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

By Adena Ishii

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.

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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  • Jeffrey White

    Why don’t you walk down by yourself around midnight on a main drag in West Oakland while reading the email on your smart phone?

    Have you been mugged at gun point? I have. I can still remember seeing three bullets in the gun chamber. So, excuse me, if I plan my public travels to avoid getting mugged. So, excuse me if I do the Christian thing to try to help other people from getting mugged.

  • Jeffrey White

    It was NOT her fault for walking on a public street. The only ones to blame are the muggers. However, she obviously showed little regard for her safety by making herself a big target.

    Why don’t you walk down by yourself around midnight on a main drag in West Oakland while reading the email on your smart phone? Try it. See what happens.

    Have you been mugged at gun point? I have. I can still remember seeing three bullets in the gun chamber. So, excuse me, if I plan my public travels to avoid getting mugged. So, excuse me if I do the Christian thing to try to help other people from getting mugged.

  • guest

    Sharkey. You have a point. But breathe, man. I can feel the hysteria from all the way over here.

  • guest

    Did…did you just make your own copypasta?

  • Jeffrey White

    Why don’t you walk down by yourself around midnight on a main drag in West Oakland while reading the email on your smart phone?

    Have you been mugged at gun point? I have. I can still remember seeing three bullets in the gun chamber. So, excuse me, if I plan my public travels to avoid getting mugged. So, excuse me if I do the Christian thing to try to help other people from getting mugged.

    The victims are never at fault. The responsibility for the crime always rest with the criminal that initiated the crime….However, if you live in a bad area where people are mugged all of time for their smart phones, do you use your smart phone in public? Do you walk for an extended distance with a laptop bag? Do you carry a lot of bags? Do you go out of way to draw attention to bad people that you have highly profitable electronics for them to rob? Do you expect other people to run to your rescue when you go out of your way to make yourself a big target? Or, do you take personal responsibility for your safety, think proactively, plan safe public travel and so on? I vote for taking personal responsibility for my affairs and trying to minimize the bad things that happen to me.

  • Jeffrey White

    Speak standard English.

  • guest

    Jeffrey, you’re a threat to property values, what with your common sense and all. ;-)

  • Jeffrey White

    So, I try to help people and you troll and criticize and don’t do anything constructive…So, do you really think that this wouman should continue walking in really bad areas while reading email on her mobile and carrying a laptop bag? Are. you going to guard her? Apparently, she feels men should protect her. What if the next muggers use guns and beat or rape her? Are you going to insist that she continue to make herself a big target in bad areas? Do you really care for her at all and what happens to her?

  • Jeffrey White

    You are correct, I am at fault. However, when I have made multiple postings on websites where I didn’t pay anything. Those sites didn’t care. So, why I should financially support a website that criticizes me when I can post for free?

  • ml

    In the area where I live, everyone is a target. I’m sure you read the story about the young man who was involved in a fender bender on Market in N Oakland. He got out of his car to talk to the other driver and was shot and killed. I’m sure it never occurred to him that he was showing disregard for his safety.

  • The_Sharkey

    I’m a little confused. You seem to take umbrage at my comment, but then you echo the sentiment in yours.

    I think Jeff offers some really good advice. My only hope is that the next time he offers it he won’t feel the need to also insult victims of crime. It’s possible to give suggestions about how someone can empower themselves through the use of cation without calling people names and blaming them for what happens to them.

  • The_Sharkey

    Such is the result of our permissive attitudes towards street psychotics.
    San Francisco and Berkeley are national magnets for crazy street people.

  • Gun Owner

    What kind of gun can hold three bullets in the chamber at the same time? Was this a multi-barreled sidearm?

  • Jeffrey White

    It is the same thing where I live, which is the SAME district of the woman in this opinion piece. We can only do our best to stay out of harms way.

    As for the woman in this opinion piece, she went way out of her way to make herself a target in what she should have known is a very bad area. She also expected other people to compensate for her lack of foresight.

    So, I suggested ways for her to minimize her victimization in the future…I guess you would tell her to keep reading email on smart phone and walk down the street as late as possible in bad areas? After all, you apparently don’t give a damn if the next mugger shoots her with a gun, rapes her or kills her?

  • Jeffrey White

    I used the wrong terminology. It was a revolver. The bullets were in the cylinder.

  • Devin

    My issue is with how you were framing the issue(s) and calling each other out rather than offering constructive criticism (of which you just expressed a terrific example) when you both wanted the same thing – an end to assaults / robberies / muggings. The only response that should be demonized is apathy.

