Listen as the author reads this article:
[dropcap]I gently took[/dropcap] a bite of my pizza. An instant later pain spread throughout the right side of my face. It was sore and had begun to swell in a couple of places. Although the physical pain was completely bearable, it was discomforting and the events leading up to it were less than pleasant.
The moment passed quickly and I did not give it too much thought because the consequences were not severe. My mother’s reaction was the complete opposite. She was almost hysterical in her fits of concern, indignation, and anger. She was anxious to know if I was all right or if I had been hurt. She actually called the police. All of this happened because I had been mugged, sort of.
It had been a failed attempt by some people who wanted to rob me. They were unsuccessful due to the help I received from a couple of people playing basketball inside the park near Bethune Elementary School on Fresno’s west side, which is where the attempted robbery took place. I still remember the events clearly.
I was walking home on the same path that I had taken for almost a year, which stretched only a mile or two long. I had never had any troublesome experiences on my way home despite the negative reputation of gangs, drugs, and violence that my west side neighborhood had gained according to what I was told by my friends and family. I was running a little late and the only thing that was on my mind was the possibility that my mother might be mad at me.
As I passed the school almost making it home, I heard someone call out to me. The voice was not familiar but I decided to stop. Out of the children’s playground ran out a lean, tall teenager of about seventeen. The moment I saw him I asked myself what this stranger wanted with me.
He ran right up to me and simply said hello in a casual way. “What’s up man?” was all he said as he shook my hand. He talked to me as if we were friends even though I had no idea who he was. He asked me if I had any money and I replied in a sincere way that was almost apologetic. I told him I did not and I emptied my pockets before him to drive the point home.[pullquote_right]“C’mon man,” he said, “let me see your backpack.” I quickly realized he was about to rob me and make a quick buck.[/pullquote_right]
However, he wasn’t convinced. “C’mon man,” he said, “let me see your backpack.” I quickly realized he was about to rob me and make a quick buck.
I was calm about the situation because I had absolutely nothing of value to give him. I thought he wouldn’t try to mug me if I didn’t have anything valuable. I thought he wanted to make sure that I didn’t have any money or valuable electronics in my backpack so I actually swung it over and opened it just to show him that I had nothing except papers and a broken calculator. I kept one of the straps on my left shoulder because I really didn’t trust him and I thought he might try running off with my backpack.
It seemed that he wasn’t interested in anything I had so I began to place my backpack on my shoulders when he stopped me. “Let me have your backpack man,” he said, “maybe I can sell it and get some money for it.” In a casual tone, I said, “I’m sorry man, but this is my only backpack.”
He insisted strongly so I decided that the best thing to do would be to leave. I placed my backpack on my shoulders and I began to leave. As I did so, he held out his hand and was saying goodbye. I reached out to shake his hand and before I knew what had happened he had struck me with a quick right. After that, he backed off, got his hands up, and was ready to fight.
My first reaction was one of disbelief! After all, why would he try to rob me when I had been willing to show him that I had nothing of value? I simply asked him, “Dude, man, what IS your problem? What the heck did I do? I don’t have anything valuable you can take.” What made me mad was that I was telling the truth, I had nothing at all. I got my backpack from Wal-Mart for about five bucks and I had nothing in my backpack except my homework, a pencil, and a broken, worthless calculator.[pullquote_left]Dude, man, what IS your problem? What the heck did I do? I don’t have anything valuable you can take.”[/pullquote_left]
I was indignant at the fact that although he was trying to rob me, it appeared to me that he was in a much more secure financial position than I was. I had shoes that cost roughly twenty dollars. I looked at his feet and saw that he wore ninety-dollar Nikes, not only that but I also saw an I-pod sticking out of his pocket. He possessed material items that my family could not afford. Therefore, I could see that he had not been driven into this situation out of financial destitution.
I thought to myself why anyone would try to steal from people in an impoverished neighborhood in the manner that he had attempted to rob me. In the process of these thoughts, I decided that I wasn’t going to get mugged. After he swung again I blocked his left hook and I elbowed him in his left eye. The force of the blow knocked him back. I told myself that this guy had chosen to mess with the wrong person. As this happened a large group of his friends rushed forward and I knew that I had to prepare myself for a fight.
Lucky for me some guys playing basketball decided to help me out and we scared them all off. They saw that I was no longer alone and that they would be in for a fight.[pullquote_right]I am glad these people saved me, and it is thanks to the fact that they were playing basketball in the park.[/pullquote_right]
I am glad these people saved me, and it is thanks to the fact that they were playing basketball in the park. Otherwise I would have been in for quite a fight. It makes me realize that having parks where people can hang out is one way to help make the neighborhood safer. I am thankful to them and to the basketball courts near my home. Surprising that just one place can make a neighborhood so much safer and contribute to our community.
When my family first moved into West Fresno, I had thought that the warnings my mother had given me were exaggerated or that there was no way something like that could happen to me. Yet because of this experience I have a complete change in attitude about the way I travel my neighborhood. I no longer wander aimlessly and every time I walk the streets I always have a heightened sense of awareness and paranoia.
This experience opened my eyes and I saw that these acts of violence were problems that occurred more often than I thought. Just last spring, a young person was shot and killed near a community center here on the west side. It was very sad to hear about this, and it lets us all know that we need to do something more to help young people so we can stop hurting one another and start feeling safer in our communities.
This article appears in Issue 7 of The kNOw magazine.