The scene is like a travelers check commercial: A rainy night. A woman is walking a deserted street, groceries in one arm, an umbrella in the other. A man appears, grabs her purse, punches her in the face and flees.
The next scene should be the woman desperately dialing American Express. Instead, Linda Anne Landers ran after her assailant.
She screamed that he "wouldn't get away with this." She angrily ordered him to drop her purse. After three blocks he did, disappearing into the darkness.
"I felt great," said Landers, 26, an art consultant who lives on Capitol Hill. "I felt really empowered. I would have felt like such a victim if he had taken my purse. Women don't have to be victims in this city."
D.C. police spokesman Reginald L. Smith said Landers's actions last Thursday night are rare. He does not encourage victims to take the same action because it could be dangerous. Rather, Smith advised victims to call the police.
Lander is surprised herself at her reaction to the attack. The 4-foot-11 woman who weighs 95 pounds doesn't think of herself as brave. After dark, she'll take a cab two blocks rather than walk.
But when she was attacked at 8:30 p.m. on Sixth Street SE on her way home from the grocery store, an unexpected burst of courage kicked in. She didn't see the man, who was a foot taller than her, until he was beside her. He told her he wanted her purse and he wouldn't hurt her, Landers said. Then, he punched her in the face and slipped the purse off her shoulder.
"At first, I didn't believe this was happening," said Landers. "There's an unbelievable shock that goes from the hollow of your stomach . . . . I felt a stinging in my cheek and thought, 'Oh my God, he just hit me.' "
"I think the punch gave me the incentive to go on the offensive," said Landers. "I thought, 'If I can just run him down until some people are around, I'll stand a chance.' "
Landers, a runner who jogs two to three miles a day, dropped the groceries and ran after her attacker, screaming "drop my purse, just drop it." After three blocks, they both reached Independence Avenue SE. One man on foot and a woman in a van joined Landers in her pursuit. The attacker suddenly dropped her purse, disappeared and has not been caught.
"If you had asked me two weeks ago if a mugger came up to me on a rainy night while I was carrying groceries in one hand and an umbrella in the other and grabbed my purse, I would have said I'd let him go," said Landers. "You never know until you're the victim of a crime what you're actually capable of."