a March 2006 NYT magazine that I found interesting. And somewhat relevant to this discussion.
posted by intermod at 8:19 PM on June 6, 2006


IANA martial artist, but I don't think you should let your size be a reason not to pursue them. The whole point is using what you have, and a big person who's not as fast or isn't that strong, or who underestimates you, could well be a match.
posted by Embryo at 8:39 PM on June 6, 2006


Presumably you got a hell of a deal on rent, compared to, say, the same apartment in Midtown Manhattan.

Did you think that cheap rent was free? No. Essentially, you gave yourself a financial bonus in exchange for living in a high-risk violent crime area. Crackhouses contain crackheads, and crackheads do things like hit someone over the head with a tire iron so they can get money for their next hit.

They hit whoever's convenient. Do you think they care about your risk mitigation techniques?

I lived in NYC for 6 years and I never came anywhere near Bushwick. That's because elevating my risk of permanent brain injury and death isn't worth any amount of money to me. If someone had told me that I either had to live in Bushwick or leave NYC, I'd have left immediately.

Your mileage may vary.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:42 PM on June 6, 2006


Even if no one attacks you randomly, I would think that witnessing nonrandom crime and its aftermath would get pretty grating after awhile. Bushwick is not the funnest place to live. I've had friends who moved there from Bed-Stuy because they were tired of seeing people get shot (well, you know, even ONCE is pretty tiring), and found Bushwick to be just as depressing and mug-gy, and ended up leaving the city completely afterwards. I don't think it's very comforting to imagine that you wouldn't have seen the blood at a different time, or if it were a block over. If anything, it only makes me imagine what sort of stuff you're just *missing* seeing everyday.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:55 AM on June 7, 2006


When I visit NYC we don't go to Bushwick or Williamsburg unless we're in an unmarked car and being deposited at the locked door of our destination. No subway, no marked taxi, no walking any distances through the neighborhood.

Be always aware of your surroundings and all the people in your vicinity. if something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Someone following you too closely, crouching oddly in a corner, a pair or group of people looking like they want all your jewelry? Cross the street or turn and face them, make a call on your cell phone. Strike up a conversation about (as someone in a previous AskMe brilliantly suggested) the jealous police boyfriend whose shift is ending and you must hurry to meet. Don't keep a weapon, the odds are great that it will be turned on you in your home. Also, being with another person can be a false security if you are engaged in conversation and not paying attention. You mention that you "tried to avoid unsafe situations" but please remember that Bushwick itself is an unsafe situation.

And it's true, that cheap rent you got, you're paying it somewhere, always paying somewhere. While this probably isn't the first idea you've had that you've moved into a violent neighborhood, it may be the first time you've felt so, uh, close to the violence. Do something that you find relaxing and then look for a safer place to live, because it's totally ok to not want to get shot.
posted by bilabial at 6:30 AM on June 7, 2006


Should you be freaked, yes.

Should you be suprised, no. You're living in bushwick.

It's like you being surprised someone was shot in east new york.

Presumably you were aware of what the neighborhood was like.

If you don't want to live in fear, I suggest you don't live in the ghetto. Being a nervious wreck is part of living in the ghetto. Even people who grow up there live in fear. My wife grew up in bushwick in the 80's and refuses even to travel trough it. She says it's like going back to vietnam.
posted by milarepa at 6:36 AM on June 7, 2006


OMFG. I live in Bushwick. I bought a condo there. It's not that scary* (admittedly, anymore--in the eighties, sure). My boyfriend lives in Bed-Stuy. It's also not that scary. Was my roommate mugged, like Afroblanca mentions? Yes. Does he have lasting brain damage or horrible emotional scars? No. Do people get mugged in nice neighborhoods? Yes.

It's not weird to feel slightly skittish when the fact that sometimes random crime happens is brought home to you. But don't let all the crazy people in this thread make you feel like you should be scared all the time. If nothing else, walking around like you're scared is the best way I know of to get screwed with. It's also just not accurate. (Really. "I won't go to *Williamsburg* on the subway?" That's some screwed up perception of danger right there.)

Also, the linked article is really about East Williamsburg and is incredible reatrded.

*I will note that Bushwick is a big place and some parts of it are less chill. I would not recommend looking up the crime statistics due to this fact: they are not really helpful for whatever small part you frequent.
posted by dame at 7:08 AM on June 7, 2006


Uh, Bushwick is really not that bad. Get some perspective. Right now you're focusing on a single event. Look at the NYC crime rates for your area and you'll find that Bushwick, and most of denizens, are for the most part totally harmless. You should also introduce yourself to your neigbors and ask them if there's anything you should watch out for in the neighborhood.

