The yellow post-it stuck just below the peephole of our front door had a note scribbled on it, clearly in my roommate Alyssa’s handwriting,
“If a crackhead comes to the door, call this number.”
Below the note was the local police station phone number two young officers had given us.
When I tell people I live in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, I usually get a raised eyebrow. “Do you feel safe?” is inevitably the next question.
“Oh, sure,” I have always answered.
Despite the fact that twice, police officers have rung our doorbell and asked to come inside to spy on the apartment building next to ours, I do feel safe. The policemen look at me and my five other twenty-something roommates staring wide-eyed at them as they wander the four floors of what is legally a brothel but we call a townhouse, looking for the best window to canvas next door.
“Wow!” we yelp excitedly. “Did someone get shot? Is it a drug bust? Do you want some iced tea?”
The officers, to my surprise, will offer up a few sordid details about drug dealing and a missing gun.
“This is so awesome! Wanna see the backyard? We have a grill.”
Once, when I was sitting in the backyard, an officer called out to me from a window in the stairwell of the apartment building in question.
I ignored the yells at first, assuming it was a neighbor possibly about to urinate on me, since someone over there occasionally relieves himself out his window and onto our backyard.
I was about to run inside when I heard, “It’s the police.”
I cautiously turned around. “Let me see a badge.”
My mom would be so proud I asked that. Two officers dangled their badges out the window. I wished I was wearing a bra, just in case I was about to be taken in for questioning.
“Did you hear anything hit the ground over here earlier?”
Damn. I hadn’t.
“No…I don’t think so.”
I have blown my big chance at being an expert witness, one of my greatest fantasies. I should have listened harder. One of my neighbors apparently tossed something out their window. Not wanting to leave the officers empty-handed, I kept talking.
“Someone does occasionally pee — I mean, urinate — out a window over there at us.”
“That’s nice,” they said.
Besides the occasional urination, I have no issues with what goes on at our neighbor’s. After all, one girl occasionally brings over a duffel bag full of Limited Express clothing from the trunk of her boyfriend’s car, tags still attached, and sells them to us for half price. I got a great pair of capris that don’t fit me. That’s the only rub — there’s not exactly a dressing room next to the car and I didn’t want to push my luck by asking if I could run inside and try them on.
The only other suspect activity we encounter regularly in our neighborhood is the ice cream truck that comes down our street, tunes blaring, at midnight. We are convinced the ice cream truck is a clever cover for drug dealing, as most children aren’t up that late eating ice cream.
When I first moved with the girls to Bed-Stuy, my ex-boyfriend called to tell me my neighborhood was featured on NPR that morning as the last black neighborhood to be gentrified. Being a gentrifier, I wasn’t sure if that was the kind of history I was interested in making, but after spending the year before in a one bedroom with my best friend, Elisabeth, then suddenly also with her boyfriend and her dog that barked at the sound of footsteps, I was ready for some space. Elisabeth was trying to get her dog on the Dog Whisperer to address his barking, and regardless of whether it worked or not, she and her boyfriend wanted their own place and I wanted to not hear them have sex any more. The house in Bed-Stuy was huge, the rent was cheap, and my five other roommates wonderfully entertaining. Our house was on a residential street, two-thirds black families and the other third young whities like us, mostly students, in search of affordable living. Everyone on our block, except the other white kids, was overwhelmingly polite and welcoming, and it felt rather peaceful to see kids playing basketball and riding their bikes on our street. The six of us settled nicely into our four-story, six-bedroom, four-bathroom townhouse, bought a pool table, and assured any worried parents that there were, in fact, bars on the windows of the first two floors.
Everything in Bed-Stuy went smoothly until the summer after we moved in, when I was mugged. I am not one of those girls who understands the logic in paying thousands of dollars for a bag. (“Women shouldn’t be allowed to be rich,” a friend once quipped after hearing how much money we will drop on a purse.) So I only had three purses and this one I was partial to, but would have been happy to hand over to my mugger if he had simply asked. Instead, the man came up behind me as I was walking alone down an empty street in Brooklyn at one in the morning (please don’t tell my mother this next part), listening to music. I politely left out the headphones-in-ears-turned-all-the-way-up part when describing the incident to police and friends, as any pity and attention garnered from my face bashing would certainly be won out by, “Dumbass, what were you thinking?”
