Tonight was like any other Tuesday evening of my life, until that moment a stranger pulled a knife on me as I walked home.
I don’t recount this story as a victim statement of any kind as the ironic thing about the situation is, although I was the one at the pointy-end of the knife, I wasn’t the victim in the story.
The evening up to that point unfolded in Fitzroy, Melbourne where I enjoyed the company of a beautiful digital marketing consultant friend as we dined on some of the finest food and drinks Melbourne had to offer. My regards to the team at Rice, Paper, Scissors who are taking Asian fusion to a new level.
We spent the evening eating and drinking our fill, and engaging in fine conversation. A topic of relevance was our agreement on the threat that rising inequality poses to our society. We discussed it in the context of advancements in AI and robotics creating industry trends which many experts believe will make large segments of the labour force as we know it today redundant.
What will become of our society when millions of people are cast to the fringes with no meaningful way to add to the productivity of our society? Will we have to implement a universal basic income? Will we ignore the problem until we end up with ghettos surrounding the centres of high economic value, with people clamouring for access to a way of life which will be the preserve of those with control of the capital, algorithms and robot assembly lines? After an evening of such nourishing food and conversation, I bid my friend adieu and decided to walk home, to aid with the digestion process.
While walking along Fitzroy, paying more attention to messages on my phone than my surroundings, I suddenly felt as if I had been hit by a snowball. I saw brief flashes of white spittle and was instantly drawn back into my immediate surroundings. Standing in front of me was a young man, wearing a baseball cap, 28 years of age, about 5’8”, much smaller and slighter than my own tall slim build. I pulled out my ear-phones to fully engage with the situation.
“Walk around you dog” he demanded, pointing to the edge of the footpath.
I stopped in my tracks, perplexed at the sudden unwarranted and at that time, inexplicable demand.
“What are you on about?” I asked.
Almost instantly, I noticed his stance take an offensive position. He stared at me with a notable look of disdain and hate.
“Walk over there you fucking dog”, as he pointed out onto Brunswick Street.
My past experience of threatening situations immediately caused me to take a sideways stance towards him.
Time slowed down.
I noticed him reach into his right-hand jacket pocket. I knew what was coming. He was about to take a knife out of his pocket.
In my mind I played out the various scenarios as they would unfold. I had two choices. Neutralise through offence, or neutralise through defence.
Having the benefit of martial arts training, I knew that given his size and perceived position of power in the situation, a confusing comment to mentally distract, one step and two swift strikes, one to the groin and one to the throat would have quickly changed the dynamic.
But it would also start another series of unintended and unpredictable consequences.
What if he manages to get a knife strike off in the process? What if I injure him more seriously than intended? What if, what if, what if?
My martial arts training kicked in. I took a step back and put my hands up.
“Alright buddy… no problem here.” I walked around him, giving him a wide berth.
He pulled the knife out of his pocket and pointed it towards me. He leaned towards me and spat in my face.
“Fucking white dog. This is black power!” he shouted at me as he flexed a small bicep hidden by his green jacket.
My better judgement kept a hold of me and I kept walking for another 10 meters before I turned around to look at him. A part of me wanted to walk back towards him, throw my jacket over him and kick the living shit out of him. How dare someone walk the streets of my adopted homeland, come up to me and threaten me with a weapon? How dare they do it to anyone? I’d call the police, tell them my story and this person would end up in court, and potentially face jail time.
Again time slowed down. This time I played out the various scenarios which lead to this situation.
Standing in front of me was someone who felt so powerless, that his only way to reclaim dominion over his own being was to retaliate towards society with physical threats and meaningless demands about his personal space. Standing in front of him, was a tall, white man who walks in the Melbourne night without fear or a care in the world. Unto me he had likely projected the sins of every person who had done him wrong in the past.
In that moment, I understood how this situation had come to be. I understood why situations like this come to be.
I turned around and restarted my journey back to my rented high-rise luxury apartment in another part of the city. The brief flashes of understanding began to unfold into stronger waves of knowing and a depth of empathy.
As I walked along MacArthur St onto Collins Street, I asked myself “What of this situation? What is the lesson in it?”.
My mind cast back to my earlier conversations on inequality, and how nobody can escape it. Despite the security my circumstances bring to me, it can all turn in an instant. A sequence of events, of which I only played a minor part, could thrust upon me a sharp point for contemplation and consideration.
Strolling down Collins St, past the high-end designer stores, my mind was navigating the various angles I could take on this situation and how I might best relay the events to others. I wanted to tell this story, but as I said, not as a victim statement, but to highlight the real victim in this situation.
That young man will likely replay that scenario another time. Next time, it may not end with one person writing a story about it. It may end with many journalists writing about it. Or it may end with nobody knowing what happened at all and a tale which will never be told.
He shouted at me. He spat at me. He pulled a knife on me. Yet I am the one who feels sorry for him.
Don’t take me for a naive, bleeding-heart liberal who assigns the blame in this story to white-privilege. A bleeding-heart liberal? Perhaps? But naive? Not so much.
I don’t tell this story to highlight a race issue. I tell this story to highlight an inequality issue, which just so happened to play out with racial tones on this evening.
We live in a world where some people live out their dreams on a daily basis and others live their nightmares every time the sun goes down.
Our society is becoming more polarised with each sunrise and sunset. Situations such as mine this evening have the potential to divide or unite. It’s all about how we perceive the intentions and tell the story.
I bear no ill-will towards that young man tonight. In fact, I want to help him.
Before walking home, I turned around and retraced my steps to see if I could find him. Part altruistic, part morbid curiosity, part thrill-seeking.
I didn’t find him. Perhaps it was for the best. What would he have assumed my intentions to be?
I hope he finds what he needs.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/33389938@N00