Sometimes a subway commute is not just observation. Sometimes you have to step in and say something.
Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. – John Stuart Mill
At around 9:15 pm on September 13th, 2016 my boyfriend, [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot], and I were coming up the stairs from the A,C,B,D downtown train platform at the 59th street Columbus circle station near the 58th street and 8th Ave exit. At the top of the stairs I saw a young woman engaged in what initially appeared to be a potentially playful encounter with a young man who looked to be in his early to mid twenties. [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot] stopped and started watching them carefully, I immediately paid more attention to what was happening because [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot] is better at sensing danger and being aware of his surroundings. As I watched it became apparent that the young man was harassing the woman. He was getting up in her face and impeding her ability to keep walking.
[She came in through the turnstiles and was heading in a diagonal trajectory towards the ramp up to the 1 train, there was some sort of incident between them, she kept walking and he followed her. He got up in her face, bodily blocked her from going up the ramp, she would go left he would immediately follow and keep talking to her, low. She kept trying to get past him and he kept blocking her and getting up close to her.]
[Brazilian Helicopter Pilot] moved forward to try to de-escalate the situation. I am unsure what was said between the three of them because I was hanging back. The woman then took the opportunity that [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot]’s distraction afforded her to hurry up the ramp and get away. The man quickly followed behind her and [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot] followed him. I didn’t want [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot] to feel like he had to stop because I was out of sight so I followed as well. The woman picked up her pace and raced to get into the train, the man rushed to try to follow her, before stopping and turning his attention to [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot].
He was angry and got up into [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot]’s personal space, staring at him. I can’t remember what he initially said, but he was getting angrier and I was concerned so I moved forward to take the attention off of [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot]. I told the man that he needed to let it go and leave. It was time to move on, let it go. He went to pull out his phone to take a picture of [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot] and I stepped in between them and said he was not allowed to do that. He said that we could leave and I knew that if we started walking away he was going to follow us and I did not want that. I told him as much and that he needed to leave first. He didn’t move, so I said to [Brazilian Helicopter Pilot] that we would walk to the nearest police station. I did not know at the time that there was one in the Columbus square station so we headed for the 58th street and 8th avenue exit. He followed us to the turnstiles, continuing to verbally harass us. We passed through the turnstile at the far left and he remained on the other side while I called 911 (9:24pm, operator ####).
He then stood behind the bars and verbally harassed and threatened us until he left at 9:38pm. The two responding officers listened to what we had to report and advised us to file a report. I thought Officer 2 was very professional, helpful, and empathetic, whereas Officer 1 told me to that the woman should have just let it go and kept going after I said that the perpetrator had said she had swore at him for cutting her off.
The text that appears between the lines is a slightly edited version of the statement that I handed in to the police last week. Officer 2 told us that in the future we should not intervene because we could be hurt ourselves, and while I understand this, as I told him:
“As a woman in New York, if this had happened to be I would have been terrified and wanted someone to step in and help me. That’s why we stepped forward.”
But of course, hours later I was sobbing into Brazilian Helicopter Pilot’s shoulder because the man had talked about his tattoos and he might have taken his picture or recorded us without our knowledge. What if he had reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife or gun instead of a phone? I would not change what we did because it ensured that woman got home safely without that man stalking her all the way, but it is terrifying all of the things that could have gone wrong and all the horrible, terrible things that he said.
I also want to reiterate that it was not her fault for swearing at the man for cutting her off. Yes it might not have been the best response, but it is no reason for him to stalk and harass her and the fact that the officer said she shouldn’t have said anything to him, really upset me. Whether or not she said or did something doesn’t matter. His response was disproportionate and dangerous. Stop fucking victim-blaming and focus instead on getting these types of people off the streets.
So please be safe.