On my walk last Monday afternoon, on Mission St. near 29th, I encountered a fellow in a wheelchair, black, missing a leg, with snot dripping down his face. He wasn’t the most wretched specimen of humanity I’ve ever seen—I see many every day—but he did appear to be in the lowest ten percent of human misery. I was musing, in my liberal way, that in our racist society, undoubtedly his being black contributed at least in some small way to his current condition. Maybe it wasn’t a direct cause, but here and there, no doubt it made a negative difference. Here and there, he was denied what a white person would easily have obtained.
Just as I was musing that, he squeezed my hip. Quite shocked, I said to him in my sternest liberal tone, “Please don’t touch me!” I glared at him and he looked dully back at me, one hand folded over his penis, which was not exposed. I wondered if he was going to come back toward me and what I would do in that event, but he didn’t move, and I walked on.
A few doors farther is a B of A branch that always has a security guard standing out front, so I stopped and said to the beefy fellow there, “Did you see the guy in the wheelchair?”
“Yes, I just called the police about him. He tried to grab a lady’s wallet.”
“Oh. He also grabbed my butt.”
“He did that?”
I joked to the security guard that I didn’t want to punch a man in a wheelchair and he said angrily, “I would have. If I see him do that, I will.”
“Thank you,” I said, by which I meant, “We liberals don’t approve of physical violence in such cases, but I appreciate your spirit of chivalry.”
I shouldn’t have joked about punching the fellow. There is no way I would have done such a thing, if only because this particular person looked high in cooties. Ah, but I am still being flip and should not be: it is wrong to cause physical harm in the service of punishment, though I can certainly envision a case where I would undertake to cause physical harm, even grave physical harm, to defend myself or a loved one or even a stranger. I’m not planning to get a gun, but after this was thinking it might not be a bad thing to have a bit of pepper spray tucked in my backpack.
As I proceeded north, I inquired of myself how I felt: mildly sad and scared, no sign of anger. I thought about waiting around for the police in order to add my two cents, but it would probably have taken a long time, and I was on a break from work and had to get home.
I found myself thinking about my customary walk, how Dolores St. is largely empty, with no one around to help if danger arises, and how Mission St. is crowded with people, every last one of them a potential hip grabber. I’ve lived here for 31 years and in that time, not one single person has ever laid an unwelcome finger on me—I was mugged once, but not in that event touched—yet all it took was one forlorn likely mentally ill or developmentally disabled person doing so to throw my whole sense of security into disarray. Therefore, maybe waiting for the police would have been worthwhile, just to add my two cents and demonstrate to myself that someone, namely me, is paying attention.