Last week, I experienced something pretty awful.
On Monday morning, I was in a line of people waiting for a ride into San Francisco, when three young black kids in hoodies turned up with guns and robbed as many people as they could before running away and getting into a car.
I was not robbed myself, but I was there in the line for casual carpool.
I happened to be at the front of the line and talking to the women next to me, so I was turned towards the rest of the line facing her. I saw these guys moving through the line in a strange way – why would you pass through a group of people like that when you could just go around?
The line started breaking up and I heard someone say “is this for real?”
As soon as I saw the gun, I backed up a few steps and said to the woman I had been talking to “look out, look out.” She still had her back to them and hadn’t seen anything yet.
She turned around and we backed up some more. I saw the kid closest to me facing a guy from the line, who then slowly took a backpack off his shoulder and give it to the kid. And then I turned around and ran around the corner.
Having my back to them was terrifying. Would they chase after me? Would they try to shoot me? How far should I go? Could I call the police and run at the same time?
After an eternity or a few minutes, I ran down a driveway and ducked between the back of an SUV and some garbage cans, where I called 911. After a busy signal, I tried again. I listened to some messages in different languages and waited until I finally spoke to a person. I told her that there was a robbery happening and she transferred me to the Oakland emergency line. Then I told someone else that a robbery was happening, where it was, that I had not personally been robbed, and I gave her my name and number.
And then I creeped back down the driveway and saw other people heading towards the carpool spot. Since they didn’t seem to come running back around or anything, I decided to go back to see what was happening, because surely it would be over by now. Plus, I really couldn’t figure out where else I might go.
The kids were definitely gone, and the scene was a bit chaotic. There were people in small groups, one woman was crying hysterically. There was no line. There were cars pulled up, waiting for passengers, but no one was getting in them. So I got into the first car and told the driver what had happened. There was another passenger who had also been there; she had just run straight across the street when she realized what was going on. The third passenger had just arrived on the scene.
Police were not there by the time we left.
People keep saying that I was so smart to get away. But it wasn’t planned. I just stepped back. And no one stopped me from moving away or told me to do otherwise. I mean, you can only rob one person at a time, right? And I happened to not be one of the first ones. So I managed to just move away.
The kids didn’t yell or make any noise. I’m not sure I heard them say anything. They didn’t point the guns, they just sort of held them, the way you would hold a water bottle in your hand. So it was really, really scary to see a gun and understand that it was a threat, but they weren’t acting particularly threatening. I don’t think they even touched anyone, and no one was hurt. But eight people were robbed of their purses and back packs and laptop bags.
A few days later, the police came to my house after work and showed me pictures to ask me if I could identify any of the robbers. I couldn’t.
They currently have two people in custody, one a 17-year old, who is probably the one who was closest to me.
I’ve been going back to casual carpool since then, but I make sure to keep my phone in my pocket and I’m trying to be more aware. I’m mostly fine; not freaking out all the time. This morning, though, I heard a man’s voice behind me on the sidewalk and my heart started racing. He was just saying hello to someone else he saw.
Once I realized what was happening that morning, I had the thought that at least it wasn’t my birthday today (it was the next day). Because man, it would suck to get robbed on your birthday.
But I didn’t get robbed at all.