  • Jeffrey White

    My mistake. I thought curiousjorge was a monitor for the website.

  • Jeffrey White

    My mistake. I thought you were was a monitor for the website…With all due respect, I will say what I want.

  • serkes

    Well, I have been mugged, but by intimidation and not by gunpoint.

    I have had guns pointed at my chest, but that’s because the police didn’t know if I was the person who was threatening others, or an innocent bystander – the police acted appropriately.

    Carol had someone try to steal her purse while walking home from BART along MLK one evening.

    It took me several years to feel safe when someone did a “hot prowl” of our home – breaking and entering while we were sleeping.

    I knew that my grandfather was a good man … referred to as the unofficial “Mayor of 116th Street” … but I never knew him because he was shot and killed in a robbery about 10 years before I was born.

    So I do post with some context, personal experience, and having grown up in NYC with a modicum of street smarts.

    The author wrote:

    “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, ”

    You wrote

    “However, she was a fool to make herself a target of crime in an area that has so much crime. She should have known better to walk any distance, loaded with packages. a smart phone and a laptop. in an area that has a very high incidence of muggings.”

    Walking on a busy street at 7:15 am, a block from your home, and carrying packages, a phone and a laptop – something’s very wrong when that makes anyone a target of crime.

    It’s also a bit different than walking alone at midnight … anywhere … and reading email on a dumb phone.


  • and then there’s this:


    Note the bit about them robbing residents.

  • Jeffrey White

    I wrote a long reply and then then website UI went on the blink…So, I will now give you a short answer:

    I live in district 3, and I live in a state of fear…So, hey, don’t listen to those of us who have lived here for years. You and the author obviously know everything…I will NEVER give tips to anybody again about how to avoid being victimized in my district. I will let them find out the hard way.

  • Jeffrey White

    I live in District 3, and I live in a state of fear…From the moment I open my front door, everything I do requires deliberate forethought to avoid violence and becoming a victim.

    Think about it…Put yourself in our shoes. Imagine how we see the world from behind the bars on our windows…Imagine how we rarely walk in our neighborhood, and we go quickly from our front door to our car.

    Think about it.

  • Adena Ishii

    You can call me a dreamer. You can call me naive, foolish, idealistic, or immature. I will continue to stand for what I believe in. I will not run away or hide. I will not move or change schools. I will not allow this to stop me from doing the work I do or believing in people. If you don’t have a dream and believe in something, you can’t accomplish anything. I’d rather be idealistic and positive than feel like nothing will ever change. I did however buy pepper spray. For those of you that suggest that I put myself in danger or at risk, I ask you, what should I have done? This is of course a rhetorical question because there was nothing I could have done. I can’t afford a car or a cab. I can’t have a companion walk me everywhere. And I know I can’t rely on strangers to help me. I certainly don’t need a man to come to my rescue. Any person could have yelled at that person to stop. In the end, as I have already stated, I had to fight off my attacker. How can you say it’s my fault for bringing my laptop and cell phone and walking in my own neighborhood? It’s not like I was waving those things around. Sometimes people have to go places, and we can’t be afraid to walk to the bus stop because we’re carrying valuable items. How would anything get accomplished if we did? It speaks to your privilege to think that I have other options. Living in South Berkeley is inexpensive, and I love where I live. I love many of my neighbors and my neighborhood shops, and I won’t let this incident change that. I worked incredibly hard to get where I am and transfer into UC Berkeley. It is an amazing school with endless opportunities, and I refuse to give that up for a bunch of bullies. I appreciate the conversation around this subject and respect your opinions. I do however resent being blamed and mis-quoted. I never said we should throw more money at the education system. I said the system wasn’t doing its job. I don’t think I know everything. As the title of this section states, this is my opinion. I understand they didn’t know who I was, but I do not look like a victim. Please don’t assume you know me. They were originally just trying to pull off a quick snatch and run. I definitely did not suggest the disabled or homeless were responsible for muggings. I was saying we need to take care of everyone in our community. This is my last response, since I don’t want to get caught up in all of this drama.

  • Elena

    I am sorry to say so, but I find it quite revealing (and sad) that you write “they were JUST a couple of girls”. You should think about that, too.

  • Guest

    I am a woman, and same as I would help other people in need I hope for others to help me when in need – man or woman. But of course you know that… you just want to get your attitude out, don’t you.

