I was mugged on Christmas Eve. I’m fine — the only upshot is that the State of New Jersey are kindly paying for me to replace my stolen iPhone with a slightly newer model, and also for me to repurchase a wonderful book I’ve been reading on and off for the last few months. But, that said, there’s not much I can think of that’s worse than the thought of getting mugged whilst changing trains on Christmas Eve. Other than spending Christmas Day in jail with a black eye, perhaps.
But, let’s start at the beginning.
I was heading out to a lovely part of New Jersey to spend Christmas with my housemate’s family;- the folks who so kindly hosted me for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. Unfortunately, this involved transferring trains at the not so lovely city of Newark, NJ, which is famous for race riots; for having every one of its mayors since 1962 criminally indited whilst in office; and for having an airport which isn’t too far from New York City. It’s the 23rd most dangerous city in the US, and after March 2010 had a celebration to honour their first full calendar month without a homicide in the city since 1966.
I probably should have picked an alternative route.
As I was sitting in the waiting room at the deserted station (it was cold out,) texting drivel to some friends, I noticed a couple of people walk past me, and barely looked up. They left the waiting room and a third walked in, and it was a little harder not to notice him as he punched me in the face a couple of times and demanded my phone and wallet. Now, any Cardiff boy will naturally know the correct response in this situation: I stood up and hit him back. Unfortunately, it seems the first two were simply playing lookout and one of them came in and hit me too. He looked a fair bit smaller than the first chap, so I punched him as well, but after the third lad ran in and pushed me backwards over the chair I’d been sitting in, it became quite clear things weren’t going to go my way.
They ran off with the bag I’d had by my feet, and the phone I’d dropped, but weren’t inclined to try and get my wallet from my pocket, and (scandalously) decided not to take the flowers I had with me back to their mothers for Christmas. Clearly these boys hadn’t been brought up very well at all. Chasing them down the stairs and onto the streets of Newark didn’t appeal too strongly to me, so instead I headed to the nearest payphone and dialled 9-1-1, just like on TV.
The Newark cops and transit police were wonderful. They were all local guys, and once they’d quickly established I was fine (a couple of bruises aside) they got straight to work manning the security cameras and driving around. Sure enough, the biggest of the culprits – the one who’d attacked me first – was to be found walking the streets four blocks away with his distinctive striped ‘do-rag‘ hanging out of his back pocket and, slightly more tellingly, my bag on his shoulder. Now, it’s possible that he was also a big fan of The Strand book store and, indeed, I’ve often seen other people on the subway with the same bag as me, but evidently the Newark PD thought it worth looking into.
They got him (the ‘possible suspect’) to stand on the side of the street as I (the ‘victim’) was driven past in the passenger seat of a police car. Sure enough, it was the right guy, now with the beginnings of a wonderful black eye, and once I’d identified him (making him the ‘suspect’) the cops took me back to the main station for a proper statement and all the various paperwork involved.
Back at the station I was reunited with my bag, somewhat more blood-splattered than when I left my apartment. I guess my second punch was a good one. The police weren’t able to recover my iPhone, and also missing was the heavy paperback book (Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid) about metaphysics and intelligence. Clearly they’d stashed these two items safely immediately upon getting away: I’m told both have a very high resale value in the Newark projects.
After giving a written statement about the whole thing, and filling out the various forms, including the one that means I’ll be updated by post about the suspect’s criminal case, I sat back with the local police and watched the canonical American Christmas film, A Christmas Story, which runs on endless loop over Christmas on TBS, whilst we waited for a detective to come and take my verbal statement. During this time I got to overhear some radio traffic and banter, and discovered that (at least) one of the two that got away was a juvenile, and that when the police arrived at his mother’s door looking for him, the first words out of her mouth were “He did it! I know he did it!”, which perhaps shows the low expectations she’s developed for her son.
All three of them are apparently on probation, and the one they caught was in violation of his probation due to the fact he was not wearing his house arrest ankle bracelet. Although, presumably, robbing someone in a train station would also count as a violation of his probation.
The whole thing seemed endless, but only took a little more than two hours from start to finish, when my wonderful housemate arrived to whisk me away to a glass of scotch and Home Alone 2. A couple of bruises on my face and hand aside, there was no lasting effect: I still enjoyed Christmas just as much and got a story and a new phone out of the experience. The money for that comes by way of the Crime Compensation Fund, which will simply write me a cheque for my losses once I exhaust all other options: namely insurance, which I didn’t have; and considering suing the protagonist, which will be pointless as he won’t be able to pay.
Maybe this is a sign that next year I should try and actually make it home for Christmas.
n.b. this does not supersede any of my statements to the police and should never be taken as evidence or sworn testimony in a court of law etc etc etc