man beaten in the street on a beautiful day

A woman was attacked by four boys a few blocks away from where I walk every day with my baby. She was hit on the back of the head, for fun, I guess, and she is OK. Except that I wonder if she is really OK, because how could she ever feel safe again? It was the middle of the day. She was walking her dog. What did the dog do, when it happened, I kept wondering. Did they try to hurt the dog, too?

I read a report from Mother Jones about how sippy cups are giving kids cancer. How BPA free plastic is maybe even worse than whatever BPA itself is. Which is like, shit, do I have to start learning how to carve wood or throw pottery or something in order to raise a healthy child? There’s already the whole thing about hormones in meat and chemicals in everything else we eat and toxic flame retardants in all of the foam that’s in everything we ever sit on and parabens and just the plain old fumes coming off the highway right outside our building. You don’t want to get paranoid, you want to be practical. But you want to be wary and aware, I think. You want to be alert.

And then a few days ago I saw a man stomp on another man’s face in the street. It sometimes feels like such a dangerous world, I wonder how I keep blithely going outside, and here I am flinging a child into it.


(Bear carrying Eden earlier that day)

It was a beautiful day. Flirtatiously warm, thrillingly close to the border of spring. We decided to walk all the way down the east side of Manhattan, from Madison Square Park, across the Brooklyn Bridge. Why not? We switched off with Eden in the carrier, and she was on me when it happened. We hadn’t gotten very far. At the corner of 15th St and 1st Ave, a man shoved another man down, and the second man rolled into the dirt of one of those half-hearted planters near the curb.


For a moment, I thought they were joking around somehow, and then Bear jumped forward and all at once I could see that it was something terrible: one man was trying to kill the other. One man, in a blue t-shirt, was stomping on the other man’s head. The movement of his leg, the stomping boot, the blank, helpless face of the man on the ground, the vividly, exuberantly blue shirt, the traffic drifting by, the wrongness, the few people nearby not acting yet, frozen—it was all a rush, a tidal wave of information. And Bear was jumping forward and yelling, “Hey! Hey! Stop!”

I clapped my hands and yelled, trying to get the blue shirted man’s attention. Like I was trying to call off a dog shaking a wounded pigeon or something, I was trying to get his attention so that he would stop killing the man on the ground. An instant later, though, I was pulling Bear away, and dragging him across the street, where there was a break in the traffic luckily, and I was telling him, “move.” Because I needed to get my family away. The blue shirted man had looked up and he stepped towards us for a second and I had to get my baby away from him. She started to cry and I had my phone out and called 911, saying to Bear numbly, “I should call 911.”

The voice on the other end was a little bored, which is exactly how it is in my nightmares where I call 911 but no one cares and no one comes.

“I’m at fifteenth street and first ave and there’s a man being beaten in the street,” I said. “In front of the Chase bank,” I added, looking across the street at it.

“Is the perpetrator still there?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, “He’s wearing a blue shirt.”

“Is the man who was beaten still breathing?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t see him right now. I have a baby.”

“Okay,” she said, as though this made perfect sense.

“Is the man who beat him white, black, or Hispanic?” she said.

It was hard to remember something like ethnicity for some reason, although I could remember the motion of his leg very well. The angle that his foot had come down onto the other man’s face. My brain was stuck there, because I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to stomp on anyone else’s head.

“I should go back over there,” said Bear.

“No,” I said, and I dragged on his arm like an anchor.

Cop cars erupted out of nowhere and a crowd formed. I was still on the phone with the 911 woman. It was impossible to tell what was happening across the street, but I didn’t want to know anyway. We turned away and walked in silence, holding hands. Even Eden was quiet, maybe sensing the seriousness.

An ambulance screeched by and people glanced up curiously, because there were more cop cars, too, and it was strange to know where they were all headed. Usually the problem seems distant, possible but not definite, as though sirens are just an especially authentic detail, fleshing out the city scene.

New York is such a safe city. I’ve seen women jogging alone in the parks at night.

“Did I do the right thing?” said Bear, finally. “I don’t know if I did the right thing.”

“You can’t go forward,” I said, “if that happens and you’re alone. You can’t go towards it. You have to get away and call 911.”

“I didn’t know I went towards it,” he said.

“You did. I grabbed your arm and pulled you back. You have to think about your family.”