Anyways, he came up behind me, face-planted me to the ground, and grabbed my purse. My bottom teeth went straight through my bottom lip and one of my flip-flops broke. It took me a moment to actually register what had just happened; the instant I first felt the hand on my back, I thought it was someone I knew trying to tell me, “Hello.” I looked up from the ground in time to see a large man rounding the corner with my purse. I sat up and realized my mouth was gushing blood everywhere and, not yet aware what the blood was from, I was certain my front teeth were knocked out.
Now, this is important and I’ll tell you why. My mother is an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist. I had braces for six years. My braces were finally removed my freshman year of high school and promptly followed by bleaching, gap filling, and even shaving my teeth to make them even. My mother panics any time she sees me open anything with my teeth.
“Cath-er-ine! Those teeth are an investment!”
Now my teeth were gone and I didn’t know how I was going to tell my parents. These thoughts came in and out of my mind as I tried to gather myself. Too scared to feel for my teeth with my tongue, I picked up my broken flip-flop, cupped my other hand over my bleeding mouth, and limped to a main street. I stood at the cross-section screaming hysterically until a biker came riding by and stopped dead in front of me.
“Oh my God, what happened to you?”
In between my gasps for air, I managed to tell him I was mugged. My Good Samaritan waited with me until two other men came over to help, and then took off on his bike in search of my mugger. The two men walked me over to the large shopping center close by and told me to wait there while they got the police and an ambulance. In one of my not finer “livin’ in the big city” moments, I crouched down in front of Target and sobbed. The police showed up a few minutes later and started pelting me with questions.
“What did he look like? Which way did he go?”
I did my best to give a good description, but I doubt I’d make much of a star witness.
“He was a light-skinned black male, big, over six-feet tall, 250 pounds. He had a hat kinda like a fedora and a long-sleeved blue shirt on.”
About that time I realized, by some stroke of luck, my phone was in my pocket, not my purse. I called my parents and my father picked up in two rings. (When you have five children and your phone rings at two in the morning, no matter what you are dreaming, you wake up.) Through sobs, I told my parents what happened and assured them I was fine. I was 24 years old, hadn’t lived at home since I was 18, but as soon as it happened, all I wanted was my mommy and daddy. The policemen put me in the back of their car and asked me to get off the phone and stop crying. I kept waiting for them to offer me a tissue for all the blood gushing from my mouth, now all over my clothes and my hands, but they never did. Instead, we started driving around, looking for my mugger. The officers called in the description across their radio and, in just a few minutes, announced they had found him.
“Now, ma’am, we’re gonna pull up around this next corner. We have a suspect standing there, and you tell us if it’s him, ok?”
We turned and there, standing on the corner, with police officers standing on either side of him, was a terrified and confused skinny, dark-skinned, black male wearing a baseball hat, a sleeveless basketball jersey, and dreadlocks. It would have been hilarious if it were any other situation.
“Ma'am. Is that him?”
“Are you sure? You’re sure it’s not him?”
I wanted to ask the police why they thought this poor kid, who didn’t match any part of my description, was my mugger. I wanted to ask them if I had said yes, would that be all it took for this guy to go to jail?
Instead, I just said, “I think there’s a hole in my face.”
By this time, I had felt for my teeth and found them still intact, but was certain I could stick my tongue through my bottom lip, and that this hole in my face was the cause of all the blood. The officers dropped me back off at the shopping complex, and I was put in a waiting ambulance. The medic helped me clean all the blood off my hands, feet, and face, as I repeated my concern about the hole in my face.
“No, you’re fine,” he said as he pressed a warm cloth to my mouth.
The ambulance drove me three blocks to Brooklyn Hospital and the medic walked me inside and left. I went into the bathroom off the waiting area and sure enough, there was a hole in my face. My bottom teeth had gone straight through my bottom lip. I had to tell two other people in the emergency room about my injury before someone finally cleared up enough blood to notice.
“Oh yea…” the guy finally said.
After stitches, painkillers lacking street value, and other treatments I had to pay out-of-pocket for later, I was released and went home to avoid the public while I waited for my lip to heal. My lip blew up to four times its size, and I would watch TV on the couch as my roommates would come by, taking pictures of my mouth and sending them to all their friends.
