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Brzezinski ’89 Mugged


Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty was confronted face-to-face Thursday with some of the district’s crime problems, when it turned out the host of the morning talk show he appeared on had been mugged in the city an hour earlier.

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski was mugged outside the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown at about 5 a.m. while waiting for a car to pick her up for the 6 a.m. broadcast of the show she co-hosts with Joe Scarborough, “Morning Joe.”

The anchors did not disclose on air the location or name of the hotel, and did not respond to a question via email, but Mrs. Brzezinski later told the Washington Post it was the Ritz.

Best part is Mika talking about this event giving her parents undue stress and causing them to admonish her to be more careful. What advice should I give my own daughters on the topic of mugging and city life?

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#1 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 7:56 am

Limbaugh handled this story in his usual douchebag fashion:


#2 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 8:11 am

In terms of advice, I’ve lived in marginal / gentrifying areas since I left Williams, so I have a lot of practice.

First, use common sense. Last night, for example, a woman near my block was sort of being followed by a drunk, sketchy guy. She approached me (apparently I am not threatening looking) and asked if I would walk with her for a few blocks as she didn’t want this guy to see where she lived after his behavior, even though she was just a block from her house. Smart.

Learn some krav maga or some other effective self defense with a few simple moves for countering someone who grabs you from behind or chokes you.

Always look like you are aware of your surroundings. Don’t be just staring down at a blackberry or cellphone unaware of who is walking nearby. For obsessively connected people in the young generation, this is probably the most important advice — first, because you avoid presenting an appealing item to rob, and second, of course, robbers prey on the distracted. As you are approaching your house, in particular, take care to note if anyone sketchy is close behind you / lingering near the entrance.

If you are going to get drunk late at night (not a good idea in a city in general, but it happens), make sure you take a cab right to your front door and ask the driver to stay in the area until you get inside.

Walk upright, at a steady, fast but not nervously fast pace, and maintain an air of confidence. Generally be aware of your surroundings and who is nearby and if someone looks shady, don’t stare at them but do let them see you note their presence. Don’t make yourself look like an appealing target.

If you live in or will be in a particularly bad area, this is kind of a pain, but carry an extra wallet / billfold with 20 bucks or so on you that you can either toss on the ground or hand over. Also a way to always make sure you have some cash on you which is important. Don’t keep a ton of valuables in your purse if at all possible.

If there are police who work a local beat on your block, get to know them and make sure they know you.

Oh, and if you drive, never, leave any CD’s, GPS devices or even attachments that signal you have such a device, money (even lose change), other valuables readily visible in your car once it is parked; otherwise you are just inviting a break-in.

#3 Comment By An EB Fan On December 22, 2008 @ 9:33 am

I live in Northern VA and work not too far from the Ritz, which is on 22nd St near GWU and Foggy Bottom. I walk right by it every night after work on the way to the subway. A lot of dignitaries and celebrities stay there, so there’s often very good security during the day. At night, however, that area really quiets down and doesn’t have a lot of street lights. Unlike NYC, DC isn’t a city that never sleeps. Maybe from now on Ritz security will advise guests to wait inside while they wait for their cars/taxis at night.

#4 Comment By frank uible On December 22, 2008 @ 9:58 am

Joe mugs Mika 5 days a week.

#5 Comment By hwc On December 22, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

I sent my daughter (and her roommates she walks with) a care package:

a) loud police whistles on lanyards

b) a painfully loud 130dB electric horn on a keychain. Wear it aroud your wrist, pull the pin like a grenade. Horn stars blasting. 99.9% of problems walking home from the subway could be stopped by a loud noise calling attention to the situation.

c) Purse sized spray bottles of Mace along with a couple of inert dummy bottles so they could practice on each other.

She carries the stuff. Anyone who messes with her walking in DC is going to wish they hadn’t. She did turn down my offer of a personal Taser for Christmas. Now that could be a real “make my day” moment. She decided she’s rather stop ’em at 15 feet with a shot of pepper spray to the eyes. They make tasers now that look like cell phones.

#6 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

I can vouch for HWC’s post, after being simultaneously whistled, blared at, maced, and tazed by a young lady walking on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Speaking of street hecklers, I saw one of the more entertaining ones I’ve seen (I am sure it wasn’t entertaining for the subject of his attention, but I can’t help it, it was kind of funny) on my last trip to NYC. This woman walks past and the guy says “nice shape.” She just says thanks and keeps walking. Then, he stands there and shouts after her about five times as she continues to walk away “keep up the good work!” at an escalating decibal level. Bizarre.

#7 Comment By hwc On December 22, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

I can vouch for HWC’s post, after being simultaneously whistled, blared at, maced, and tazed by a young lady walking on Pennsylvania Avenue.

And that was just your girlfriend, right?

Seriously though. A $3.95 police whistle would stop almost every annoying situation. Virtually all incidents are crimes of opportunity and the last thing the perp wants to attract attention. Mika’s mugger would have run.

The most annoying thing my daughter and her friends have had to adjust to in DC is the social norm in some communities for males on the street or in passing cars to hoot and holler at every woman they see. It took a while for her to figure out that it was more pathetic and stupid than threatening.

#8 Comment By frank uible On December 22, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

More evidence that our society ain’t what it used to be.

#9 Comment By Ronit On December 22, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

I live in Brooklyn and work in midtown. Yuppies and rural tourists scare me more than muggers and junkies.

However, on the odd occasion when some clearly drunk/drug-addled person gets on the subway and starts shouting incoherently, I usually get off at the next stop and move to an adjacent car. I do usually have some mechanism on hand to defend myself, but have never had occasion to make use of anything more dangerous than body language.

