Yesterday, I was walking down the street, about half a block behind two of my medical school classmates (Dan and Clara).
A man walks past Clara and Dan on the street. Dan, who had a cold, coughed.
Man: "If you cough one more time, I'll kill you."
Dan keeps walking, trying to ignore him. The man grabs the back of Dan's jacket, pulling him backwards. Dan drops his bag and squares up on the man.
At this point, I've stopped and am fumbling out my phone to call 911.
The man is saying things to Dan I can't hear, and then he pushes Dan. Dan punches him in the face, and the man goes sprawling. Clara is screaming "Dan! Oh my God! Dan!"
The man loses his hat as he falls, and Dan backs away slowly, hands still raised.
The man mutters under his breath, collects his things and begins walking directly at me. All of this has happened in about 5 seconds; I haven't even dialed 911 yet. I begin walking in another direction to get away from the crazy person.
I catch up with Dan and Clara to make sure they are both okay.
Phew, crisis averted.
Now, the scary part.
It was 1:30 PM. In the afternoon. Bright sunny day.
Multiple people were watching the altercation without doing anything. I was the only one dialing 911. Two doctors walked past a medical student swinging at a random guy without a second glance. What if the man had pulled a gun out? What if he had knifed Dan? One of them could have easily been killed had this gone another way.
I remarked as I was dialing 911, "I need to call the police!" and two women next to me saw the fight and shrugged, walking back into their building.
So two points about this.
1. Don't be a coward. Don't just walk on by like those doctors did. Either help Dan, or call 911 (there's no shame in not physically helping). But for Pete's sake, don't just ignore the situation! If someone is screaming in panic, or if someone is fighting, this isn't really an ambiguous situation. Someone needs help.
2. I'm going to start carrying some pepper spray. Seriously, stuff happening at 1PM in the afternoon is not cool. And we can already see how helpful passersby will be.
I've already had my husband show me a bunch of ways of getting out of holds. He is great to practice with because he is tall and strong. He really gives me an idea of what it would be like to fight someone 10 inches taller than me, who is STRONG. It's not easy, but we'll be practicing, and I'll get better at it.
I hope I'll never have to use what I learn, but what if I did?
If I was being attacked, what is the appropriate level of force? These are things I have never thought about before yesterday, but I think they are important questions.
There are obvious situations: like I'm being choked on the ground while a guy tries to rape me. Obvious fight for your life situation. But thinking about stabbing someone, or breaking their arms is a lot different than actually doing it.
But what about if I get pushed? I'm alone and it's late at night, guy brushes past me, hitting my shoulder hard. What do I do? Pull out my knife and stab him? A little overkill.
What about if the fight between the man and Dan hadn't gone well? Dan was now on the ground, with the guy punching him from overhead. What would you do then?
What if the man had a knife? Would you know how to block yourself from a knife stroke?
What is your goal? My goal, I discovered yesterday, would be to incapacitate the attacker with groin hit, elbow-to-face-hit or a myriad amount of other moves I have learned over several years, and then run like the dickens.
Also, women, don't kid yourself: men are really strong. Even those nerdy looking ones. And if you are attacked, you are probably going to get hit several times and be pretty disoriented. You may want to consider learning some moves if a guy is on top of you to get them off of you.
Also, for those of you who carry knives and/or guns, are you prepared to use them? I have no idea if I'd be confident in my ability to know when to use those weapons or not. It's an awful lot of responsibility.
If you ever do need to use them, tell the police you feared for your life and wait for your lawyer. A jury will not convict if you were being attacked, but it's very important to only use lethal force when you are in fear for your life.
So just some thoughts to consider as you go about your day today: what would you do?