Allen Haywood Washington

I was attacked on a Metro platform. Why didn't you help me?

Allen Haywood Washington
Sunday, January 23, 2011

On a Sunday evening this month, I was reading a book while waiting for the train at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station when I was attacked. My teenage assailants did not try to rob me, and we had no interaction before they began hitting me. While some of these youths were beating me, others hovered close with their cellphones, taking pictures and video. Sure enough, video of this attack, apparently made by a bystander, is circulating on the Internet.

The platform and station were busy and fairly crowded. But during the attack no one tried to help me, called for help or intervened in any way. I am 6 feet tall and weigh 185 pounds, and I can run a mile in under six minutes. (In fact, I was on my way home from the gym when I was attacked.) Most of the people who ride Metro every day are more vulnerable than I am. I ended up with two black eyes, a busted lip and a golf-ball-size knot on my forehead; if this can happen to me at 7:15 p.m. on a Sunday in a busy station, it can happen to anyone at any time.

The nonchalance of my fellow Metro patrons has raised troubling questions for me. Have we come to regard this kind of random, pointless attack as an unavoidable hazard of living in the city? This is a dangerous idea. If we assume that the people who do such things will not be caught or punished, we send the wrong message to the perpetrators - and put everyone at risk. If these youths are brazen enough to launch such an attack at ages 15 or 16, what will they be doing when they are 18 or 20?

I, for one, can't accept this. There is the video of the attack, and there were plenty of witnesses. The people who committed this crime need to be identified and made to face the consequences. And aside from whatever punishment may be forthcoming from the juvenile justice system, they should be made to explain their actions and answer to their community for what they have done.

I have some questions for Metro, too. Can we get better, useful security surveillance? I was not near an emergency intercom, but I'm left wondering how well they work and who is on the other end. What are the safety and communication procedures? Did they work in this case? Can they be improved? Once a crime has been reported, is it possible to contain suspects in the station or broader system until they can be apprehended?

I love Washington, and this incident has done nothing to change that. One of the things I love most about our city is that it is a small, intimate "big city." If you live in Washington and do not know me, the odds are good that friends of your friends know friends of my friends, that your pastor knows my pastor, that friends and classmates of your children know friends and classmates of the children I work with at choir practice.

We share many of the same joys and headaches. French toast at Eastern Market. Traffic on New York Avenue. Most of us know by now that the best way to have fun at a Redskins game is to have really good food on hand. And no matter what ward you live in or where you were born, everyone has to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles sooner or later.

Many people have been kind to me since the attack, and some thanks are in order. Thank you to the office of Dr. Katherine David for taking good care of a stranger with no appointment. Thank you to the officers who are working to find these hoodlums. Thank you to everyone at Foundry United Methodist Church for your love and support. To the men and women on the E bus, thank you for the fist bumps, shoulder pats, and hugs of solidarity and support. To my first responders, Richard, Bob, Rick and Laura, thank you for rushing to come get me when I needed you. To the anonymous woman who offered to replace my book, which my attackers grabbed and threw onto the tracks, thank you.

In the video, the last thing you hear from a female attacker is that no one cares about me. Thank you especially to all my family, friends and even total strangers who have proved her wrong.

We are a community. If you live in the District, you and I both probably know people who know people who know the people who did this. Let's identify them and get them off the streets. And let's remember to watch out for each other. This kind of behavior has no place in our city.


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