Op-Ed: We need to be able to walk our streets and not be afraid

Last week, I got mugged in South Berkeley’s District 3. I was only a block away from my house. I fought off my attackers and managed to save my cell phone, but my laptop and some money was stolen in the process.

I am a student. I advocate for social justice issues. I am a member of this community who has been working on a project to provide more resources to the people in my neighborhood. I know these muggers were not my neighbors. They were just a bunch of dumb kids who made a really bad choice, yet I’ll never be the same. I spent the first 9 hours after the attack trying to block it out. I happened to be leading a Leadership and Service Retreat for Peralta community college students, and as my parents would say, the show must go on.

I spent the next 12 hours trying to process what had happened to me. I was angry. I was upset. I felt violated, and my sense of safety and security have been shattered. I have started thinking about carrying pepper spray or a taser; taking martial arts classes; what they (the muggers) must have been through that made them do something like that to another human being; how if they get caught, I don’t want to see more black youth end up in jail or prison; and most importantly, why they would pick me.

Of course, there were the obvious reasons: I was carrying a bunch of bags, I was alone, and it was early in the morning (7:15 am). On the other hand, I was on a busy street, there was a bystander, and I wasn’t particularly dressed up. I wasn’t even wearing jewelry.

What about that bystander though? Why didn’t he step in or speak up? The assailants didn’t have weapons. In fact, I’m sure you will be surprised to know, they were just a couple of girls. It was only when the guy got out of their car and started to fight me for my phone that he sort of called out for him to stop. He was not more than two yards away when this happened.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my parents always taught me to stick up for what’s right, help those in need, and speak out when I see injustices. What happened? Why was there no one there to help me? Why didn’t the driver, a kid who was clearly scared and was yelling at them to give me my bag back, not stop his car and wait until they had returned my belongings?

We all make bad decisions in our lives, but if they get caught, he is now an accomplice. I honestly blame the community and the education system. If we all were a stronger community, helped those who wanted and needed our helped, watched all of our community’s children, taught those kids right from wrong, and provided loving, safe, healthy environments for them to grow up in, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

And not just those who are easy to help, those who are homeless, have disabilities (mental and physical/invisible and visible), or have already made some bad decisions and been to jail or prison. Everyone is a part of this community. Everyone should take responsibility to see that we are all safe here.

It is proven that education helps prevent crime and reduces rates of recidivism. Why is our education system failing so many people that I know at least three others who have been robbed (sometimes at gun point) in the same neighborhood?

Don’t think your neighborhood is safe just because it’s nicer than mine. This can happen anywhere. Let me repeat that. This can happen anywhere. We think we’re safe in our homes, but these problems won’t go away. It is up to ALL of us to fight for more accessible resources, programs that are proven to work, a stronger education system that addresses all students’ needs (whether they are safety, food, or extracurricular enrichment), and a more tight-knit community that protects its people.

I want to live in a world where I can walk down my street and not be afraid. I want to live in a place where I can take pride in my community. I want to live in a community that takes care of its people.

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Adena Ishii is a senior at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. She runs a program through the UC Berkeley Public Service Center that helps students transfer from community college to four-year institutions, connect to resources, and get involved in public service. She has been an active, engaged member of the community for over four years.