Every time the young stick-up man tugged at my companion's purse with his left hand, she would pull back, causing the muzzle of the pistol he held in his right hand to swing back and forth. Its line of fire each time was directed across my chest and if he accidentally or deliberately squeezed the trigger this piece might never have been written.
"Give him your purse!" I insisted, meaning that hanging on to it wasn't worth our lives. Still, she refused and the tug-of-war in the parking lot of my apartment building continued.
"Here!" I said to the gunman, pitching my wallet to him, "take this!" He caught the wallet, turned and fled across a wide, deserted ballpark. Even in the darkness, we could follow him running for a long way, silhouetted in the lights of the U.S. Capitol, lit up at night ahead of him like a giant white cake.
A few days later I received a call from a Maryland department store inquiring if I had sent a young man to buy a TV set on my credit card. A store detective arrested the youth and I dutifully showed up in court on the day of the trial only to learn he had skipped.
Not long afterwards, a judge who lived in my building made page one of the Washington Star for resisting the gunmen who jumped him in the same parking lot. From his hospital bed he told reporters we Americans had to "stand up" to armed robbers, a noble sentiment spoken through his pain, considering all the bullets they pumped into his body.
We were lucky, my friend and I. We could have been killed, as so many others are being killed each day. As Jill Lepore writes in the November 9th "The New Yorker," the U.S. "has the highest homicide rate of any affluent democracy, nearly four times that of France and the United Kingdom and six times that of Germany." UK averages about 60 gun homicides annually and Germany averages fewer than 200. More Americans are being murdered on our city streets than in all our foreign wars.
In Canada, gunshot deaths among males is just one-third that of the U.S. average as a result of the stiffening of gun-control laws in recent decades, Canadian Broadcasting reported. (June 28, 2005)
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert last April 24th estimated 12,000 Americans are shot dead each year, 2,000 of them children, and 70,000 more are wounded but, like the D.C. judge, survive. Do the math: the total number of Americans shot dead each year is three times that of all U.S. troops killed in Iraq in six years of fighting. There is rage in our hearts; there is war in our streets.