I realized that maybe no one would ever be a hero if they always thought about their family, but I didn’t care. I just wanted my family to be safe.

“Should we get a cab?” said Bear. “I should get you guys home.”

“I don’t know, maybe,” I said.

He ran ahead to hail a cab, waving urgently.

The sky was a cheerful blue, which now seemed like an inappropriate color.



We got into the cab and Eden immediately started crying and crying.

“Row, row, row your boat,” I sang in a tiny, distracted voice, “gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily….life is but a dream.” It sounded kind of creepy. Eden seemed to think so, too.

“Baby!” cried the cab driver in a hearty voice from the front. He craned around to see her. “Woof! Woof!” he barked enthusiastically. “I’m a doggy!” And then, “Meow! I’m a cat!”

“Is that a doggy?” I asked the baby, a little absently. “Do you hear a dog barking?”

“I love babies!” the driver explained to us.

“You have kids?” I asked automatically.

He’d been waiting for this.

“Two kids! Much bigger. My son is twenty. My daughter is fourteen.”

“Wow!” I said, mustering some friendliness.

“My son, he’s at university now, at Binghamton. You know it?”

“It’s a very good school!” I said, knowing I’d heard the name before but unable to recall anything about it.

“Very, very good school. And he works with an assemblyman already! He has perfect grades. He is very smart.” He shoved a cell phone through the partition suddenly. “That’s him!”

The son was in a suit, standing with the assemblyman, very handsome and upright.

“So handsome! He sounds like he’s really smart!” I handed the phone back.

“Yes. But my daughter, she’s even smarter! She got the highest scores in Staten Island for the ninth grade.”

Eden cried louder, demonstrating her own abilities.

“Woof! Woof!” went the driver. “Listen, baby! Do you hear a doggy?”

My head felt jumbled, too many things colliding inside, too much contrast. The murderous scene on the street, the cheerful, loving father driving the cab, bragging about his children to random passengers. Bear’s face was blank, Eden’s mouth was wide open in a breathless yell of rage, I was smiling and my smile reflected back to me in the murky plastic of the divider. Too many things colliding– that’s New York City. Maybe that’s just being alive.

“So,” said Bear, later that night, “Where should we move?” He was mostly joking.

“Hawaii!” I said and he said, “Colorado?” at the same time.


(nothing bad could happen here, right? source)

I remember when I moved to the city and my grandma got scared even though she grew up in Brooklyn back in the day, and she reminded me not to be out at night by myself ever.  Someone else warned me never to make eye contact on the subway. But it was automatic- I looked up. I sometimes had whole conversations with strangers on the subway. Once, when I was twenty-four, I sat next to a five-year-old and we had a great conversation.

How can we ever feel safe at all? I don’t know. We just do it. We have to believe in the basic goodness in strangers. We try not to give our kids too many sippy cups when it turns out they’re full of weird carcinogenic chemicals. But we probably allow for some plastic anyway. Because you can’t let yourself go crazy worrying. All of life is risk, after all.

I hope that man who was beaten in the street will be OK.

I hope the woman who was attacked a few blocks away from me will be OK.

I hope my baby will grow up safe and be OK. After I finish writing this, I’m taking her outside for our daily walk. It looks like it’s another beautiful day and I want her to see the sky.



*  *  *

Have you ever seen something shockingly violent in real life?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in pale blue. I never used to wear it because I thought for some reason, from the time I was a kid, that only people with blue eyes should wear blue. It turns out that is not a real rule.


Kate on March 12th 2014 in family, fear, life, new york

18 Responses to “man beaten in the street on a beautiful day”

  1. anne responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 10:43 am #

    that is pretty intensely wrong, that the 911-lady asked you about the perpetrators ethnicity.

  2. onebreath responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Wow – I am at work and thought I’d just skim this piece and found myself completely drawn in. I am grateful that you are okay and I am in horror at what you went through. Your questions are ones that resonate so deeply within me…

    How do we make sense of a world that just doesn’t make sense sometimes? How do we reconcile that we are everything to someone and nothing to most others? How is there such good and such bad?

    There are no answers, I think, that could ever be completely satisfying. All I have come to is that I need to matter in my own life and to figure out what that means to me. For me, part of that is, like you, believing in an essential value and worth in people. Though situations like you witnessed cause me pain and require lots of self-nurturance to recover and believe again. I do hope you take the time to your experience hit you, to really feel it so that you can move past it healthfully, and then ensure you do what you need to do to take care of yourself and your family. I think a few extra big snuggles will be in order.