Most of the time, though, I feel quite safe in the city.

I don’t have any problem with people carrying tasers or mace if it makes them feel safer, but I do feel an instant dislike for people who come to NYC and immediately start worrying about their safety, because they remember hearing about crime in New York in the 1980s and haven’t actually learned anything new since then. One guaranteed way to earn my lasting dislike is to take a cab because you “don’t feel safe” on the NYC subway.

I’ve found this to be common, not only with tourists, but with out-of-towners who go to college in the big city but almost never set foot outside of campus and a few yuppie enclaves (ie, Columbia students who never set foot in Harlem). Fact is, New York is one of the safest large cities in the country. You can go pretty much anywhere in the city in safety, as long as you practice some common sense.

So, David, my main response to your question “What advice should I give my own daughters on the topic of mugging and city life?” is this: go outside and enjoy city life. Spend time in the parks and libraries, go to concerts, explore bars and restaurants, and take public transit because it’s both cheap and green. Whatever you do, don’t stay in your sheltered all-white neighborhoods trembling in fear of the other. Your chances of being mugged are considerably lower than your chances of missing out on the main current of life if you choose to be afraid.

(I should note that I spent 4 months teaching in the Anacostia region of DC while living near Rhode Island Ave. NE… and, although I followed some commonsense rules about when and where not to go during nighttime, not once did either of those neighborhoods give me any reason to feel fear. The most terrifying experience I had in DC was due to Capitol Police, who were about one step away from apprehending me as a terrorist suspect, for the crime of being foreign looking while near Capitol Hill. They were, in reality, far more likely to do real damage to myself than any number of normal citizens.)

#10 Comment By Ronit On December 22, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

frank uible – Are you suggesting that muggings were less likely in DC, say 30-40 years ago? Because that’s not even remotely true. If it “ain’t what it used to be”, it’s because big cities now are safer by an order of magnitude than how they “used to be”.

#11 Comment By Aidan On December 22, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

NYC is a lot safter than DC, Ronit.

#12 Comment By Aidan On December 22, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

er, safer

#13 Comment By Ronit On December 22, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

Aidan – agreed, but I had a rant all ready to go and it seemed relevant to DK’s question about “big cities”.

#14 Comment By frank uible On December 22, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

When I was 6 years old in 1941 my mother not infrequently would turn me alone over to the trolley conductor at the stop near our house, he would hand me off to another conductor as I changed cars some 5 miles further along the line, and I would meet my cousin another 5 miles further at the stop near my grandmother’s house – all without incident. Today one would be foolish to engage in such action in that city or any of the dozens of major American cities like it.

#15 Comment By Ronit On December 22, 2008 @ 2:20 pm

Frank – http://www.nysun.com/news/why-i-let-my-9-year-old-ride-subway-alone

(I’m not great with judging kids’ ages, but I think kids aged 12 and older ride alone all the time)

If kids are less independent now, it’s at least partly the fault of overprotective parents.

#16 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

Ronit, believe me, D.C. is not safe. I have never been mugged in my three years here, but then again, I am 6’3, 215, male, a 12 year city dweller who is very aware of people around me (I do have a Jewish mother after all), and in my early 30’s, so I’m not exactly a prime target. But I’ve heard a lot of examples of all sorts of people being victimized in many different parts of D.C. Not to mention the odds of being caught in the cross-fire of the various gang wars happening at any given time, which are largely responsible for the 500 plus homicides per year in this city (which by population is not an enormous city). At least where I live, murders are never surprising to hear about (far more surprising if 4-5 months go by without a murder), and I am hardly in Anacostia. Tourists and yuppies may be annoying, but I’d much rather take my chances with them than the local teenagers who run amock robbing people at gunpoint, throwing bricks and blocks of concrete at passing bicyclists, knifing each other on the metro, and the various other crimes of violence that happen on a daily basis in this city. At least so far as DC is concerned, there is no need to make someone overly paranoid to the point where they never leave their door, but your flippancy is the other extreme and is not an accurate depiction of this city, even if you were lucky enough not to be targetted during your relatively brief sojourn here. IF I had a young daughter living here I’d sure as hell encourage her to take the steps outlined in this thread to protect herself.

That being said, DC is a hell of a lot better than it was a decade ago, and 20-30 years ago, half of the city (including some areas that are now totally gentrified) was a war zone.

#17 Comment By PTC On December 22, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

What advice should I give my own daughters on the topic of mugging and city life?

Two words. Smith and Wesson.

#18 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

The odds of (a) shooting yourself accidentally (b) inspiring a panicked mugger to take more violent action than they ordinarily would are far higher, I’d suggest, than the odds of successfully protecting yourself against a mugger by being able to pull out and employ a gun in timely fashion. I mean, if someone pulls a knife or a gun on you, the odds are you won’t have time to reach for yours, and if you pull your gun out any time you see someone who looks suspicious, the odds are one of them will beat you to the punch out of sheer panic. I think any of the devices HWC suggests are equally or more effective and a loss less dangerous.

#19 Comment By PTC On December 22, 2008 @ 4:18 pm

JeffZ- That depends on how well a person is trained actually. If you teach your daughters how to shoot a pistol well, and they practice pulling one from a concealed location and using it, then they will beat the mugger almost everytime. Remember, it is about who moves with the intent to shoot first, more than it is about who has the weapon out first, skill levels being equal.