“It looks like you got a botched lip injection at some chop-shop in Mexico.”
My mouth was so swollen, and my lips oozed so much puss (the concrete had scraped off their top layer), that I couldn’t eat. I could barely wrap my mouth around a straw to drink, the only way I could consume anything for almost a week. I was thrilled when I returned to work and a co-worker told me I looked like I had lost some weight.
Being mugged = best diet ever!
Weight loss was not the only thing everyone at work wanted to discuss.
“Told you, you shouldn’t be living in Bed-Stuy,” they all said, as if on cue.
The only catch was, I hadn’t been mugged in Bed-Stuy, but in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. But no one wanted to hear it.
Occasionally, the detective from my case would call me back to the station and have me look at rows of mug shots on a computer. Every time, I told him I wouldn’t be able to identify the guy, but he had me look over photos just the same.
“He looked sorta like that guy,” I would say, pointing to a mug shot.
“Is that him?” the detective would ask eagerly.
“No, I don’t think so.” I would go to the next page. “He looked sorta like that guy too…and that guy.”
“Is that him?”
This was not my idea of being the expert witness I had always dreamed of being. It was not my idea of how police worked either. I felt a little too encouraged to finger a culprit, even if it was not the right one. The officer then told me a few eerie stories of other girls being mugged and raped, gave me some self-defense tips, and then asked if my roommates and I ever go to any of the bars near the station. I told him we did sometimes and he told me to call him next time and he would come by for a drink. I thought it was odd to be hit on by the cop working on my case, but I guess the workplace is where many people find love. The officer then told me the best news I had heard since moving to Bed-Stuy.
“Muggers aren’t going to rob people on your street. They go to the nice ‘hoods, where the people with money live. They live on your block, sure, but they come over here.”
That’ll show my co-workers.
After the mugging, I bought everyone in the house pepper spray, and the six of us continued living fearlessly in Bed-Stuy, until the crackhead incident.
Stephanie, my Texan roommate who works in the sales department of a luxury hotel, was walking home one night when it started to rain. The streets cleared out and suddenly, a man wearing a do-rag appeared in Stephanie’s path.
“Can I have a dollar?” he asked.
“No,” Stephanie said, and kept walking.
“Give me your purse,” was the next line out of his mouth.
Stephanie opted not to argue and gave the man her purse.
The next day while Stephanie was at work a man came to the door and Alyssa answered. He said he found Stephanie’s wallet in the subway; some kids were playing with it and he took it from them. He gave the wallet to Alyssa, who thanked him, and then he asked for five dollars as a reward for recovering the stolen goods. Alyssa said she didn’t have any money and he told her he would come back later. After the man left, Alyssa called Stephanie at work, and after swapping do-rag stories, the pair realized the man who stole the purse was the same man who came by the house to return it.
“Who steals a purse and then shows up at the house to return it?” we all wondered aloud. “Did he not think Stephanie could possibly be home and able to identify him?”
Later that evening the man came back. Stephanie, home from work, confirmed it was the same man who had stolen her purse the night before. The girls called the cops, who picked up crazy and took him to the station. Once a crackhead in need of money starts dropping by your house, that’s when you stop feeling safe, and we were shocked when the next day the cops called us to let us know he had been released. The officer on the phone also informed us the man had a long rap sheet, including a prior shooting.
“Good job, Stephanie. Why did you have to get a New York license?” We did our best to make her feel guilty. A few hours later, the police called to inform us the crackhead had just called them to say he was coming back to our house.
“Uhm…Are you guys on your way over here too?” Alyssa asked.
“Nah, just call us when he gets there,” the officer said.
We locked all the doors, turned off the lights, and waited. True to his word, Mr. Crackhead showed up an hour later. Alyssa called the police and they picked him up again. Stephanie went down to the station as well, where she filed a restraining order, and the officers gave her their direct line in case the man came back again. Alyssa, the den mother of the group, was thoughtful enough to put up the post-it note. We decided it was as good a time as any to get the locks changed and hit up the landlord for an alarm system. Once Brinks showed up, the post-it came down, and we continued living in peace, even going outside late at night, but just for ice cream.
Comments (12)See all