Take precautions, but don’t take personal safety for granted

    Ugh, my upstairs neighbors are home drunk from the bar again.

    It wasn’t until the next morning, when a policeman knocked on my door to question me about my downstairs neighbor being burgled, that I knew the sounds I’d heard weren’t my upstairs neighbors.

    Bang! Some scuffling. Then a couple of small bangs. Then silence.

    Ugh, my upstairs neighbors are home drunk from the bar again. Certainly their favorite pastime, I think. But it’s Thursday. One has a full-time job, and the other is still in school. Friday and Saturday nights they stumble up the stairs, rousing me from my sleep, but never on a weeknight.

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    Should I get up and look at my phone to see if just past closing time? Meh. I don’t want to get up. It must be Restaurant Week. Or maybe it’s a friend’s birthday, and they were carousing on an unusual day.

    I look over at my dog, who is sitting up at my feet with her ears erect. She’s on the verge of barking.

    I hush her. “No, Sedona. It’s just the girls.”

    She turns in several circles, then settles in a ball by my feet. We both go back to sleep.

    It wasn’t until the next morning, when a policeman knocked on my door to question me about my downstairs neighbor being burgled, that I knew the sounds I’d heard weren’t my upstairs neighbors.

    I began shaking and holding my head. An intruder had been right below me. The noises made me suspicious, yet I had managed to think my way out of it — because of course this would never happen in my building.

    Violation and shock

    I felt very foolish and guilt-ridden, and even worse after my downstairs neighbor told me she’d been robbed of her cell phone and about $10 on her way home from work that very same night. She called several cab companies, who never showed, and she didn’t see any vacant cabs on the street, so she was forced to walk.

    On top of being mugged and finding her apartment had been robbed, her door could not be closed or locked because the frame was broken. She knocked at the door of everyone in the building, but no one answered.

    She didn’t know where the police station was — and she couldn’t look it up, because both her laptop and cell phone were long gone. So she packed up and drove to her parents’ house outside of the city.

    I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t able to call the police while it happened so they could catch the burglar. And I couldn’t believe that my neighbor had to go through such a terrible night alone, despite my being at home.  Most of all, I couldn’t believe that the four people who live in the building — including me — could have suffered such a breach of safety and security.

    I moved to Philly three years ago at age 21. After I was made to throw away my pepper spray at the entrance of “Terror Behind The Walls” at Eastern State Penitentiary two years ago, I never replaced it.

    Despite feeling so safe for so long, 2014 ruffled my sense of security in this otherwise wonderful city in more ways than one.

    About a week before my neighbor was robbed, 26-year-old Amber Long was murdered in Northern Liberties for a $14 purse and its contents. I am often in that neighborhood, and Miss Long was very close to my age.

    Just two days after the burglary in my building, two women were shot — one of whom was killed — in West Philadelphia, despite surrendering their purses. Those women were also relatively close to my age — and they walked as a pair.

    Time for some changes beyond the rote advice

    Walk in groups. Let your things go. Call a cab. Lock your doors. All of the things experts tell women to do to stay safe suddenly seemed like a sham. After the burglary, I could only sleep five hours a night out of fear.

    But I wasn’t going to lose sleep forever. I made some small changes.

    The day the police came to my door, I bought a “Beware of dog” sign to post outside of my building, a small alarm to attach to my unit door, and pepper spray. I resolved to have more self-control with my cell phone so I could sleep with it close to me, on my nightstand. I quit hushing my dog when she barked. I contacted my local civic association’s crime and safety committee chair. Then I convinced all of the tenants in my building to complain until the landlord repaired the doors, put on extra locks and had a locksmith check out how safe they were. We also started a tenant email list.

    Outside of my apartment building, I’m more aware now of which choices may be risky. Sure, it’s my right to feel safe at night in my neighborhood or other good neighborhoods — or anywhere for that matter. But I have to understand that I’m risking my safety if I assume that right won’t be violated by a mugger or otherwise violent person.

    All I can do is not paint myself as a target. A while ago, I purchased an iPhone case that’s also a wallet. I started using it more and stopped carrying a purse. I’ve known for a while not to use headphones or to text or talk on the phone while walking at night — but now I remind myself not to. I’ve also been keen on cabs rather than buses or walking late at night. But just in case there’s a bad night for cabs, I started an Uber account.

    In reality, the best I can do is hope I continue to be lucky enough for trouble to avoid me. Someone who does everything right can become a victim, no matter what city or neighborhood they live in.

    Thus, I have some things to be thankful for: that my neighbor was lucky enough not to be home, even if she was being robbed a few blocks away; that her mugger only wanted money and a cell phone; that the burglar in the building didn’t check the other apartments — all of which were occupied at that moment.

    It was all a stroke of great luck. I appreciate it, I hope it continues, and I have an idea of what I can do so that it continues. I hope women in this city and others can do the same without a brush with a potentially dangerous situation.



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