Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Don’t mug yourself

I’ve been living in London for coming up to 5 years now, and last night I had my first first hand experience of a mugging. This in itself was only the second time I’d been a victim of crime since I’ve been here – the other time being when an unpleasant yoof took a good few swings at me to impress his mates – and it’s served as something of a reminder I suppose that, in a city of 7 million or so people, criminal victimisation is something of an inevitability eventually, especially for young male adults like myself - the most “at risk” group.

So what happened was I was heading to the shops at about 9.30pm and was texting away to one of the flatmates, when I found myself in the midst of three guys. They were probably between 17-20 years old. I see one of them clock my phone (it’s quite fancy and lights up like a Xmas tree) and he trots over. He calls over too, something like “Can I ask you a question mate?”.
Savvy as ever, I’m slightly suspicious and slip my phone away and engage in conversation, albeit fairly defensively. He feeds me some line about being lost and seems to be making it up as he sort of contradicts himself, and I guess he was sizing me up and trying to see what he could make a grab for. After a moment he seems to think I’m not worth the bother and starts to make off. However, his mate, a lad who despite being a good 6ft 3” tall I’ve been too distracted to keep and eye on, has by now sidled up to me, and grabs my throat/collar and says something along the lines of “give me your stuff or I’ll kill you”.
Now, my main feeling at that point was disbelief rather than fear, and this was slowly replaced by anger; in part due to the fact that these kids were a good few years younger than me and also because I felt insulted at the lame ambush they’d tried on me.
The lad got an earful together with a hearty shove in the chest. A brief grapple ensued, pushing and shoving aplenty all round, and I duly broke free, uninjured and unrobbed. There was an awkward moment when it became clear that this stage of the mugging was now over – what next? Should I continue to swear at him? Should I run? Should they have another go? In the end, we seemed to agree on a truce and they walked off without a second glance, and I crossed the road grumbling.
Once across the road, it occurred to me that I was quite entitled to phone the police, which I did (and I tried to subtly track these kids whilst on the phone, but they went into an estate and I thought “bugger that” which the emergency line operator agreed was probably a wise choice), and the coppers eventually turned up and we drove round for a bit looking out for them whilst I gave a statement.

I’ve always poo-pooed people who get into a panic about street crime, believing that as long as you’re sensible and don’t advertise your valuables, explore the darkest of alleys or fan yourself with cash straight out of the ATM you’ll be alright (a position which is not so easy to resolutely defend when faced with a tearful victim of crime admittedly). I’ve lived in Kings Cross and investigated Lambeth’s crack cocaine market, and commonsense has usually been the only protector I’ve needed. And after last night, it’s a standpoint I continue to have faith in. I think after 5 years in London with little trouble I’ve become blazé, too much at home: I was after all last night walking around flashing my phone around, pretty much ignoring the advice I’d give to anyone else new to London. So like I’ve said, it’s served as a reminder, and considering nothing bad happened maybe a useful one.

But then, I suppose I do have a right to use my phone on the street without having to worry about some vile goons trying to grab it off me.

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