True Story: This Morning, I Watched A Man Commit Domestic Violence While Bystanders Did Nothing
This morning, something weird happened: I woke up at 5:30 a.m. as alert as if I had been mainlining espresso. Anyone who knows me knows waking up at even 8 a.m. is a struggle for me. When I couldn’t fall back asleep, I got out of bed to shower and do my hair and makeup. It was still not yet 7 o’clock. So I sized up my overflowing hamper and decided I’d drop off my dirty laundry at the laundromat before work. I loaded my bag into my “old lady cart,” grabbed only my housekeys, and head out my front door in the drizzly morning.
That’s when I saw a guy roughing up a woman right there on the street.
First I heard the screaming. He was screaming at her aggressively, almost sounding like a crazed gorilla, and she was shrieking back and whinnying. For one brief second, I wondered if it was two people horseplaying.
I looked down the block and started walking — they were at the end of the street — and could see them plainly. They were both around my age; she was all dressed up as if she was headed to work. Then I saw him, standing behind her, hold her from behind in a bear hug, lift her up into the air, and carry/drag her a few feet. She struggled like this, and he set her down, she shoved him off.
I felt extremely tense. I kept walking towards them, pushing my laundry. I don’t know why I didn’t turn around and go back in to get my phone, I don’t know. I just know I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and I guess I thought if I walked closer to them, the dude would feel ashamed a stranger was watching and leave. As I walked towards them, he kept trying to physically grab her and she was ducking and weaving as he screamed. As I walked closer, I could hear her crying and shrieking at him something like, “I don’t want anything to do with you. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
As I approached them pushing my cart — just a few feet away now — they were separated, but in antagonistic physical positions. She was sobbing, he was still fuming in anger. I tried to make eye contact with the girl multiple times, but she wouldn’t look at me, even when I passed them both and turned around at least twice to stare. I thought to ask her, “Are you okay? Do you need help?” but I didn’t.
I still don’t know why and I am ashamed of myself that I didn’t.
I wheeled my laundry into the laundromat and dropped it off, but my head was still outside. I couldn’t concentrate on any of the questions that the woman at the laundromat asked me, like when I needed to pick it up by. In my head I was thinking, I should have asked her if she needed help. I wonder what’s happening outside.
It had gotten worse. I wheeled my now-empty cart outside and turned the corner again; there were two elderly men from the local men’s club on the street watching Screaming Boyfriend and Sobbing Girlfriend, as the girlfriend kept trying to walk away and the boyfriend kept physically blocking her from moving. He would get up in her face, block her path, and she’d shake him off. Finally, she booked it and sprinted south across the street, then west across the avenue. He chased her screaming. My heart started beating really fast.
“Call the police,” I said to the elderly men. They both shrugged. “CALL THE POLICE. He is going to hurt her.”
“Don’t have a phone,” one of the men said.
“You don’t have a phone inside?” I said, pointing inside the men’s club. “We need to CALL THE POLICE.” Screaming Boyfriend had now chased Sobbing Girlfriend north across the street again, physically blocking her.
“They do this all the time. They fight. He’s a drug addict.”
You know what? FUCK THAT. My older brother was a drug addict. I was there when he shoved my mother into a table and gave her a black eye. She told me that if any of the neighbors asked what happened to her, I should lie and say she whacked herself while hanging curtains. I was 14 years old. I was there when he threw a glass plate at the wall, trying to hit my mother, and it shattered, cutting his hand. He came to my bedroom and asked me to help him clean blood off and pick out the glass. I was so scared of his anger that I didn’t know what to do but say yes. I was 16 years old. FUCK THAT.
There was a younger man around my age now standing on the corner outside a deli, watching as Screaming Boyfriend blocked the girl. I marched up to him.
“We need to call the police,” I order. “Do you have a phone?”
“I don’t,” said the guy.
“You don’t have a cell phone? You don’t have a cell phone in your pocket?”
“No, I really don’t,” he said. He turned to the guy who was working at the deli, who now stood in the door watching, too. “Hey, man, do you have a phone we can use?”
“No,” the guy said.
“You have a phone,” I said to the deli guy. “There is a phone inside. We need to call the police. I will call the police.”
“They do this all the time,” said the deli guy, shrugging. “They fight, they fight in this store …”
Then I lost it. I’m usually a quiet, level-headed and calm person even in stressful situations; I don’t yell or shout when I’m angry at all, really. But I just lost it.
