I had my purse stolen at gunpoint this weekend. After five years of living in major cities it’s the first time I’ve ever been mugged. And it’s been a mindfuck all around, but especially as I try to reconcile my politics with my emotions.
The area I was in is a predominantly black and predominantly poor neighborhood. The man who threatened me with a gun was a young black man.
As a result, I have privileged guilt flaring up all over the goddamn place. Guilt that I live in a more affluent neighborhood. Guilt that I don’t spend more time organizing around race and class. Guilt that the reason we looked like such easy marks is because we were – because we obviously had markings of wealth that stood out in that area.
It’s not an area I’m going to be comfortable returning to. And I feel awful about that. Part of me knows that avoiding the corner where you were last threatened with a gun is perfectly reasonable. Part of me is shouting at myself for being racist and classist for avoiding the surrounding area. And part of me even feels guilty that it’s likely most people who are mugged in that neighborhood CAN’T avoid it – because they fucking live there. And that just makes me angrier.
I’m angry at the whole fucking system that creates violent neighborhoods. Violence and poverty are inextricably linked, and the institutional responses to that relationship have traditionally been MORE violence instead of LESS poverty. It’s an evil cycle.
It’s a cycle I wish that I weren’t a part of, but I am. My phone’s GPS contributed to increased police presence on a particular street. Just as the Diet Coke I drink contributes to the deaths of union organizers. We are all complicit in oppression.
But I am still deeply troubled by it. There’s nothing like being a privileged crime victim to make your head spin with intersectionality.
When I was giving my phone’s location to the police, my partner asked me if I would be ok if they asked me to ID the guy. My first reaction was “hell yeah!” I’m fairly confident I would recognize his face and his voice, and am weirdly kind of proud of that. But then I was reminded of the severity of penalties for crimes committed with a gun. And I thought about the Three Strikes Law. And my conscience was stumped.
I’m socialized to believe in the justice system, even with my fairly radical academic parents. I still have ingrained worries that if I wouldn’t do my part this dude would hurt someone with that gun and it would be my fault.
Not to mention I’m fucking pissed. There’s a part of me that WANTS this guy to suffer. There’s a part of me that is absolutely not fucking ready to forgive him no matter what pitiable mitigating circumstances he could possibly offer. This guy made someone I deeply love afraid for her safety, ruined her vacation, and cost her money she can’t afford to lose. I am NOT ok with that!
But I also don’t believe in victims being in charge of punishments. And if I had faith in our justice system, I probably wouldn’t be so quick to lay that responsibility on myself. But I don’t.
I feel like helping deliver a young black man to the prison industrial complex isn’t something I could comfortably live with. My trust in my memory doesn’t overcome everything I know about the unreliability of eyewitnesses. Nor does my anger supersede the long history of criminalizing black men. And it’s impossible to take this case out of that context.
So I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were called and asked to ID a suspect in this case. I’m hoping that I don’t have to find out.
I do know that I wouldn’t testify. I couldn’t handle it. I’m not a respectable victim, even as a white girl in Crenshaw. I couldn’t stand in court talking about going to a dungeon party full of sex workers. I couldn’t stand listening to someone make a case to dismiss my credibility, and it’d be an easy fucking target. And I am angry as fuck that I’ve even thought that far into the hypothetical future. And furious that it’s a factor in my thought process.
I’ve already been through the victim blaming process on this. Twice. I don’t need to encounter it again.
The politics of trauma are inescapable. And there’s no good way to engage with them when you’re in the middle of it. Nor is there an easy way to work through it.
The past three days have been something of a blur for me. It’s been hard to distinguish this larger anger from small frustrations. But it helps that I’m not alone. I feel like I’ve been bouncing between close friends who have been holding me together while my brain is flying in a million different directions.
Honestly, if anyone wants to help me feel really damn good about the world help Sydney out. It’s really not her fault she was on that street in the first place. Seeing the support to her only amplifies my optimism. Both of our communities have been coming together in support and solidarity in ways that keep me from totally losing it.
And that’s something to be positive about, politically and personally.
I have faith in the power of communities and solidarity above all else. If nothing else comes out of this fucking mess – at least that faith has been proven well placed once again.