August 25, 2004
A few days ago I was in front of the Mayflower Hotel, and I do what I always do when I’m there–I look at the area down the street where for one of the few times in my life I risked my life for someone else.
|The inside of the Mayflower Hotel.|
It was New Year’s Eve, I had just returned from my first visit to South Korea. My best friend and I were hanging out with his roommate, party-hopping. As we drove through one neighborhood we heard some people celebrating the New Year by shooting with guns. Apparently they weren’t shooting at anyone or anything in particular, just shooting in the air. When we lost contact with his roommate at some point during the night, we started taking cabs from place to place.
Somewhat stranded at 1 a.m. when it got tougher to hail cabs, we stopped at the Mayflower Hotel to call our girlfriends as well as my best friend’s roommate, hoping he would eventually answer his beeper. Wait. I wrote beeper? Yep, that was back in the day.
We went back outside of the hotel to consider our options. We weren’t that far from my friend’s home, so walking wasn’t out of the question. Suddenly, a guy came running, yelling:
“HEY! THERE’S A WOMAN BEING BEATEN DOWN THE STREET.”
There were about six or seven well-dressed guys in front of the Mayflower. We all looked at each other, stunned. Is this some kind of joke, was the look on all of our faces.
The guy yelled again: “COME ON!!!”
All at once, all of us took off running, following him. To watch a beating? To stop it? I didn’t really know as I ran along with them. But I had a flashback to a scene in the movie Glory, when Denzel Washington’s character yells at the other members of the 54th, “Come on!” He was shot a few seconds later.
It seemed like we had run for five minutes, but when I stop at the Mayflower these days I see that it was a very short distance, less than a block. As we got closer, sure enough, we saw that there was a guy kicking a woman. The woman was in the fetal position, trying to defend herself from the attacks as the guy kicked away.
We were bearing down on the kicker, ready to use him as a tackle dummy. Suddenly, someone ran right up and tackled the kicker onto the pavement. The rest of us then jumped on the kicker and held him down.
I don’t recall if anyone said, “search him,” but several of us did, worried that he might have a gun or a knife. It turned out that one of my fellow rescuers did have a gun. After wishing the cops would show up quickly, I suddenly was hoping the cops wouldn’t show up just yet. I remember thinking, wouldn’t this make for an interesting picture? Several black men, including one who was armed, roughing up a white guy as his girlfriend, bruised and crying, stands nearby. A moment before I was wondering where the cops were. I was hoping real hard that the cops wouldn’t show up. I later thought that if someone had turned on a video camera, they would have recorded several black men roughing up a lone skinny white guy. We could have been portrayed as blacks angry at the Rodney King beating or something else equally as dumb.
My best friend, who was then working as a reporter, ran back to the hotel to call the police. And the New York Times. And the Wall Street Journal. And the Washington Post, the Washington Times. That was a decade ago, but today, all of us would have whipped out our cell phones and called the police. We then took the woman, who was sporting a black eye and a couple of other bruises, to the Mayflower hotel so the kicker couldn’t get at her again. We were talking trash to the guy the whole time, pushing him around. “What kind of chump are you, beating on a woman? Aren’t you embarrassed that some black guys had to stop you from beating on a woman? You must be some kind of a damned coward. I bet you wouldn’t be willing to take any of us on. Take your pick of any of us. How would you like it if we all started kicking you now?”
The kicker was furious at us for stopping him. He was cursing up a storm, threatening to kill the woman. We finally let him stand up, but two or three of us had to tackle him again because he immediately tried to bum rush the woman. I really wanted to beat his ass, but then, I remember thinking that the woman could turn against us and accuse us of beating up her boyfriend or husband.
Of course, the Mayflower hotel staff didn’t want to let us in. I suspect they often see such episodes. It probably looked kind of strange. Several well-dressed black men trying to protect a white woman from her white boyfriend. It was obvious that they didn’t want to get involved. The HNIC, a big burly black guy, showed up a few minutes later. We definitely could have used his help a few minutes earlier, if not to fight, then just to sit on the kicker. But based on his response, we wouldn’t have gotten it. He agreed to let the woman come inside, but he didn’t want the rest of us to come in. He got rude with us, making it seem that we were the problem. Fine.
Well, it wasn’t fine. We got kind of loud with them when we they got rude with us. “If this guy kills this woman, the blood will be on your hands.” “Do you think it will be good advertising for your hotel if this is reported in the papers?” “You have to call the police. They’ll come if you call.” In particular, the manager singled out my friend, who apparently had yelled at the hotel people for not calling the police. As far as I know, they never did call the police.
It turned that I shouldn’t have been worried about the police showing up as we held the guy down. First, ten minutes went by. Then twenty minutes. After thirty minutes, the kicker gave up trying to get past us to get to the woman in the hotel, he just took off walking down the street. He suddenly returned about 15 or 20 minutes later, with us still guarding the front of the Mayflower hotel. I wanted to frisk the kicker again, worried he may have returned with a weapon.
The first vehicle to show up was a fire truck. Finally, after more than an hour, one lone officer, a fat white guy, drove up. It was New Year’s Eve, so I guess they were kind of busy, perhaps dealing with people shooting in the air. We were in a good area, so I’m sure some woman being beaten or raped in a bad neighborhood would have been waiting even longer for a police response.
The cop wasn’t particularly friendly to us in the beginning, making me worry that the hotel people had called the police after all, giving their version of the incident. The cop talked to the woman, talked to the kicker, and finally he talked to us. The first thing he then said to us: “She doesn’t want to press charges.”
