knock on wood, it's not often in nyc that i feel threatened or unsafe. for the most part everyone seems pretty normal and stable. those that don't are usually easy to steer clear of.
not so, for one of my good friends last night. now, rest assured, he made it out of the situation safely. but he and his girlfriend got accosted on the train by someone clearly on something and even more clearly looking for a fight. imagine your worst nightmare of catching a cracked-out someone's eye, having them say, "what're you looking at" and then advancing and proceeding to get in your face for the next five minutes whilst punching the subway door right above where your girlfriend is sitting, and you'll be pretty close to the exact situation that my friend found himself in.
today he is left with the feeling that he didn't act enough. but there is such a fine line between being brave and being smart. and, i think, correctly, he opted for smart and a. tried to ignore the situation, then b. got up and moved subway cars as soon as the train pulled into a station.
the whole time whilst he was telling me the story, all i could say was, didn't someone on the train do something? for it was a crowded subway car. there were plenty of people around, all watching while studiously ignoring the situation. because what is worse than witnessing someone acting like that to someone else? saying something to that person and having them spin and place their creepy/scary/aggressive/dangerous focus on you.
the confrontation lasted for about five minutes, at which point my friend said, "sir, i don't want to fight you." to which the man replied, "i wouldn't want to fight me either." and then it happened. a rather large man a few seats down stood up. that's all. he just stood up. as in, maybe i can't stop the first punch. but i'm there for you seconds later.
it made the crazy back off a little. then, luckily, the train pulled into the station, my friends got off, went onto the next car (only to be followed by the stalker), quickly stepped off again and got back on their original subway car. the train then sat stalled in the station for the next few minutes. (apparently, this was because someone else in the car went to tell the conductor what was happening).
the image of the man standing up has stayed with me. it brought tears to my eyes actually. my friend and i decided there should be a signal that we as a human collective can give in those situations. a universal sign or word (his idea was saying "support") that simply means: please, everyone stand up. it's not asking you to step in. it's very simply, very publicly saying what i'm sure all of those people on the train were feeling and thinking, but were too afraid to be the only one to say:
we are here for you.
thankfully for my friend, one man had the guts to do it yesterday. i'm not sure there's much i'd be able to do in a similar situation. blondie flaka comes to a strangers aid? or honestly if i'd risk my safety to protect a strangers.
but i like to think i'd stand up, and hope i never need to.