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Run For Your Life?

There's no right response when someone pulls a gun on you.


From the January 16, 2008 Philadelphia Weekly

When I saw the kid in the black hoodie walk behind me with a small handgun in his right hand, I ran like hell.

Moments earlier, my dog and I were sitting in the dog park in Northern Liberties. I was thinking how good life is - nice night, happy dog, stable employment, good friends, great girlfriend, etc. The night before, I had been at a small party with our ebullient new mayor who was telling jokes and enjoying his honeymoon period.

As my dog and I crossed Poplar Street heading south to go the two blocks home, I watched two kids dressed in all black walk toward me and then cross the street. A third kid in black ominously pulled his hood over his head and then followed the others across the street. A teenage girl in a red puffy jacket with a fur-lined hood was last in line. She remained in front of me.

I'd seen this drill before. Three years ago, less than one block from my home, a pack of teenagers pulled the same maneuver on me - cut across the street leaving one person behind, then circle back. Somehow this ambush technique is passed along to kids, like how to shave or ride a bike. It's frightening.

On the previous occasion, I didn't run. And a kid bashed me in the face while holding a brick in his hand. He knocked me to the ground. I jumped up before the gang had a chance to pile on top of me. Then I chased them for two blocks with blood gushing down my face. Police never did catch them.

So I felt something coming this most recent time.

By the time I was within 10 feet of the girl, the kid with the gun had circled behind me and was softly saying, "Hey, man. Hey, man."

I looked at him for a split second and then snapped at my dog, "Let's go, Mookie!"

We ran like hell for about 300 yards before I stopped to turn around. They weren't following. The kid with the gun hadn't moved. He remained in the middle of the street, brazenly staring in my direction. The other kids lingered closer to Poplar. It was 10:18 on a Saturday night, and the neighborhood was packed with revelers.

I called the police while I kept running. At Fourth and Brown streets, I saw a broken window at Honey's restaurant, so I stopped to ask if they'd been assaulted as well. But they were confused about what had happened. The restaurant had been closed for hours and the staff had been in the kitchen prepping for the next day when the window was busted.

By the time I entered my house minutes later, a beam of light fluttered overhead from a police chopper. An ambulance's siren screamed. Cops flooded the area.

It turned out that the same thugs shot a 15-year-old kid less than two minutes before the shooter approached me - on the same block, within sight of newly constructed homes that are selling for nearly $700,000. The victim, who was two weeks shy of his 16th birthday, was pinned to the wall by the girl when he passed the group on Orianna Street. He broke from her grip and ran. The guy shot him in the back.

The kid continued running, ultimately collapsing at the end of my block.

I walked over to where the skinny young victim was being treated by paramedics. It was only then that I realized how fortunate I was. I had run away, just like this kid did. I could've easily been gunned down as well.

"If you were the first target, you might have gotten shot," Bilal Qayyum of Men United for a Better Philadelphia tells me later. "He clearly had the intent to shoot someone."

If I had walked down Orianna Street two minutes earlier, I might be dead right now.

"You don't ever know what's going to happen," says Qayyum, who works with young people to avoid potentially dangerous situations. "You're really rolling the dice."

Cooperating with a gun-toting hoodlum is no guarantee you won't get harmed. And apparently running away isn't always the best solution.

Since I was bricked, I carry mace - cocked with my thumb on the trigger - when I walk my neighborhood at night. But mace wouldn't do any good against a gun.

I didn't have the baseball bat I used against the guy I caught breaking into my locked bicycle shed two years ago. I refuse to carry a firearm.

So what are you supposed to do when a person threatens you with a gun?

"From a law enforcement perspective, I couldn't give you a hard and fast answer," says police Inspector Aaron Horne. "Every situation is different."

He says these days it's almost a novelty for punks to shoot people who run away. Besides, if you try to run, you'll probably only get five or 10 feet away before the assaulter can lift his arm and fire.

"The reality is that you couldn't outrun a bullet," Horne says.

The solutions to reducing crime aren't quick and easy - improve education, create jobs, get guns away from dangerous, desperate people, etc. Muggings will continue in emerging areas like Northern Liberties as long as there's the perception of an economic divide.

Until things change, Qayyum says our options are limited.

"If you're being robbed, you just pray that person won't shoot you," he says.

That's all you can do.