“I SAW HIM JUMP ON TOP OF HER. HE IS CHASING HER AROUND THE STREET. HE IS THREATENING TO HURT HER,” I shouted at the deli guy. “IT’S CALLED DOMESTIC ABUSE. GET THE PHONE. WE ARE CALLING THE POLICE.”
“Get your phone, man,” said the random man. “I’ll call.” The deli guy went behind the counter and got the phone and brought it outside, where we all stood, watching as Sobbing Girl kept trying to walk up the street and Screaming Guy kept trying to block her. What few other bystanders were out on the street at this hour stood there and watched, although I did see one person on a bike ride up between the two and physically block them.
I stood there next to the random guy while he made the 911 call and talked to the dispatcher, feeding in his ear until he repeated it that I had seen Screaming Guy physically restrain the woman by jumping on her and chasing her across the street. “I really think it’s worth sending a squad car over,” the guy said. He hung up and handed the phone back to the deli guy. “Thank you,” I said. “Sure,” he replied.
I tried to breathe deep and calm down as I wheeled my cart back home, but I couldn’t. I felt consumed with rage — white-hot livid rage — with tears pricking my eyes. I wanted to march up to those two elderly men, who were now sitting inside the men’s club, and scream at them: What is wrong with you people?!?! What has to happen to this woman for you to intervene? But I didn’t. I carried my cart back inside my kitchen. Put my coat on. Grabbed my purse. I swallowed back the tears bubbling in my throat.
As I walked down my street again, this time headed towards Starbucks and then the subway and then work, Screaming Guy was heading towards me. This time, though, he was flanked by two adults, a man and a woman. He was still shouting like some kind of animal. The two people standing beside him looked pained.
The guy who works the deli was still standing at the corner, gawking. The police in their squad cars had arrived and were talking to Sobbing Girl.
I couldn’t help myself. “You should have called the police,” I said through gritted teeth.
“What is it going to do? They fight.”
“He could hurt her.”
The man didn’t make eye contact with me as he said this next bit: “He doesn’t hurt her. They fight.”
That’s when the tears came. I couldn’t hold them back anymore. They started pouring down my cheeks and I gulped for hair. I turned my back on this man — this piece of shit — and walked up the street. If I had continued to listen to him, I would have shouted at him again. And honestly, I don’t think there was a point.
Walking up the street, I noticed a bunch of people were out now, watching the Sobbing Girl with the cops. She appeared to be filling out paperwork of some kind. I saw the random guy who had called the cops amongst the bystanders, smoking a cigarette with a woman I assume was a girlfriend or friend.
I walked up to him, even though I was crying and probably had mascara on my cheeks. “Thank you for making that guy give you the phone and calling them,” I said, gesturing at the police. “That was fucked up.”
The two people nodded. “No problem,” said the guy. “Yeah, someone called his parents and they walked over here and got him,” the woman added. So that explained who the two adults were with him when I saw Screaming Guy on my street a second time. The woman made a face. “I don’t know why the police don’t arrest him or something. They just call his parents and he goes home with them? What’s that going to do?”
“I hope she gets him arrested,” I said. “I saw him jump on her and try to grab her and chase her across the street. It was scary. If this is what happens in the street with the neighbors watching, what happens behind closed doors?”
The woman nodded at me and shrugged, as if to say, I know, right? “She’s a young girl in love,” she said. “Or she thinks she’s in love.”
“Yeah.” I sighed. “Well, anyway, have a good day, guys.” I kept walking to Starbucks.
And I kept crying, in Starbucks and on the subway. I suddenly realized how scared as shit I had felt when I watched him roughing her up and chasing her. And I felt angry, so angry, that all of these neighbors — who were all men, I would like to note — just stood there and did nothing but stand there and watch. Maybe the guy is a drug addict and maybe they do fight all the time. That doesn’t make what happened okay. What if I had hit my snooze button until 8 a.m. like I normally do? Would anyone have called the cops? What would have happened if no one had done anything?
I’m not going to pretend I’m still not extremely upset: disappointed, angry and sad. I feel guilty for not intervening more than I did out of fear. I’m supposed to have my weekly therapist appointment this afternoon and it cannot happen soon enough.
Please, everyone. If you see domestic violence happen, please call for security or call the police and — only it is safe for you to do so — ask the victim if they need help. I believe that human beings need to know that other human beings care about their well-being, even if they are strangers.
If you have a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction, you can find support at the website for Alanon (for adults) and Alateen (for teens).