Confronting the moment every urban student fears

How a mugging put the downtown college experience into perspective

by Hayden Wright / Beacon Staff • March 1, 2012

Most nights, I walk home alone.  

So do my friends who live off-campus and juggle activities that often keep them out into the early hours of the morning. In the mindless routine of coming and going from class, extracurriculars, jobs, and parties, we revert to autopilot. 

For me, that changed in a moment. 

Three weeks ago, I was mugged while walking to the Maverick T stop in East Boston around midnight. A hooded man walking in my direction punched me in the face, knocking me to the ground unexpectedly, almost in an instant. My front teeth broke my fall and I can’t remember how long it took to pick myself up again, my face covered in road burn. The attacker searched my wallet for cash, which I never carry, and threw it to the ground next to my dazed and bloodied person. 

It happened so quickly that when I filed a police report in the hospital room five hours later, I remembered very little detail about my attacker. I didn’t get a good look at him. A report so vague is unlikely to ever put a criminal behind bars. Even if it did, I’m not naive enough to believe that one fewer criminal on the street will help solve random urban violence. 

“You’re lucky,” some of my friends said the next day, upon hearing that the stranger didn’t make off with any of my possessions. They heard the absurdity of that well-intentioned sentence as soon as it left their mouths. I was bruised and scraped up, sporting broken teeth and pajamas — ”busted,” as it were. 

We laughed at what an abject poster child I’d make for good luck. 

My rattled psyche underscored that inappropriate sense of humor. I knew that while it could be worse, I wasn’t lucky. Money and objects can be replaced; scrapes heal. Two days later, I learned that modern dentistry restores broken teeth to look better than new. What the mugger briefly took from me was more valuable than my iPhone and college student bank account combined — he profoundly shook my sense of security. 

After reporting that my attacker had called me a “faggot,” I received a call from a Boston Police Department civil liberties detective who wanted to pursue the investigation as a hate crime. 

“Oh, god, this was not a hate crime,” I groaned. Rifling through my wallet made his motive clear — the guy might have been a junkie, or a gambling addict, and maybe had a family to feed. There’s no excuse for what he did to me, but it was obvious that the mugger was desperate for cash. “I just want this all to be over,” I told the detective. The damage had been done. 

As with all things, I began searching for a lesson to learn from being attacked on the street. I should not have been walking alone. I could have defended myself. I should have remembered that Eastie has a higher crime rate than my sleepy corner of Beacon Hill.  I wish I’d called a cab. 

Hindsight is 20/20.

But the more I blamed myself, the more I realized that my actions didn’t invite the mugger to attack me. It could have happened anywhere in the city — in Allston, Fenway, or outside of New York Pizza on Tremont St. I was doing what each of us does at one time or another as college students who chose to study in a big city. After a fun Saturday night with friends, I walked toward the T to go home to an apartment I love; I wouldn’t have that much any other way. In that sense, I’m lucky. 

I take joy in riding the T and in all the perks of Emerson’s urban location. Boston and its various neighborhoods never cease to delight me, and I relish my ability to come and go as I please. But living in a city is not all upside — our sense of security should not be as rock-solid as that of our counterparts on the rural campuses we decided against. 

I didn’t choose to get attacked, but I chose to live in one of the best cities in the world. Part of owning that choice is realizing that the advantages of our urban campus are worth the risks.