Having written numerous press releases on Victims of Crime legislation as a former D.C. Council staff member, I knew that the needs of the victim are too often the last to be considered when crime occurs. But I never thought the legislation that I had helped enact would apply to me. Several years later, on a beautiful spring day, it did.
I discovered that the spirit of a law, which says that crime victims' rights are paramount, is woefully violated in the District of Columbia today and that there are breakdowns in the system that not only violate a victim's rights, but also jeopardize the future safety of other citizens.
I was attacked on a Sunday afternoon, in broad daylight, on a residential street on Capitol Hill. Four blocks away, a street fair was in progress, and in attendance were many of the District's elected officials and hundreds of Capitol Hill residents enjoying the days events.
When I saw my assailant running toward me, my first reaction was that it must be someone I knew. It almost appeared as if he had something important to tell me. But before I knew it, I was being tackled as if I were a running back for the Redskins. I was violently thrown onto the sidewalk by a big, burly man who lunged on top of me, tugging at my skirt with invective spewing from his throat.
I screamed so loud that four days later I was still noticeably hoarse. My only hope was that he did not have a knife and that I could scream loud enough and long enough so that someone might save me.
I was lucky. After what seemed like an eternity (but was probably a few seconds) a car pulled up. A few seconds later, a wonderful Samaritan flew out of the car and pounced upon my attacker, breaking him away from me.
The danger was over. I was safe, but the grievances to me and to the people in the neighborhood had just begun.
The first grievance was the breakdown of the 911 system. Upon hearing my screams and seeing what had happened, the friend I had been visiting ran into her house to call the police. Several times she dialed, and several times she got a busy signal. Eventually, the phone rang, but much to her consternation she was faced with a recorded message on the other end.
She was finally able to get through to the police by calling information and getting the precinct telephone number. (Not, I should add, without a few sarcastic words from the operator, who commented on her lack of cogency at the moment.) Imagine if my life or death had depended upon an interval of few seconds.
But the grievances continued.
My assailant, it turned out, was a deeply disturbed young man who had chosen to become violent just as I was walking up the street. After being chased by my good Samaritan, he returned to his home across the street and stood in front of the gate, muttering to himself. It was almost as if he had just run a race and lost.
The police arrived soon after the call got through. They spoke to my assailant and spoke to a number of people who had by then appeared on the scene, but barely spoke to me. In fact, after making a determination that the incident had been resolved, it seemed they were ready to leave without making an arrest.
Almost incidentally, a policeman gave me a yellow card and told me to call the next day if I wanted to make a complaint. That is when my friend's husband hit the roof. He has a wife and a child who live on the street and was enraged at the fact that this mentally disturbed man would be allowed to remain free to hurt others.
The officer told us that is was a simple assault and that he would have had to have witnessed it to make an arrest. He added that making an arrest would be a charade, because he would book the man, only to have him returned to the street within hours. And he told us that if he made a false arrest, he could get sued.
When we insisted, the officer called the sex squad to see if the crime could be classified as a sexual offense. The policeman from the sex squad asked me several questions and determined that it was not.
Responding to our frustration, the police blamed the system and the law. And to some extent, they had a point. But it seemed sad to us and dangerous, too, that the system has made police so jaundiced that they do not carry out what should be their job.
We prevailed upon the officer to bring the assailant to St. Elizabeths for observation. We learned later that he will be there for three months. However, it is our understanding that because we took the route of getting the man help instead of putting him behind bars, there will be no record that the incident occurred. If he does this again, there will only be the recollection of the police and the neighbors to show that there has been a pattern of violence.
sk It's kind of a Catch-22. Get him prosecuted, and he will not get the help he desperately needs; get him help, and there will be no record for future prosecutions, should they be needed.
Having been a District of Columbia resident for 10 years, I have a lot of respect for the D.C. police. I have found them responsive, caring and competent. This recent incident, however, made me realize that this is not always the case. Because of breakdowns in caring, competence and communications, D.C. citizens can be unnecessarily in jeopardy. And once again, it is the victim of crime who gets victimized.