I used to check pistols all the time when I worked at JPs in Burlington. Vermont is the only state in the union where a person can carry a concealed firearm without a permit… most of the people I put guns up for were women. They normally carried snub nose .38 in their purses. It is not uncommon for women to carry firearms. That has a lot to do with why concealed carry laws exist.

At any rate, it is definitely a good idea to teach young people how to use a firearm in our society. The chances of a person encountering a gun at some point in their life are pretty high. It is a viable option to the question posed by David, although I will admit, my response was in the vain of the belligerent American NRA type… which I meant as a joke. But I am deadly serious about firearms being a viable option, especially for women living in or traveling through bad neighborhoods.

#20 Comment By Another ’05 Eph On December 22, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

I’m always troubled by the way these discussions go, because really what David is asking is “How should women [his daughters] be restricted because it is the responsibility of potential victims to avoid being victimized. That’s the lesson that we teach girls every time we send them to a self-defense class and give them a can of mace. What’s even more twisted is the lesson you send when you give someone a whistle: carry this, because if you call for help, no one will pay attention to you.

I have no quarrel with using common sense, and most of Jeff’s suggestions are sensible and apply to all genders. I would modify the taxi suggestion (drunk or not) to make sure that it is a licensed taxi (most major cities have a medallion system), has all the proper insignia and posted info, and note that the back seat has functioning door handles on both sides.

I would tend to agree with Ronit on this one. Yes, Jeff, DC has a lot of gang violence and homicides. As with most major cities, though, if you map the homicides, they are typically confined to a scattering of certain areas and you’re most likely to be a victim of street violence if you’re a black male under 25, which is a separate tragedy.

I wonder, David, if you would have asked for the same advice if you had two sons?

#21 Comment By PTC On December 22, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

Another- That is one of the beautiful things about my suggestion of carrying a gun. It works for everyone… and you do not need anyones help if you are forced to use it.

Guns give women freedom. Freedom to tell scumbag boyfriends, psycho stalkers and abusive husbands to pack sand… freedom to walk any street they want at night. That is why so many women carry concealed pistols.

#22 Comment By Another ’05 Eph On December 22, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

I missed PTC’s comment, and I find this genuinely appalling: “But I am deadly serious about firearms being a viable option, especially for women living in or traveling through bad neighborhoods.”

All of these tips are not really about mugging. Mugging is a real drag…you lose some money, probably an iPod and phone, maybe some credit cards. The bottom line conventional wisdom is that if you are mugged, you should just give up your stuff, because it’s not worth the trouble to fight someone over small electronics and cash. If you do what you’re supposed to and have your account information at home, then it’s relatively easy to cancel them before any real trouble happens.

What the coded discussion is here is not about mugging…it has a subtext of women having to protect themselves from sexual violence and PTC’s comment has coded overtones of race as well.

When you say “bad neighborhoods,” I assume you mean neighborhoods where there are high concentrations of street violence (which are not necessarily the same neighborhoods with high concentrations of muggings or car thefts or the like), as opposed to say, neighborhoods where people oppose clotheslines and have large carbon footprints.

It didn’t sound like you meant that the women who live in those neighborhoods should be packing heat, otherwise you would have said “women should carry guns all the time.” So what I hear in that phrase is the tired myth about women (especially white ones) having to protect themselves from crazed men (especially non-white ones).

There is a wealth of data, all of which I’ve presented in other posts, that the majority of crimes against women (not just sexual violence but also homicide) are committed by non-strangers and especially by intimate partners. If you honestly believe that the average person is likely to draw down on a current or former intimate partner, then I have some land in the Everglades I’d like to sell you.

You know what really gives women and communities freedom? Everyone taking violence against women and violence of all kinds seriously and handling it in a way that prevents it, rather than advocating additional violence.

#23 Comment By Ronit On December 22, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

Another ’05 Eph – speaking of racial code, I found this from hwc particularly egregious:

The most annoying thing my daughter and her friends have had to adjust to in DC is the social norm in some communities for males on the street or in passing cars to hoot and holler at every woman they see

I don’t think there is a single “community” in the United States where it is a “norm” to harass women. Yes, members of various communities do harass women, but that does not mean harassment is somehow approved of in said communities. The fact that hwc thinks that these are social norms in certain “communities” tells us more about him than anything else.

#24 Comment By Another ’05 Eph On December 22, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

Actually, Ronit, I would say that it’s the opposite…harassment of women is ubiquitous in American culture, but it takes different forms and depends whether we choose to see it or not.

I, and most other women I know, have been hollered at on the street, and ogled in 4-star restaurants and in work settings, and it is equally egregious and unacceptable in any of them.

#25 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

A lot to comment on here. First, I stand by my characterization of D.C. It is true that most (but not all) of the murders involve retribution of one sort or another in the gang violence context. But I know of MANY people just minding their own who have been pistol whipped during a mugging, held up with a knife, etc., not to mention people who had had bricks or rocks thrown at them or attacked by gangs of young people for sport. Add in property crimes like car break-ins and home robberies / vandalism, and I am confident that the vast majority of long-term (10 years or longer) D.C. residents, outside of upper NW across rock creek park, have at one point been a crime victim. If I thought it was extraordinarily dangerous, I obviously would not choose to live here or in particular in the fairly high-crime neighborhood I live in, but I just think people who want to inform their kids about how to deal with crime should in any way be discouraged, or that the problem should be seen as trivial.

