A ONE-SIDED war is being waged by criminals against the residents of Baltimore. The criminals are armed with guns, knives and other weapons. One of their weapons is the ability to intimidate and instill terror in the powerless.
I had been the victim of a mugging, and though the fear that it might happen again was always with me, it had receded to the point where I could still carry on with my schedule at an almost normal pace. I always tried to be watchful. By some irrational thought process, however, I had conned myself into equating daylight with safety.
One day recently was particularly ugly. Winter was warding off spring with a mixture of snow, rain and sleet. It was only a little after 5 p.m. when I arrived home. I always breathed a sign of relief when I made it into the building. I was safe.
I deposited my packages on the step, so that I could open my mailbox. As I was inserting the key in the box, I heard the sound of the front door opening. I turned around expecting to greet a neighbor. Instead, I was confronted by a tall stranger who loomed in front of me, trapping me by the mailbox. I could the liquor on his breath.
He spoke in a low but menacing voice. "OK, give it up!" For a few seconds, I stood frozen, unable to react. "Give it up," he repeated. Then I realized what he wanted, and with shaky hands, I pulled out my wallet and handed it to him. In a voice so distorted by fear I could hardly recognize it as my own, I said, "Here, take it all!"
But he didn't just take the wallet and run. That would have been a blessing. Instead, he remained in front of me, yanking out the bills and then searching for loose change while I stood trapped, not knowing whether he would harm me. He handed me back my empty wallet and left.
But the terror was back.
Had I been watched? This robbery was far more intrusive than the mugging, because this time I was followed directly into the apartment building. Unanswerable questions started gnawing at me. What if I hadn't stopped for my mail? Would he then have followed me up the stairs and perhaps forced his way into my apartment? Would he return? Should I stop carrying money, or was it more dangerous to be caught with no money at all and risk a violent attack because I had no money?
How could I, a woman alone, protect myself? A crime had been committed against me; yet I had become the prisoner, trapped by fear, feeling some measure of security only behind my locked apartment door. It's been a month since I was robbed, and since that time, I have left my apartment only to go to work.
I am a city employee and will not receive the negotiated 6 percent salary raise this July. Frankly, I would be willing to take a 6 percent decrease if it would mean more security for city residents. Sadly, the police now are but an "after-the-fact" force, appearing only after a crime has been committed and admitting openly that in most cases the criminal will never be caught.
I work until 4:30 p.m., and by 3 o'clock I start getting very nervous. Every day it's the same ordeal. I get out of my car, race up the apartment building pathway, race up the stairs, quickly open the door and enter my apartment, where at last I am safe. I no longer pick up my mail in the afternoon. It's a fear that I cannot and should not be forced to handle, and it's surely no way to live.
The day after the robbery, I received a jury summons. I requested and received a permanent exemption from jury duty. I will take no part in the upcoming mayoral campaign, nor will I cast a vote for anyone. No candidate is willing to come to grips with the enormity of the existing horrendous crime problem, because he or she would then be forced to come up with a solution, and the candidates have no solutions.
If I could, I would leave this mean and ugly and frightening city for some safe harbor, but I can't. There are no guardian angels, but I desperately need someone to watch over me.
Jack Benny carefully cultivated his persona of a miserly person. This was the source for much humor. One of the funniest episodes was when he was approached by a holdup man who said, "Your money or your life!" There was a pause, a long one milked for all the laughs Benny could get, after which he replied, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!"
This used to be funny. Most people were distanced from such a confrontation.
Now, I see no humor at all.
Ruth S. Fried writes from Baltimore.