  3. Jessie responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I have been on the receiving end of shocking violence in the street. I was about 13, I was with two of my younger brothers. We were mobbed by a large group of teenagers, strangers, all some years older than me. A man whom I still literally believe was an angel saved us, drove us home. I was pretty sure they would kill me, or at least render me unconscious. And I couldn’t do anything to protect my little brothers.

  4. Julia (Color Me Green) responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    in prospect/crown heights, i saw a man assault a woman outside my window at night. it was the most terrible thing, one of those things you hope you never experience. it turned out to be my neighbor and his girlfriend. another day i heard her screaming for help from inside their apartment. both times i called the cops but don’t know if the cops were able to interact with them. after that we moved because i was worried about having to call the cops on him again and scared he would know it was me. i didn’t feel that safe in crown heights since shootings and muggings happen more often there, but it’s also true what people say that stuff can happen anywhere in new york. i’d like to write about all this on my blog but trying to find the right way to talk about it.

  5. Emily responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    I call my blog nihil timendum est.
    This translates to:
    fear nothing / there is nothing to fear

    they are two distinct outlooks

    it is truly the only way to live, inside your mind.

  6. Q responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    Anne – I think the 911 responder would only ask that question so that if the perpetrator fled the scene the police would have more information to identify him.

  7. Rosanne responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    Wow, that’s an intense experience. Reading about it even. It really rattles you, doesn’t it…
    I witnessed a voilent scene once. It had only lived in Amsterdam (NL) for a few months and was on my way to a friend I had recently made at uni, it turned out he lived walking distance from me. It was at night and I walked through a residential area with my iPod on. As I turned a corner and approached a small tunnel someone on a bike suddenly swooped past me, followed by a guy running after it. I was a little startled, because hey, the music in my ears was drowning out all exterior sound, but no big deal, they seemed fine, just… chasing each other in a friendly way. But then suddenly, I’m facing the tunnel wall, very slowly stepping forward. Like Bear, I do not remember moving there, it’s like in a split second my brain decided the chase was not friendly after all and went into survival mode. Very freaky experience. As I was slowly moving forward, towards where the two figured had gone, I got the music out of my ears and it became clear the situation was violent. Because it was dark it took a while to make out what was happening, but when I did I could see the chaser dragging the man on the bike down to the ground. And then he just tore into him, kicking and screaming. The guy on the ground was yelling at him to stop but the kicker was just so loud and agressive… He pulled a weapon at one point, I don’t remember if it was a gun or a knife (it’s been eight years). All the while I was standing there in the tunnel, firmly planted up against the wall, wondering what the hell I should do. I was so torn about stepping in or at least saying something, but I was just stuck in shock. A woman came up behind me, got of her bike and did step up. And at the same I saw a group of people approaching from the other side, I could see at least two of them where on the phone. I suspected with the police. When I knew all these people were coming to the scene and the police had been called, I was able to move again en quickly passed the scene en went on my way. I felt guilty about it for quite some time afterward and wondered if I could and should have handled it differently. My body just took over though, it knew what was happening before I did. And when I did comprehend the situation again, I was stuck in fear. I wonder if my reaction would be the same should another random violent situation occur in my presence, but I’ve accepted the way I handled it this first time.

  8. Melissa responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    A few years ago, I was standing at a bus stop with a friend around midnight and saw a man on the other corner fire a gun into a car multiple times. I don’t remember doing it, but I apparently tackled my friend to the ground and tried to cover her with my body as much as I could. We called the cops as soon as we could but I don’t know if they ever found the guy or if they even looked. It was in a bad part of the city (Philly) that has a lot of drug and violent crime. I was very shaken up for awhile, and to this day, loud noises like fireworks really freak me out. I still think about it sometimes- what if he had turned to us and shot us? We were witnesses and could ID him to the police. My friend ended up moving out of that neighborhood because she was worried that she’d run into him and he’d recognize her. I’m glad that you, Bear, and Eden got away from the scene and called the cops and are okay.