Self-defense classes and a concealed permit are terrible, terrible ideas. I really don't know who thinks up this stuff. As a woman, you should not attempt to engage unless you are prepared to kill him. If this isn't the case then your best bet is still surrendering your valuables, running, or screaming.
posted by nixerman at 7:32 AM on June 7, 2006


Also, if it makes you feel better, everyone I know who has been mugged in Brooklyn (which is about five in six years and only one in Bushwick) has been mugged by kids without weapons. They were grabbed by two or more people working together, had their money or wallet or bag taken, and were left to go about their business. In fact, my favorite mugging was where they tried to rob a friend who had a couple of bucks in change on him and was going out to buy cat food: they just gave it back to him.
posted by dame at 7:42 AM on June 7, 2006


Self-defense classes and a concealed permit are terrible, terrible ideas.

They're not terrible ideas, but you have to realize they are absolutely a last resort. Being able to defend yourself in an emergency is never a bad idea.
posted by electroboy at 8:17 AM on June 7, 2006


Look at the NYC crime rates for your area and you'll find that Bushwick, and most of denizens, are for the most part totally harmless.

Bushwick and East New York have the highest crimer and murder rates of NYC:

http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/nyregion/20060428_HOMICIDE_MAP.html
posted by skwm at 8:33 AM on June 7, 2006


I would really suggest looking at that map, because it proves what I suspected: saying lots of people get murdered in Bushwick is pretty meaningless, given how large the neighborhood is. But zoom in and you'll see how worried you should be. Me: the three murders in my neighborhood were all aquaintance related. Eh.
posted by dame at 8:45 AM on June 7, 2006


Other neighborhoods are large though? More people are murdered in Bushwick (or is that just "North Brooklyn") than in all of Manhattan? I dunno. The parts of Bushwick that I've been in were scary because they were empty of pedestrians and businesses with people in them, even during the day. Again, anecdotally, of my three friends who have been mugged in the past year, 1 was in Bushwick and 1 was in Bed-Stuy, and both involved weapons. I'm not actually worried that someone will mug me (I dress crappy, I have an excellent city-face, and I'm pretty tall), but I think that being around that much violence (even acquaintance-related and even when no weapons are involved) and its aftermath (both gore and just plain sad people) would bum me out in the long run.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:33 AM on June 7, 2006


Honestly, unknowncommand, it doesn't really show to me. And why would it? Three people were murdered in a year. My neighborhood doesn't seem any different to me from plenty of places in Manhattan except that it's poorer and there are actually normal people hanging out on the street. No one seems sadder and while more garbage-strewn, the streets aren't gorier.

As for size, I would say that Bushwick is a lot larger than most Manhattan neighborhoods: it stretches from the Queens border (St. Nicholas and then Wyckoff) to Boadway, Flushing to Atlantic. And North Brooklyn, which is what I think those statistics are for, is much larger. Is, say, Greepoint somewhat the same size and safer? Sure. Is paying more money and living really far from the train/on the G in worse housing stock better than risking beng one of the few stranger crime victims in northwestern Bushwick (which, MeFi being hipster land that it is, is the most likely location)? That's up to each individual. But I think that it should be made based on what actually being there most of the time is like and not totally out of proportion freak-outs about the "ghetto." (Plus, yeah, I find it annoying when people who don't live in New York anymore and have therefore not seen what Bushwick is like these days insult my neighborhood.)

Finally, the parts of Bushwick you were in that were scary are likely (a) not Bushwick (because it sounds like you are talking about the industrial park-area referenced in the NYT article, which is, technically, East Williamsburg), and (b) much safer according to the NYT map than the parts further east, which are both more dangerous and less deserted. See how people's assumptions of what is safe don't alsways match the reality?
posted by dame at 11:11 AM on June 7, 2006


I agree that it is an individual decision and that living anywhere here involves some kind of trade-off (mine involves avoiding being creamed by strollers that cost more than anything I've ever owned). The three murders in the neighborhood would probably be a dealbreaker for me.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:56 AM on June 7, 2006


I live near the Montrose stop of the L, my sister lives near the jefferson. My neighborhood is noticeably safer and friendlier than hers. Their building has been broken into several times, resulting in tenants being mugged inside their own building. There was also recently a sexual assault on her block involving a car-service driver. As an older brother I worry about her because she is a waitress and returns home at night carrying cash-- but she has gotten a lot wiser about this stuff in the last few months, mainly because of things she witnessed, just as you have. Currently she is breaking her lease because of the building's unsafe conditions.