Second, another ’05 Eph, I understand what you are getting at to a point, but at the same time, you are being way too P.C. I’m sorry but, there is a cultural / racial / economic component to certainly types of crime or harassment against women. For example, there is no doubt that, in D.C., intense street harassment is FAR more prevalent from certain ethnic groups. I know some women who studiously avoid certain blocks with a high concentration of certain ethnicities for that reason, and I don’t consider them racist for doing so. Also, these are two types of issues we are talking about. Of course date / acquaintance rape is a huge problem, but it is a separate problem with separate prevantative measures / solutions. I am sure David is not trying to minimize or somehow ignore that epidemic. His query, and our responses, were generated in the context of a random street crime. David happens to have daughters; I think you are reading wayyyyy too much context into the discussion we are having.

But at the same time, while my suggestions certainly apply to both genders, I do think women should be particularly careful — first, because they ON the average are smaller, less physically imposing, and probably more inviting targets than many men, and second, because the stakes are higher — for most men, the worst thing that can happen in most cases is a knock on the noggin and wallet being lost; for women, the worst case scenario is far worse. I mean, sometimes generalizations are OK — for example, I am comfortable generalization that almost all random street crime is perpetrated by men — everyone knows this, there is nothing wrong with saying it.

Again, the acquaintance assaualts you are concerned with are huge problems, and not ones I (or anyone here, I’d suggest) are minimizing. We are just talking, in the context of this thread, about random street crime and the best way to prevent that if you live in a city, particularly a marginal area of a city.

#26 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 5:14 pm

Oh, and I found your “carbon footprint” comment particularly laughable. I understand, again, what you are getting at. But PTC, nor anyone else who warns people to be especially vigilant / careful when walking around a “bad neighborhood,” is making an absolute moral judgment on the total social impact of the residents of that neighborhood. But the odds of something bad happening to you walking around, say, Trinidad (a rough ‘hood in D.C.) at 2 a.m. are, factually speaking, a hell of a lot worse than walking about someplace with a high carbon footprint, say, a mcmansion neighborhood in McLean. You have to be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are relatively new to city life. And you have to be aware of people around you. If I see a guy in a nicely pressed suit and carrying a briefcase (whatever his race may be), I am going to be a lot less worried than if I see a group of 18 year-olds dressed in dark jeans and white t-shirts. And I make no apologies for that judgment. Nor to I apologize for feeling more threatened by men on the street than I am by women — I have basically never heard of a street hold up perpetrated by a woman (not saying it never happens, but it is incredibly, incredibly rare). Again, if you live in cities, you learn certain cues about which people you have to be careful around. Unfortunately race does get tied into that at times, and that sucks, but if you ask elderly black residents of D.C. vs. say, young white residents (and I have seen surveys backing this up) they will make the exact same judgments about the sort of people who worry them during a random street encounter. The big difference: how different races view the police, and for good reason.

#27 Comment By Another ’05 Eph On December 22, 2008 @ 5:22 pm

Jeff, I live in a marginal area of a large northeastern city, and was actually recently the victim of both a car break-in and the theft of my iPod from out of my gym locker while I was drying my hair, so now would be an excellent time to ease off the condescension.

This has nothing to do with political correctness. David asked for pointers to give his daughters about avoiding a mugging. Most of the advice that the (male) authors posted was gendered and not really calibrated toward muggings. PTC’s comments took this thread solidly in another direction, and as someone who works in violence prevention, it was important to call out the undertones in those comments.

The advice to carry guns, mace, and whistles is not directed at men and is not really about mugging. All of the best anti-mugging programs (e.g. IMPACT) see fighting as a last resort and teach primarily verbal de-escalation.

I said repeatedly that I had no problem with common sense advice to be aware of one’s surroundings and to not invite trouble, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area. What I have a real problem with is how quickly this conversation became about things other than mugging.

Perhaps I should start a thread about whether any Ephs or Eph-related foundations were caught up in the Madoff Ponzi scheme and ask for advice on how to be bilked out of all my money by guys in nicely pressed suits…

#28 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

In case one comment on that thread was unclear, a lot of criminals / drug dealers / gang members will dress in dark jeans and white t-shirts so that they are harder for victims and witnesses to identify / distinguish (sort of a street criminal uniform of sorts), and a lot of kids trying to look hard — who will at times act accordingly for a variety of reasons –mimic that attire.

#29 Comment By rory On December 22, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

here’s a tip that doesn’t involve guns or mace or anything:

get to know the people you live or work near. create a social network. you know who gets randomly mugged? someone who looks random in a location. Someone who–if mugged or attacked–won’t get the whole neighborhood mad about it (as most crime is done in a neighborhood the “criminal” knows well). It’s why college students are so often targeted–they’re transient, and most of the time, the neighborhood has some real beef with the college/university and feels little empathy with the (assumed to be) rich white victim (who, of course, might not be so).

another makes very good points about the subtext of “protect thyself!” advice. It is an interesting thing to consider, don’t disregard too quickly just because it isn’t quite as atomistic and simple as the other advice offered. And no, Jeff, the query would most assuredly be different if David had two sons.

and if it takes packing heat for a woman to walk the street, i’m pretty sure i myself, probably need protection in those locales too.

#30 Comment By PTC On December 22, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

To all concerned-

I suggest you read what I have written again, without your own personal spin and bias. The example I give of women carrying hand guns to defend themselves is one of women carrying concealed pistols in a town in Vermont. Not exactly the urban “non white” center of our universe folks. What I wrote and will repeat, is that hand guns are a viable defense for anyone wishing to halt violence against their person… notice the examples I give again… psycho stalkers, scumbag boyfriends and abusive husbands… none of which suggest race at all.

