Intervention, Vel Non

A Bad Night in Britain
; .

It was Wednesday, May 17, in that foul year of Our Lord 2000 — for me the most 2020 year until 2020 arrived. It was almost midnight, and I was watching a skinhead pin a girl in a short black dress up against the railing of a bridge. He wasn’t hitting or groping her, but he had his bodyweight holding her where she clearly did not want to be. And it wasn’t much bodyweight: He wasn’t a big man, and my buddy, Price, standing next to me in the darkness was ready and willing to show him there were bigger men in the world. I was a little more cautious.

“If the fight goes to the ground,” I told Price, “or if he starts hitting, we’ll step in. Until then, be cool — and let’s try to find a cop.”

Damsel In Distress

It wasn’t exactly the night I’d planned. I was 22 years old and had just graduated from college but somehow shanghaied my way onto a two-and-a-half-week trip to the U.K. with the history department, a trip on which Price joined me. Since we’d been friends for a couple years already, we bunked together for the trip and shared a room on the second floor of the Royal Station Hotel in Newcastle, England. At the time, Newcastle was reputed to be a serious party city, which basically squares with my own observations while I was there. It was 11 p.m., not late for that season of my life, and I’d just headed back to the room after a Bible study with other members of the group.

Over 20 years later, I can’t tell you how we heard it, but I think we had the balcony door open when a female voice screamed from the street below, “Help me! Help me!” Rushing to the balcony, Price and I saw a girl with jaw-length, bright-red hair and a little black dress walking rapidly, trying to get away from a young man with a shaved head. He was dressed in all black, including the expected high, glossy black boots. The two were arguing loudly, and as he closed on her, she turned and drove her own big black shoe into his shin. He staggered but kept coming until she nailed him twice more and he went down to the pavement. Moving fast, the girl made space, but undeterred, he stumbled up and chased her.


Closing Distance

Charging in the direction they’d been walking, we soon caught sight of them. She was still trying to get away, and Price and I followed at a distance for about half a mile. They argued back and forth until we wound up on the bridge where it got physical again. The girl grabbed for the handrail, and he dragged her away from it repeatedly before pinning her while we stood, unnoticed, about 25 yards away, and debated what to do.

Never short on courage, Price wanted to close in and get him off the girl. Since I’d done a bit of Muay Thai and Kali and been in plenty of physical scrapes growing up, I was willing to go hands-on but not eager. After all, this wasn’t our argument: We were two Americans in a foreign country with no idea what was actually going on between these two, who were also probably both drunk.

Help Arrives … Not

When a police car pulled up below the bridge, we sprinted the several blocks required to get to it, and I used the SureFire to get the driver’s attention. When the car pulled across, we told the officers what had happened and pointed up to the bridge. The bobbies thanked us, promptly pulled away, siren screaming … and turned the wrong way. We never saw them again.


The Truth Comes Out

Having run back to our earlier position, we turned back to watching the skinhead and the girl. Nothing changed until, after quite some time had passed, yet another police car pulled by. I once again flicked the SureFire 6Z repeatedly on and off at the police car until it pulled over. This time the officers got out of the car and walked over as the girl began repeatedly screaming, “Get away from me!” After telling them what we’d seen, Price and I kept our distance while the officers separated the two.

By the time one of the officers walked back over to us, the girl was in the back of the incongruous little Eurocar cruiser, and the skinhead had left walking in the other direction. “She caught him playing around with another boy,” the officer explained. “She was trying to jump off the bridge and kill herself.”

So, here’s the flowchart had we physically intervened: We walk up, punch the skinhead in the solar plexus, he doubles over. She jumps off the bridge. What?


One night less than a month later, I was back in the U.S. and running late to meet a female friend at a coffee shop in a suburb of Atlanta. In those days before every toddler had their own cellphone, she walked to use a pay phone to call me and was physically accosted by two men. After momentarily getting away, they caught up with her and one of them — the one with bleached blond hair and the earrings — shoved her against a brick wall and told her he “had something” for her she was “going to take.” A passerby in a nearby parking lot saw the pair and the clearly frightened girl they had pinned against the wall and shouted at the men to stop, which let her escape for good. I’ll never know who he was because he didn’t stick around. But that man’s willingness to step in — to a scene that looked identical to the suicide attempt on the bridge — spared my friend from being raped in an alleyway.

Thank you.

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