  9. Sara responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    15th st. and 1st ave is a terrible corner! I live just a few blocks away and there is something off about that corner by the Chase bank. The whole Stuyvesant town area is nice and safe, except that one corner. I also witnessed one guy beating up another there about a year and a half ago. I called 911, but I was alone at night so I left before the police arrived.

  10. Kate responded on 13 Mar 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Whoa! I had no idea. That’s really crazy! I wonder what the deal is with that corner…

  11. Kate responded on 13 Mar 2014 at 10:33 am #

    Oh my god, that’s so terrifying.
    Bear actually said, after the whole thing, “What if one of them had had a gun?” A gun takes everything to the next, much much worse, level.

  12. Kate responded on 13 Mar 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Yes– there is something so surreal about stuff like this, isn’t there? It’s so shocking and out of place, and yet somehow it’s happening right in front of you. It feels like part of your brain simply can’t accept it. Now I find myself wondering what happened between the men I saw– was there a story? I wonder about what you’re describing, too. What was going on between those people?

  13. Kate responded on 13 Mar 2014 at 10:38 am #

    Well said. This is what it comes down to for me, too: I grapple with a world that is both intensely good and intensely bad. My mind slides away from the bad automatically, as though it can’t possibly be real. But of course it is.

    Snuggling is definitely the answer! Thank you :-)

  14. Krystina responded on 13 Mar 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I can’t recall ever witnessing a horrible fight, except for drunken brawls, and I don’t count them. That’s just stupidness. I was invloved in a horrible car accident and the other driver was actually in the same ER room with me. He had pulled out in front of my sister as we were doing 60 mph. He didn’t survive and I remember the commotion and the noises of those machines. I live in KY and not to brag but we don’t put up with people attacking others in broad daylight. We don’t lock our doors at night, I have no fear walking by myself anywhere. If I did see someone in need of help, you better bet I would jump in to assist any way I could. What if you were meant to be there, at that exact moment to help save a life? I just refuse to stand by and let a person be hurt or killed.

  15. claire responded on 13 Mar 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    my goodness how brave of you guys but you have to stay safe for Eden. Love CRF

  16. Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week, 3.14.2014 | pink-briefcase responded on 14 Mar 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    [...]  Man Beaten in the Street on a Beautiful Day, by Kate at Eat the Damn Cake.  There’s this tension between protecting others and [...]

  17. Kaylene responded on 16 Mar 2014 at 6:50 am #

    I’ve never seen something horribly violent happen in front of me, but I’m studying to be a high school teacher, so I expect I probably will at some point.

    My mum saw a group of teenage boys in a brawl as she was coming out of the cinema once. One of them smashed a bottle and looked like he was going to glass another. She told me she didn’t know what exactly made her do it, but she ended up standing between them, talking down the one with the bottle, telling him not to throw his life and future away over a fight. They wound up calming down and just dispersing.

    When she told me about it later I couldn’t believe she’d done something so reckless, but I was so proud of her too. She might have saved two lives.

  18. W responded on 18 Mar 2014 at 7:17 am #

    I am one of those people who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve seen a lot of violence and I’ve lived all over, admittedly not always in the nicest of places but not crack-den level of poverty, either. It’s funny you mention Hawaii. Hawaii isn’t without violence, in fact there’s a lot of racial tension there, despite the melting-pot party line. There are areas where white people aren’t safe to be in after dark. There was also a big drug problem with crystal meth out in the rural areas before I left.

    I’m hyper vigilant in public because of a few bad incidents. Sometimes I feel like maybe it’s like a self-fulling prophecy with me noticing bad things that are happening and then getting stuck in these situations because I’m not sure I should stay or leave. My friend was mugged once and without thinking I chased the muggers. Admittedly not the smartest thing ever because I know I’m not athletic or threatening in any way. But I think that old cliche about fight or flight instinct is completely true. Your husband stepping towards the guy, it’s completely involuntary. Only after everything had calmed down did I realize that I was a 120 pound girl trying to chase down two much larger men down an alley way. Thank god they ran away.

    I carry pepper spray now. It gives me a modicum of comfort but not much. I always wanted to take one of those self defense classes but never did. Avoiding public transport is probably the best decision I ever made, so much crap goes down on those things. I always wonder, maybe, if you could live in a really small town where no one was a known psycho (including crazy neighbors) things like this wouldn’t happen, but otherwise it seems like bad things happen everywhere.