Now I admit, that some of what I write about violence is a bit glib, because I have a rather odd and jaded view on the normalcy of violence in my life. You do not have to excuse my lack of sensitivity on the issue of violence in general…that is fair enough- so I will apologize for that. However, suggesting that what I wrote carries some kind of racial code… well.. that is how you choose to read me, not what I wrote. Not unless you think everyone is in an interracial relationship, or in fear of being mugged by a person of color in Burlington Vermont.

#31 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 5:32 pm

I’d say it was you who introduced the condescension into the thread. But congratulations on being a crime victim.

While I disagree with PTC’s advice, as I stated earlier, I think it was an honest, good-faith opinion about one way to stop muggings. You may disagree with him (as I did) but to start accusing people of all of sorts of hidden agendas and biases simply because they advocate using hand-guns as a self-defense mechanism (and I’m pretty damn confident PTC would not limit that advice to women alone) I think is simply wrong.

Feel free to start the thread. I am the LAST person on Ephblog to say that crimes committed by urban minorities are somehow worse than crimes committed by white investment bankers. I am not a fan of any crime — hence why I’m a prosecutor. And the type of crime I prosecute now, by the way, is generally perpetrated by white suburban males. I just can’t stand when people get all indignant about urban crime prevention discussions (and this one has been pretty tame and inoffensive as far as I can see, certainly moresoe than on many DC area blogs when this inevitably comes up) and immediately jump to “well there are lots of other horrible things happening in the world.” Yes, there are. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about street violence as well. But by all means, start a thread about date rape or Michael Milken. Those are horrible things as well, you’ll get no argument here.

#32 Comment By Ronit On December 22, 2008 @ 5:36 pm

Another ’05 Eph – I understand what you’re saying. I am not denying the fact that harassment is ubiquitous, nor that it might be more overt in some areas (construction sites, corporate boardrooms, boot camp) than in others. I was merely objecting to the statement that it is “normative” to harass in certain communities (but not, by implication, others). Even in the communities with the highest rates of crime and violence, crime and violence are usually not normative.

rory – I think you’re right about social networks. The reason why I never felt threatened in Anacostia had something to do with my observance of certain restrictions on nighttime walking-around, but probably much more to do with the fact that I was teaching people who lived in the neighborhood, and usually ran into 2 or 3 of my students whenever I went outside. When I did get accosted, it was usually by students looking for help rather than by muggers.

#33 Comment By rory On December 22, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

PTC–none of your rural examples had anything to do with the original point of the thread about muggings in the city. So the apparent logic was mugging:david’s daughters:women protecting selves.

so gender clearly played a role. as for race, that’s covered in the code of “bad neighborhood”. Fun sociology fact: when two groups of individuals are shown the same neighborhood and group A sees white people in it and group B sees black people in it (same storefronts, same cars, etc.), guess which group calls it “bad” and which doesn’t.

and i HATE when people say “read this without your bias”. There is such a great amount of privilege in that sentence. There is an assumption that the other is biased and spinning things but that you’ve done no such thing. I suggest that next time, you consider the diversity of your audience before writing and perhaps you’ll not get the same reaction. It’s quite insulting and condescending to assume that others are only opposed to your views because of their “bias” and “spin”.

#34 Comment By Another ’05 Eph On December 22, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

Thank you for that point on community connectedness, Rory. I meant to say that, but then got distracted. My bad.

#35 Comment By PTC On December 22, 2008 @ 5:44 pm

You guys have to hand pick, and then read into, one example out of four that I give to come up with race, when the other three suggest otherwise. I am just saying…

#36 Comment By Ronit On December 22, 2008 @ 5:50 pm

I know some women who studiously avoid certain blocks with a high concentration of certain ethnicities for that reason

Personally, I feel safest around the Senegalese, Mexicans, Phillipinos, Bangladeshis, Poles, Nepalese, and Vietnamese, while I studiously avoid any area with a high concentration of Koreans, Turks, Malinese, El Salvadorians, Biafrans, Thais, or Ukrainians. And the Dutch, of course. Goddamn Dutch.

Feel free to add your own prejudices to the list.

EDIT: Sorry about the flippancy, Jeff, but I really think crime has more to do with contexts and specific social dynamics in specific neighborhoods than with “ethnicity”.

#37 Comment By rory On December 22, 2008 @ 5:55 pm


please, let’s not do this. there’s a clear subtext to the term “bad neighborhoods” (and again, in those neighborhoods, the large majority of people are law abiding. basically, “bad neighborhood” = working class and non-white and urban to most people). Now, I’m confident you did not mean anything racist by that term, but the term is an overgeneralization, poorly constructed, and has been used to explain away an urban policy of malignant neglect for decades. Again, while you might have not meant anything, there’s a history behind that term and it’s a term that is self-fulfilling to an extent. Perhaps you’ll avoid the term in the future and more carefully construct your description of where one should or should not need to carry a gun for protection in your point of view?

#38 Comment By frank uible On December 22, 2008 @ 5:55 pm

Ronit: Hell, when my brother was ten in 1952 he traveled alone by train from Cleveland to St. Louis (where he knew nobody and was to be picked up by a contact whom neither he nor any other member of his family had ever met) and return. In 1953 he peddled his way into the heart of the city’s ghetto to try out without invitation for an organized baseball team comprised entirely of negroes, none of whom he knew. The first day the kids there started by calling him “Whitey”, and the next day and thereafter they called him “Mickey Mantle” since he became their pitcher and cleanup hitter.

