Last night I got mugged. I guess you’d call it a mugging – no actual physical violence occurred, but threats of death were certainly on offer. My girlfriend and I had just come back from a concert, taking the last train to Oakland from San Francisco. I had just given a couple bucks to a guy in the 16th st Mission BART station because he seemed truly desperate – he said his social welfare had just been stopped completely, and couldn’t be renewed because he hadn’t been able to get a job in two years, though he was trying to get jobs in food service. His face had lesions, and it sure did not look like someone in food service would hire him – it was a depressing reminder of the ways in which our current system of living does not allow for someone like him to come back from wherever he’s been. He made sure to tell me his name – Roland – then he spelled it out – so we would know that he was a human being. It made me sad.

We were discussing this as we rode home, how difficult it would be for him to get a job, and how being messed up in drugs is not particularly his fault at this point – after earlier having a discussion of what martial arts might boost one’s confidence. Then, serendipitously, as we walked home all these threads came together in an unfortunate altercation.

As we got away from the lights of the main street, a kid (I’d say late teens to early 20s) on a bike rode up behind us on the sidewalk and asked what time it was.

“12:30, I think,” said I. “Aw, for real?” he said. “Well, let me see if it’s for real,” I said, taking out my phone, informing him that actually it was 1:09 AM. “Okay,” he says, as I notice Kid 2 on a bike with his hoodie up and his face covered, on our right side. I began to get somewhat wary. A couple seconds later, we rounded the corner off Forest to Ayala, and Kid 1 clipped my foot with his bike. “Oh, sorry,” he said. “Don’t worry about it,” I replied.

Then Kid 2 was riding to intercept us, and stopped diagonally to block our path, though not quite getting there, remaining mostly in the street.

Kid 1: “Give me your phone.”

Kid 2, immediately following: “Give me the purse.”

Me: “Are you fucking serious?”

Kid 1: “Yeah, we’re serious, give me the phone.”

Me: “No! Why?”

Kid 2: “I’ve got a *gun.*” (he emphasized the word strongly.)

Me: “No you don’t.” – Kid 2 was skinny, with a hoodie on, nowhere to hide a gun that I could see, and he jangled his pocket in such a way that it sure did look empty.

Kid 2: “I’ll waste you two right now.” At this point my girlfriend was getting rather worried about all my sass. He sounded like he meant it, but I was mad, and didn’t feel like listening to them. Then all of a sudden, from behind, here comes Kid 3, with a fist raised, running full speed at my girlfriend. At this point I realized it was time to stop arguing (in retrospect, right away was was probably the best time for that). I spun her around a bit, and quickly took the purse off and dangled it in front of him, giving him a new target to lock onto.

Kid 3 grabs the purse and backs up as Kid 1 takes my phone.

Kid 2: “Where’s the wallet?” as he puts his feet on the bike pedals.

My girlfriend: “In the purse!”

Kid 1, to me: “You don’t have nothing?”

Me: “Your friends are leaving.” The other two had started running and biking off, respectively. Kid 1 rifles through my jacket pocket, and grabs my earplugs.

Me: “You want my fucking earplugs, man?”

Kid 1 throws them on the ground and bikes off, saying “Thank you!”

Me: “You’re welcome.” I managed to keep my wallet, but couldn’t help feeling in some way like I’d sacrificed her purse to distract them.

We walked home, and filed a police report. My girlfriend has an iPhone with tracking on it, so we followed the phone… to about three blocks away, inside the Keller Plaza project housing. They probably just went home themselves. So from her, they got an iPhone, which they may be able to sell if they can jailbreak it, and a two year old android from me which is worth $99 new, and thus will get them no money. They got a bunch of cards in her purse that were immediately canceled. They got a bunch of prescription medicine they can’t use, and, importantly to me, all my photos on my phone from the last 6 months. In essence, they will have made about $150 (according to the cop) for the phone they’ll sell, if they can sell it, and the $40 she had in her wallet. We get a couple weeks of replacing everything that’s replaceable. It will cost many times more for us to replace what we had than they will get for selling it.

The saddest thing is that this was probably worth it for them. That’s $190 they didn’t have before. That is the desperate situation that people are in right now in a rapidly gentrifying Oakland, where prices for everything are increasing, but also the bar for base normalcy has raised so high (what kind of phone, shoes, bike you have) that many can’t achieve it. And it’s not a steal from the rich, give to the poor situation. We know that the poor often steal from each other, for convenience.

In our case, both of us make minimum wage, essentially. I recently broke down the money I take home per month, and if I were working 8 hours a day, it’d be bay area minimum wage – only I work way more than 8 hours per day. They’re not trying to target people with expensive stuff – they’re trying to target whoever they can find alone on the street. The officer we made our report to mentioned that there had been a rash of crimes against immigrants, because the perpetrators know immigrants won’t go to the police for fear of deportation.

So there we are – the system has failed them, and it has failed us by extension. These kids are from my neighborhood. I have walked this neighborhood for 9 years without incident. It was just bad luck that it happened when it did. But because it’s my neighborhood, I will probably see them again, because I will keep walking. I believe in actually living in a place, rather than driving through it.

The officer warned me that “everyone has guns, now,” so I should basically assume anyone attempting to rob me does. Curiously, he thinks that proposition 47, which reduces some property and drug-related crimes a to misdemeanor, will increase the number of people with guns. I voted for that proposition because I feel the opposite way. I wouldn’t want these kids to go to jail for 10 years for something like this. Regardless, he said, “If you see them around the neighborhood again, act like you didn’t.”

And that’s very sad. There aren’t good structures to get people like those who robbed us out of their financial situation. The schools aren’t there to help them, their parents can barely fend for themselves, and government help is largely financial (and tiny at that), rather than institutional. The only thing I can do is ignore them if I see them again. So as angry as I was and am at them for taking my stuff, I’m even madder at the situations that caused them to feel the need to do it. So maybe they got a little money. And it makes me wonder – when Kid 1 said “thank you,” maybe he meant it.