I’m going to post about an incident that happened to me years ago. This post may be controversial and will probably make a lot of people “on both sides” upset (if there are two sides or any “sides” on this one). Two black men attempted to mug me on a New York subway platform in 1974. I was an FBI agent at the time and pulled out my gun. I could easily have shot both dead. I did not do so.
Here’s how it happened. A woman I knew from college was in New York doing research for her dissertation. She was staying at the home of her professor’s parents, whom she described as the “last Jewish family in the South Bronx.” For those unfamiliar with New York, that area is or was then mostly Puerto Rican with a lot of black residents, too. She was white. She said she’d been warned that the neighborhood was dangerous and so she only came out during daylight hours. She always returned well before sunset. Fortunately, the house was only one block from a subway station, so she didn’t have to be out for long. When I found out she was in town and “trapped” there, unable to enjoy New York nightlife on her first time there, I offered to take her to dinner and a Broadway play. She gladly accepted. We had a nice evening. After the play I did not think I could get a taxi to take us to that dodgy neighborhood, so we agreed to take the subway. I escorted her to her door with no problem and returned to the subway station.
I paid my fare and entered the station. At that point the train is actually elevated, not below ground. I went up the stairs to an empty platform. It was about 1:00AM by this point. I knew that the trains at that time were only four cars long and stopped in the middle of the large platform. There were benches there in the middle, but I did not want to sit between the two stairwells. Someone could come up behind me or trap me between them. So I walked to far end of the platform to a bench there, maybe fifty feet past where the train stops. I sat and started reading my Jane Austen pocketbook. I always kept one in my coat pocket for long subway rides. There was a good light over the bench. Since it was a work day, I was dressed in my suit and tie. I’m white and skinny.
Soon I heard two male voices coming up the nearest stairwell. From the accent I could tell they were black and not from an educated class. Their speech was filled with cursing and what would generally be regarded as ghetto slang. Think of that scene in the movie Airplane! where Barbara Billingsley translates “jive” into English. I looked over and saw their heads emerge. They were talking to each other and not paying any attention to me. I returned to my reading.
After thirty seconds or so, the talking stopped. I looked over again and saw that they were staring at me. They were at this point all the way up on the platform, still near the stairwell. If they had wanted to wait for the train, the logical thing would have been to go to the benches in the middle where the train stops, or if they were like me and wanted to avoid that area, go to the far end. I was occupying the only bench on my end, so there was no reason to come my direction. They looked at each other, nodded without speaking, and then started walking toward me.
I waited and watched, book in my left hand. The two men continued walking toward me. They were dressed in what I call flashy “gangster-style” clothes, something the bad guys in the blaxploitation movies of the 70’s (e.g. Super Fly) would wear: cheap suits with wide labels, lots of bling, open shirt collars unbuttoned down a long ways. When they passed the point where the front train stops and kept coming they were about thirty feet from me. They split apart, one walking along the near edge where the benches are, the other along the far edge where the trains stop. The one on the near edge put his hand in his suit pocket. They kept walking toward me.
This post is getting long, so I’m going to finish it in my next post.