#39 Comment By hwc On December 22, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

There was nothing “gender” specific about the care package of basic self-defense items I ordered for my daughter. She lives with both male and female roomates. I sent enough whistles for everyone. I sent mace for my daughter and the roommate she most often walks with (a male). If I lived in her neighborhood, I’d put a cannister of mace on my key chain and would have some way of making a lot of noise.

The care package was just a few bucks. I was mostly trying to get them to think about their options and decide what commonsense approaches they wanted to carry.

I’m not terribly worried. The murders in the city are almost all drug related. The odds of getting caught in the crossfire (even if it’s your neighbors killing each other) are pretty slim). The muggings are so random that it’s like worrying about getting hit by a meteor. I just wanted her to be able to deal with the situation of someone following her from subway station.

#40 Comment By hwc On December 22, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

Personally, I feel safest around the Senegalese, Mexicans, Phillipinos, Bangladeshis, Poles, Nepalese, and Vietnamese,

That’s good to know. I’ll tell my daughter not to worry about it the next time a carload of Nepalese guys start shouting at her on Georgia Avenue.

#41 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

OK, maybe ethnicities was the wrong term. But can we all agree that different CULTURES have different norms when it comes to how men act towards women? I mean, have you ever had any female friends who studied abroad in Italy? Or on a more extreme level, how women are treated in some Middle Eastern countries? All I can say is, there are certain cultures in which yelling at / randomly approaching women is more (or less) acceptable / normal than others (in fact, when this topic comes up in my community, that is the DEFENSE offered by those who tend to be in the Rory camp on most such neighborhood discussions, when women get fed up with the catcalling that is prevalent among certain cultures or ethnicities or whatever it is (this isn’t really my area), but which they are able to identify readily based on repeated experiences).

#42 Comment By rory On December 22, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

wait…i have a camp now? i didn’t even say a word about the catcalling (btw, i find that to be more of a class culture than a ethnic/racial culture in the US)…

#43 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

And Rory, really? We can’t call a neighborhood that features an abnormally high crime rate for its viscinity a “bad neighborhood” anymore? That’s how I would define it, at least. Is “dangerous neighborhood” a better term of art? I’ll happily employ that in the future if that is less loaded.

#44 Comment By PTC On December 22, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

Ok. Just so we are clear. I advocate the legal carrying of hand guns for the self defense of all those who so desire… regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender.

#45 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 6:46 pm

These discussions, when they occur on local blogs, tend to degrade quickly into a “these frigging criminals and low lifes suck and are destroying opportunities for law abiding members of their communities and have no hope let’s throw em all in jail” vs. a “these people are a product of their environment and limited opportunities and prejudice and we need to reach out with a loving hand” sort of debates. I would imagine you, generally, in the latter camp. I try to take a middle ground, but usually the voices on both ends are just so extreme and insanely biased (not that I include you in that!) that I end up taking turns arguing against each.

#46 Comment By rory On December 22, 2008 @ 6:47 pm


swing and a miss two. suffice to say, it’s a more complicated picture than “bad” and “good” neighborhoods. defining a “neighborhood” by crime is a bad way to describe a neighborhood. defining it in a way that lends moral judgement on the neighborhood particularly so.

call it what you will (I admit, i can’t come up with a good alternative shorthand, but i’m not sure that’s my duty here…anyway)–but know the subtext of the terms you use.

and hwc’s got it right (although I’d add the “know your neighbors” approach also). talk about a weird thread…lol :)

#47 Comment By Mike On December 22, 2008 @ 7:03 pm

Um, just glanced at the 46 comments to this point, but is nobody else blown away by the anchor’s defense of the mugger?

He “probably just needed the money”?

“These are desperate times”?

Seriously? I mean, I’ve read a lot about NYC in its crime-ridden days and know people say this type of acceptance of crime used to be commonplace, but as somebody who has lived his “aware of the world around me” life post-NYC renaissance, I am blown-away by these comments.

#48 Comment By JeffZ On December 22, 2008 @ 7:03 pm

OK I’ll go with “the neighborhoods formerly known as bad neighborhoods” or TNFKABN for short. I guess this is one we are going to see differently. If I had teenage kids, I’d feel totally comfortable telling them to be extra vigilant in dangerous neighborhoods, even if by doing so, I hurt the feelings of said neighborhoods.

#49 Comment By nuts On December 22, 2008 @ 7:53 pm

Erins report to Joe and Mika that auto bridge loan requirements are likely to strip GM common stock of all value.

Cerebrus investors seems to be getting the best end of this government intervention, after a debate that is sadly misinformed with regard to worker compensation and managements’ culpability for the companies financial viability. Foreign transplants are facing the same sales and revenue problems.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTXj2MoXCfw Starts at 2:06

#50 Comment By sophmom On December 22, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

Frank @38:

That’s a great story. What inspired your brother to do that? Were there no teams in his own neighborhood? Talk about moxie! Did he continue playing baseball as he got older?

When I first arrived in NY in my 20’s, I fell, hook, line and sinker, for an old scam. I had just used an ATM (broad daylight, right around Times Square), and as I was putting my cash away, I was approached by a small (seemingly harmless), older gentleman, nattily dressed, fedora included. He gave me the story of how he had lost his wallet and didn’t have a penny to get himself home, and could I just loan him the price of the bus ticket, (I believe it was about 27 bucks) and he would mail me the reimbursement as soon as he got safely back? Of course, I gave him the money, along with my address, and of course, I never received the payback. The interesting thing was, how he pegged me. It must have been the bright green glow I had about me…

#51 Comment By sophmom On December 22, 2008 @ 9:28 pm

P.S. I meant to preface my story with something like ‘Speaking of victimization, and New York in the late 70’s, early 80’s…’

#52 Comment By frank uible On December 22, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

sophmom: Needless to say you would need a lot of the background concerning my brother’s life to appreciate those tales fully. Suffice it that he was raised to have a great deal of confidence in and courage about his not inconsiderable physical, mental and psychic qualities, it not being clear whether his qualities were formed by the circumstances in which he found himself on a daily basis or his inherent qualities merely took advantage of those circumstances – probably some of each.