Suddenly we were really angry. We went to the woman. “We risked our lives to stop your boyfriend from using you as a football, and now you don’t want to press charges?”
Her response: “Oh, he gets like that sometimes. He doesn’t mean it.”
We were all talking to her at once: “You’ve got to be kidding?” “Well what’s he like when he does mean it?” “Has he done this before?” “Have you pressed charges before?” “Do you live with him now?” “Do you have someone else you can stay with?” “If you don’t do something now, you’ll end up dead.” My best friend, the reporter, then said that he wanted to press charges against the kicker. The guy must have been through this before because he didn’t seem to be concerned that she would press charges.
After spending a few minutes telling the kicker that he’d better straighten up his act, the cop turned soft on us. “Look, guys, I’ve seen this too often. The guy gets drunk, beats the girl, we get called, she doesn’t want to press charges. If they’re married, the woman gets angry at us. Or if the woman is beating the man, he doesn’t want to admit it. I could try to take this guy in for disturbing the peace, but he’d be out in the morning anyway. And he’d be angrier. I’ll take her home, give her a contact number, write up a report.”
He took our names and contact numbers so we could be witnesses in case the woman changed her mind. I left D.C. a few days later and never got called. I checked with my best friend, but he was angry. Not only had the cop not called, he said, but a Washington Post columnist had changed some of the facts of the story, so that the tackler was shabbily dressed and that just suddenly “disappeared.” Neither one of us recalled the guy allegedly fighting the kicker. He tackled him just as we ran up to the scene. We didn’t recall the guy asking, “What took you guys so long?” My best friend didn’t like the way the story was written and complained directly to the columnist. Apparently the story about a shabbily dressed black man was just too good to pass. The Mayflower people definitely deserved to get singled out for not being more helpful.
The fire truck and the cop drove off. The rest of us stood outside talking for a few minutes, talking about how messed up the world and people can be. Just like that, the night was over. I think we ended up walking back to my best friend’s place, although I don’t recall now.
The Washington Post
January 8, 1994
A Hero Shatters A Stereotype by Dorothy Gilliam
Donald Jones won’t forget New Year’s Eve very soon, for along with attending a formal ball at the Mayflower Hotel, an annual event for him and his wife, he also learned an important lesson from a young black man dressed in baggy jeans and a knit cap.
As Jones, a black Washington lawyer, was leaving the dance at 2 a.m. on his way to get his car, he saw a white man about a half-block from the hotel abusing a woman who appeared to be his wife or significant other, shouting and kicking her as she lay on the ground.
While Jones’s first impulse was to run to the scene and see if he could stop the attack, he decided instead to try to alert the police. After waiting a few crucial moments, he gathered a group of people to help the woman when police were slow to arrive.
By contrast, a young man who had been driving south on Connecticut Avenue NW quickly jumped out of his car to confront the assailant. The abuser then angrily turned on the young man, but the passerby’s intervention almost certainly saved the woman from greater injury.
“When I first heard the yelling and saw them fighting, my first impulse was to run to the scene,” Jones said. “But then, because I’ve heard of too many people being killed doing that, I decided to call the police. Only when others got involved did I take direct action.”
By comparison, Jones said, the young man didn’t know what he would face, but he got involved anyway.
Jones believes the young man’s efforts to aid a woman in distress were “heroic,” and he would like to see him step forward and get his due.
His behavior challenged many stereotypes. This young man turned out to be a savior of people who might be frightened if they met him on a street at that time of the morning.
Jones reasons that in this blood-washed city — better known for people being fearful of getting involved than for being willing to put themselves on the line to help another person — this young man set an example that too few of us are willing to follow.
Jones remembers his own thinking that night. As he went to call police, he said, he was hoping the assailant would realize that he had gone too far and stop, “but he didn’t.”
That is why, a few minutes later, Jones began rounding up several people to try to stop the assault.
As he swung into action, Jones said, he felt “exhilarated.” But that exhilaration was chilled as quickly as the temperature when he saw that the lone young man, facing an assailaint who had stripped down to his shirt in 20-degree weather, was fending off the attacker and shielding blows that might have landed on the woman.
As the woman moaned, “He really hurt me,” the young man in jeans and knit cap turned to Don Jones in his tuxedo and the other men surrounding him and said, “What took you guys so long? You guys are late.”
Before Jones could recover and say much, or even get the young man’s name, like a New Year’s apparition, the guy pulled his knit cap over his ears, got into his car and drove off.
“I think it was remarkable with what’s going on in this city that a young African American male would get out of his car and risk his life to help a woman being attacked in a domestic dispute,” Jones said.
Jones is right. Too often in life we do not stand up and do what is necessary. We see a child being slapped or verbally abused in public, and we walk on by. We hear a scream in the night and pretend we did not.
It is the Kitty Genovese syndrome, only more intense because violence has increased since 1964, when the 28-year- old was fatally stabbed on a New York street and 38 witnesses did nothing.
Sadly, it has become remarkable for someone to stand up in a risky situation. It is an act of courage to be, at a minimum, admired, and at a maximum, emulated.
* * *
I posted this in 2004 in response to something one of my Internet buddies at the time wrote:
1. Would you/ have you ever intervened in a domestic situation involving strangers?
I have done that, as I’ll explain below.
2. Would you be more or less likely to do so if the woman were beating the man?
I guess it would depend on the circumstances. He might be willing to let his woman beat him, but he might want to come after me for clocking her to get her off him.
* * *
I love Charles Ramsey. the man who helped rescue the young ladies who had been abducted for a decade. What caught my attention is that he ran into the house to save the ladies, not sure what to expect. The alleged kidnappers could have been armed and ready to hide their crimes.