  • bgal4

    from South Berkeley list serve

    76-year old father assaulted and robbed on Harper Street Aug 24
    Hi neighbors.
    I’m writing you, sadly, to let you know that my elderly father was assaulted and robbed on Harper Street while on the way to his car. He was violently punched in the kidneys, knocked down, and robbed. It was around 5 pm on Friday, and no one came by the street for about 40 minutes.

    The perpetrator was between 25-30, African American, with a large build.
    I know this happens in our neighborhood. But I’m just writing as a reminder to be very alert at all times, especially on isolated streets. It seems that no one is off-limits.

  • Jeffrey White

    The last time I was mugged, several women ran to their cars right next to me and didn’t bother to tell me that I needed to get into my car and drive away ASAP to avoid being mugged…

  • Jeffrey White

    I live in district 3… I walk over many parts of Berkeley, but I always plan my trips to avoid bad areas and bad times of the day. There are times and places that I will not walk with my laptop bag, never mind with a lot of bags. I keep my mobile phone hidden with ringer off. Moreover, I don’t use my mobile in public. If I want to know what time it is, I look at my inexpensive watch…I walk, but I walk with my brain engaged…Yes, I think everybody would like to walk down the streets without getting mugged, but that is not how it is, and it is not going to change anytime soon…Meanwhile, you can walk with brain on and can of pepper spray or you can walk with a target painted on your back.

  • Steve Johnson

    I have been mugged in front of women who did not offer any help. I did not blame the women for not helping me. The author was upset that a man nearby did not come to her aid.

  • Mel Content

    I was angry. I was upset. I felt violated, and my sense of safety and security have been shattered.

    Welcome to the real world. Hopefully your naive little liberal ideas on how the world works were shattered in the process as well.

  • redo


  • Kirby

    Ugh, how incredibly disheartening to read that crime has become the norm in Berkeley. I can only remember how awesome it was to live there as an Ohio kid out of high school in the 1984-85. It felt very safe to ride my bike anywhere I wanted and at any time of day or night. There weren’t stories of residents being mugged and everyone just seemed to co-exist and enjoy living in such a diverse city. I was told by a few people to stay away from Oakland because of the gang problems so I remained within the Berkeley limits and never had any issues. One of my first jobs was at a McDonald’s in Oakland I have really fond memories of it. I’m currently living in Lakewood, Ohio and the similarities to Berkeley are everywhere. Lakewood has a politically charged atmosphere, lots of small stores line the streets, the art scene is huge and bike riding is encouraged, just to name a few. We have Cleveland as our Oakland. Many of the same problems have found their way from Cleveland to Lakewood. Drugs, crime and a general sense by many residents that it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. Such a shame. It’s been a dream of mine to return to Berkeley after all these years for a vacation but I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe Berkeley was a better place then. Maybe it was the 80’s, who knows.

  • Steve Redmond

    Not a peep from our Berkeley Mayor who is gallivanting around town these days. The City Council? They get a report every 6 months or so from the BPD. Is this any way to run city government when the criminals take over the streets and people are afraid to walk during the middle of the day? There are actually a lot of police officers in Berkeley tween Berkeley PD, BART and Cal Police. can they talk with each other in real time? What is being done about the escalating strong arm robbery and burglary rates? Doesn’t this problem merit a monthly Berkeley PD report and better planning and deployment of officers plus other measures.

  • a concerned woman

    I have pleaded with my district supervisor to take seriously the threat that low level crime and unsafe streets pose for single women, students, the elder and any one who must walk our streets.
    After a trail of emails, I was told the my issue was to be looked into by the City manager, followed by a kind ” Don’t call me, I will call you”, kind of answer………….and that is all. Helping the poor does not mean letting all kind of people rot away in our streets, without providing safety for whomever, also not the most rich, has to walk such streets……………………….that is negligence and disregard for all in need the people who roam our streets with no purpose, no future and a lot of problems and to whom we give the freedom to rot away with no help and while harassing and threatening others are victim of neglect………………….we who walk the streets of Berkeley are also victims of neglect…… Meanwhile the very rich and possibly also our City Government does not have to take the same risks…………….We live in a town that has become, expensive……………..dirty……………….dangerous while upholding pompously delusional concepts of the 60s that no loner help anyone in this town…………….WE NEED MORE EECTIVE, MORE AWARE, PROGRESSIVE YET NOT DELUSIONAL PEOPLE IN CITY GOVERNMENT. TO BE KEPT IN MIND AT THE NEXT ELECTION……………… ENOUGH WITH THE OLIGARCHIC POWER OF THE ” OLD BERKELEY” BRING IN THE NEW!!!!!!!!!!