#53 Comment By frank uible On December 22, 2008 @ 10:37 pm

sophmom: To more completely answer he was foreclosed from playing closer to home at that time, and he continued to play competitive, organized amateur baseball well into his late 50s. Those who have known him expect that he ultimately would have played major league baseball but for a serious football injury which he incurred in college.

#54 Comment By sophmom On December 22, 2008 @ 11:32 pm


I’d love to know more. Was he excluded from his neighborhood team? If so, why?

#55 Comment By frank uible On December 23, 2008 @ 1:50 am

No – he returned home from baseball summer camp in the Ozarks and found that in late June or early July all of the teams located close to home were fully subscribed. Consequently he sought out a team located at a further distance (perhaps 3 miles).

#56 Comment By K.G.A. On December 24, 2008 @ 9:24 am

Rory says get to know the people you live or work near. create a social network. you know who gets randomly mugged? someone who looks random in a location. Someone who–if mugged or attacked–won’t get the whole neighborhood mad about it (as most crime is done in a neighborhood the “criminal” knows well).

There’s merit to knowing ones neighbors and becoming involved in a community, but I don’t see how this makes much of a difference in staying safe.

I live in DC, on the edge of Adams-Morgan. My neighborhood’s seen a recent jump in robberies, random beatings, and gang-related assaults. It affects visitors and long-term residents alike. As I understand it (from neighbors, our Advisory Neighborhood Commission representatives, and police blotters), most of the muggers and thugs don’t even come from this neighborhood. They live ten-fifteen blocks away, or even travel in from outside the District looking for trouble. The gang members, I’ll grant, are more local.

It’s a big city and a diverse neighborhood. I don’t see many people who look out of place here, other than the drunk frat kids wearing University of Maryland sweatshirts.

And how does knowing my neighborhood help outside of my neighborhood?

#57 Comment By PTC On December 24, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

K.G.A- If you could legally carry a concealed pistol in DC- would you? Do you think that an armed law abiding public would help deter crime in the city? The “bad guys” are already carrying illegally. DC has some really strict gun laws, and it took a SCOTUS ruling to even allow people to legally have firearms in their homes.

#58 Comment By rory On December 24, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

you’re extrapolating from the specific (adams-morgan) to the general (what generally helps prevent crime). Gentrifying and trendy neighborhoods (like adams-morgan or, in my city, northern liberties or fishtown) get more crime like you talk about that is not connected to people in the neighborhood.

no preventative effort is 100% effective. perhaps in adams-morgan, it isn’t quite so useful as it is in other neighborhoods. but in general, it’s a good strategy to follow. my advice doesn’t have to be universally valuable to be helpful.

i mean, having a whistle or a gun isn’t 100% protective either…

#59 Comment By K.G.A. On December 24, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

PTC: would I carry a concealed gun, if I could do so lawfully? Personally, no; I don’t see the threat, or the likelihood that I’d need to use lethal force to help someone else, as worth the burdens – both the ethical/legal burdens and the pragmatic need to keep a few pounds of weapon safe, clean, and accessible. Also, I can get hot-headed in threatening situations and wouldn’t trust myself with the ability to kill easily.

I’m a sort of ambivalent libertarian when it comes to gun rights. I can see both sides of the 2nd Amendment argument, but I’m less moved by the principled arguments than by the fact that the US has been awash in guns ever since the 1860s. I don’t know that an armed public would make much of a difference either way. I care more about a working drug policy, investment in cities and education, and well-funded police forces.

Rory, I recognize that knowing and being-known help with crime. Nevertheless, the ability to get lost in the crowd is a defining characteristic of a city.

Talking of specific cases, I should note that it’s not accurate to talk about “gentrification” and Adams-Morgan – this place, unlike the adjacent neighborhoods, did *not* burn to the ground in 1968, and retained a mixed-class, mixed-race population.

As practical advice, I’d add that high-powered flashlights have a place in any self-defense strategy, from deterrence to concealed carry. The big-name brand is Surefire, but there are plenty of others. Also, these flashlights help when trying to negotiate crosswalks at night. I realized recently that some suddenly-repentant drivers think I’m a cop about to demand their license….

#60 Comment By hwc On December 25, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

Passive voice correction:

No neighborhoods in Washington just happened to burn to the ground. The inhabitants of neighborhoods along U, 14th, Georgia, and H Streets willfully and intentionally burned their own neighborhoods to the ground.

Blame somebody else for not caring enough to clear the rubble, but the blame for the destruction of those neighborhoods needs to placed where it belongs.

#61 Comment By Ronit On December 25, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

Nothing says Merry Christmas like dredging up boomer resentments and assigning collective guilt. Ah, the smell of red herrings roasting over an open fire.

#62 Comment By Jonathan ’05 On December 27, 2008 @ 12:47 am

Sophmom, when I was a student in Manhattan I got taken by the same scam. Fortunately for me, I was about 15 and carried no more than 7 dollars. It was a cheap lesson, I suppose; I’d surely have lost more years later when in college someone approached me with the same story.