Sure, there are incidents where I live too. But it's still the case that the deeper you get into Bushwick, the more you have to look out. And not only this, but it's gotten increasingly difficult to get the NYPD to file a report on all but the most violent or expensive crimes.

As long as you conduct yourself properly, and your landlord has taken the proper precautions, you have little to fear. Awareness of your surroundings at all times is important. Try not to walk around in your neighborhood while on your cell phone. Never come home alone from a bar while intoxicated unless deposited there by a cab. Never get in a car-service car unless you called it and it was dispatched to you. Instead of letting your exposure to violence fill you with fear, cultivate a healthy respect for the reality of your situation (and a sense of humor about it). Carrying a weapon is a bad idea because often they wind up being turned on you by an attacker ... but message me if you need to know where you can get some pepper spray :)

I love living in Brooklyn and feel no more at risk than I did when I lived in Phoenix. Less so, in fact, because of the amount of eyes on the street and the number of people who will (hopefully) intervene in an emergency. Be one of thos people. Call the police if you see something. Dial 311 to report unsafe conditions. Good luck!
posted by hermitosis at 12:15 PM on June 7, 2006


Of course, looking at that map, the Montrose stop area is not dramatically safer than the Jefferson stop. But whatever. Maybe you shouldn't live in a building run by slumlords.
posted by dame at 12:50 PM on June 7, 2006


Sorry, I've only read this thing halfway through now, but I wanted to give my two cents while it's still alive...

First off, if you haven't been to Bushwick in 6 years, don't comment on it. You don't know what you're talking about. Bushwick is a big area, and it's changed a lot the last 5 years. Some areas are better than others. I live in what I believe to be the better, more residential spot. I have for 5 years now, and have been fine.

The people who are shouting "dude, you moved to Bushwick, what did you expect?" don't necessarily know what they're talking about. And furthermore, aren't helping anyway.
posted by hellbient at 3:46 PM on June 7, 2006


Okay, I am marking skwm's amnswer as best as well as a couple of dame's. Why? Becuase the map skwm linked to made me realize it's really not as bad as I htough, al least in the area of my neighborhood I bother walking around in (I spend most of my time in Manhattan anyway because of school and work.)

dame gets the gold star because it also put things in perspective to me.

I understand some people's reaction to tell me to get a weapn or take self defense, but I see those as last resort options. Frankly, I was pretty offended by the "well, you get what you paid for" type advice. I moved into this apartment after knowing three other people who were (and are) living in the apartment building for many, many months without incident. You don't know my finacial situation, nor do you have the right to tell me that just because my neighborhood is full of poor people it's dangerous. I know I mentioned crackhouses, but obviously I avoid those streets, and honestly, did not know about them before I moved in there.

I spent most of my childhood growing up in a neighborhood known for prostituion and with a convicted sex offender who wnet after young girls living down the street from me. I've learned how to avoid those types of situation best I can. I walk with my boyfriend late at night back to the apartment, I don't carry a lot of cash on me and now I know to avoid the deserted street, it's really as simple as that.

I posted this question to gague other people's experiences and maybe get some self protection advice in case I decided I needed it. I didn't post this to get lectured about how I shouldn't live where I live.
posted by piratebowling at 5:47 PM on June 7, 2006


PS, hermitosis, your sister and I are neighbors.
posted by piratebowling at 5:48 PM on June 7, 2006


We visit the "bad, industrial" parts of Bushwick. In the subway, there are crowds, and since I don't know which end of the train to get on to be sure I will get off at the right end of the platform, why should I make myself a target? It's obvious enough to me that I live in Florida and am unfamiliar enough with the surroundings to have a "country mouse" appearance.

Piratebowling, I'm glad that you found some helpful suggestions in this thread. I don't think it's necessary for you to move, but you seemed pretty ready to be looking. I'm also glad that you aren't looking to buy a gun right this minute.
posted by bilabial at 5:38 PM on June 10, 2006


If that's Bushwick, Brooklyn, you could always apply for a concealled carry permit

You could always apply. You can't get one, though. New York City is pretty much a "shall not issue" area, unless you're friends with a judge.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:18 PM on June 11, 2006


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