Another time, maybe, I’ll comment on Rory’s valuing of sociologist-approved worldviews and undertone-cleansed language over the common person’s ability to warn others of real danger. But, before he spoke, if I had wanted to write a parody of sociology I’d have a sociologist instruct others that “bad neighborhood” was verboten terminology. Phew.

#63 Comment By Dick Swart On December 27, 2008 @ 5:06 am

In the fall of 1956, I was starting my first real job in the training program at BBDO. After getting off the subway at Grand Central, I was approached by the same man as described many times above (although he was much younger then). Six was the number. A friend later told me the magic words: “Sorry, Buddy, can’t help you now”.

A friend in London tells me his magic words are : “Get a job!”.

#64 Comment By PTC On December 27, 2008 @ 8:42 am

Jonathan- When people read code in other peoples language it gives them the ability to disregard any argument “they” make. The critics here are basically stating that because I am not learned enough to understand the code, that I am either some kind of sexist bigot, or that I am an ignorant who should aspire to be more learned in better and more appropriate forms of “our” language. Langauge approved by “them” for sensitivity. If I do not meet their demands for political correctness, I am not to be taken seriously. The fact that I have the stones to ask for my language to be read plainly (without the “codes”) is all the more offensive.

This type of censorship sets up an odd dichotomy because the very people who would claim to be inclusive (the well educated sociology types) shut out the masses when they have a conversation. “They” are guilty of the worst form of “elitism” (read the code) because no one else can speak without triggering some kind of “obvious” code.

Can you imagine the codes “we” can get from black people living in Compton? How about the codes we can get from white men in the rural south? A veteran returning from harsh combat… plenty of code there as well… I would imagine. But wait, we can include some of “them” into our reality because their code is less offensive (because we say so)… but not really include “them” because none of “them” are really worthy to have a seat at “our” table until they learn the “correct” language (by going to a place like Williams). It’s BS.

“Bad neighborhood” is now terminology that really means “urban minority code spoken by an ignorant racist”. Who knew?

Suggesting women carry a gun to protect themselves from domestic violence and abusive men is really “male chauvinist pig” code. Who knew? What am I now, the “Townie Taliban.”

Man- we could have a lot of fun with this! Just think about all the ways we can place hidden meanings into other peoples language so that we completely control every conversation… oh us, the great learned ones!

I would point out that there is a big difference between exploration and accusation when we deal with subjects like this… but what the hell… you all are a bunch of elitist snobs!!! Now run back to your ivory towers! This townie has now defined you! Tonwie power!

I am pretty sure all of this relates to how John Kerry lost an election….

#65 Comment By Soph Mom On December 27, 2008 @ 9:36 am

Re #62 & 63:

I think there are a lot of people practicing this con. It happened to my husband several years before it happened to me, and in his case, the guy was a cleancut, preppily dressed young man down by Wall Street. The common denominator was that my husband was ‘fresh off the bus’ as well. There must be a wide-eyed look of wonder that pegs the new Manhattan arrival.

I have to say, I think I get what Rory is trying to explain. I can’t quite wrap it up into a neat little package, but perhaps I can help illustrate it by virtue of my own experiences (and those of family and friends) with crime.

I have been robbed once (by someone who had permission to be inside my home). I have witnessed two muggings (both in the “upscale” city neighborhood I was living in at the time). My mom was mugged (in an even “more upscale” neighborhood). I once witnessed pickpockets ‘working a bus’. I know someone who was raped in her own home. None of these crimes happened in a ‘bad neighborhood’. So, really, my experience is such that ‘being prepared’ for it, has less to do with where I am, and more to do with a combination of circumstances. I realize that there are neighborhoods in which there is a higher likelihood of crime, which IMO, has to do with a higher concentration of the factors that invite/create/encourage crime. I also believe that the specific crimes that are more likely to be perpetrated against me in a neighborhood like that, have much to do with things I can’t readily control, but perhaps a little to do with factors I can help determine, like my body language, my familiarity, how much I appear ‘random’ or not.

So, really, my preparedness has more to do with recognizing the likelihood and concentration of factors and circumstances particular to me and where I am, than ‘good’ or bad’ neighborhoods.

By the same token, expecting crime to not happen because of where you are, is not only naive, it can exhibit an outlook of ‘privilege’. The mock outrage that Joe and Pat display, at the fact that Mika was mugged in a ‘good’ neighborhood, shows the same lack of understanding and signs of entitlement, as expecting more crime to happen to them in a ‘bad’ neighborhood. It is also impossible to get past the language of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but it is loaded, IMO.

All that said, I think much of the advice here is really good. I also have to say, that when it comes to sensing danger, I rely a lot on intuition, and as much of an awareness of myself and how I fit in, as to others, and my surroundings. Still, I know, that there are some really sick, dangerous people in the world, and terrible things can happen no matter how aware and careful you might be. I also have to admit, that I think I would be more afraid of driving a lonely stretch of backroads, alone…than I would taking the subway in Manhattan.

#66 Comment By Soph Mom On December 27, 2008 @ 9:52 am


We cross-posted, or I would have addressed some of what you said, as well.

I really don’t think anyone is ‘looking down’ on anyone else. I think Rory is just pointing out what the nuance of language reveals, maybe more about our history and what got us to where were are now, than about particular and individual biases. And… the misunderstandings those same nuances can perpetuate.

#67 Comment By PTC On December 27, 2008 @ 12:13 pm

Sophmom- my point exactly.

I am not a sexist racist for using terms like “bad neighborhood” either.