The Chainlink

I read that resurrected thread about the Humboldt Park attacks for the first time only yesterday and, since I live in HP and it seems like you have to go through a violent neighborhood to get anywhere in Chicago by bike, resolved to buy some pepper spray.  I spent much of yesterday wondering what I'd do in that situation, so my immediate reaction to the guy running onto Adams, holding what looked like a chair like a baseball bat, was you have got to be kidding.

I could see five or six others rushing the street beyond him, but couldn't spare much attention from the guy with the chair, staring me right in the eyes and grinning as I shouted "Don't even think about it, you... [insert language to embarrass a sailor wherever you can make it fit syntactically, and then insert some more]."  His swing missed thanks to a tight swerve and when he threw the chair, it went wild over and behind me.  Turning up Damen, I saw another guy running toward me.  There was no way I'd get past him, so I cocked my leg for a kick and gave him my best.  I don't know if I connected.  His elbow went right into my chest and stopped the bike hard.  A couple other guys came up from behind and waled on my back until I hit the ground, my head bouncing off the pavement.

As any cornered animal will tell you, adrenaline's a hell of a thing.  While a few guys kicked me in the chest and back, two other guys tried to steal the bike, and I wasn't letting go.  The conversation was of the "from hell's heart, I stab at thee" style, and when one fumbled with the rear pannier ("what the f.ck is this?!" he cried in frustration.  Fair play to Ortlieb: the mounts shifted, but the bag remained fastened securely to the rack), I kicked with my free leg, hissing "You can't have it!  You can't have it!"

Since we were in the middle of the southbound lanes on Damen, cars eventually came, and the men ran west empty-handed.  I got on my bike to pursue, but the chain had slipped and I fell to the ground again.  At this, I called them every emasculating name in the book to taunt at least one of them back to me.  One guy in particular seemed outraged at what I'd just called him, but he kept running.  Cars whizzed up and down Damen, and a few rubberneckers pulled to the side and watched.  One man had stepped out of his car, asking if I was alright.  "Do you want to call the police?" he asked.  I looked west down Adams' empty street and shrugged.  "You're bleeding," he said.  "Probably," I replied. "Nothing I can do about it now."  I stumbled over to the northbound side of Damen, rechained the bike and rode home, unsure whether it was sweat or blood pouring down my face and neck, annoyed to distraction by the new rubbing and scraping from my front fender.

My friend suggested that I file a police report when I got home, and so I did.  Where crime is reckoned in documents and numbers, it seemed smarter to be a statistic than nothing at all.

Beyond nausea, headache and feeling like I went ten rounds with Tyson, I'm doing alright.  The wounds are bloody but not deep.  Here are my observations:

1. It wasn't even nine pm, so cars were bound to come by within a couple of minutes.  If this had happened at three or four in the morning, when I often ride past Adams and Damen, it may have been a more protracted and painful experience.  I probably would have lost my bike, too.

2. By putting up a fight, I think I confused and slowed them down long enough to get through it.  If they had all focused on kicking the hell out of me and then taking the bike, or the reverse, then they surely would have left me senseless and bikeless.

3. These guys knew what they were doing.  They had every possible route covered in the event I'd gotten past the guy with the chair, which suggests that they've done this before, and perhaps will again.

4. Next time I'm riding, if I see a group of men standing on all corners, I'll turn around and GTFO.  If, like last night, I don't have the distance or time, then I'll lock the brakes, screech to a halt and wait for them to approach.  A few shots of pepper spray would, with hope, buy me some time to get out of there.

5. I believe in the efficacy of helmets.

6. Most importantly, that thread about the HP attacks saved my skin.  If I didn't recognize what was coming as quickly as I did, then I'd have been knocked off my bike by that chair, and it would have been game over.  The Chainlink's earned my Paypal donation several times over, I reckon.




Some people have asked why my first impulse wasn't to call the cops.  If they'd taken my bike, I'd have considered it, but given the time it would have taken for the police to arrive, six guys with nothing to show for their efforts in that neighborhood wouldn't have been found, IMHO.  There's also the same impulse I felt the first time I got right-hooked by a car: just get out of there.  It's not always the best response, but it's often the hardest one to deny.

Edit: crap, I'm down two water bottles.

Happy cycling.

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Most bear pepper spray cannisters are effective up to 30 feet - best if used while stopped.




Gabe said:
Based on the idea that the person is standing at a bus stop or riding a bike. Pepper spray usually has a good stream so as long as you are holding it at arms length you should be fine. (the complaints are made when idiots shoot it off inside a closed environment. I've never fired bear repellent but i'm assuming it's the same. A gun is unaffected by wind at close range.



H3N3 said:
In order for either to be effective, you need to first be off a moving bicycle, and then aware of the wind direction, and then have less than 6 people on you-- no?



Gabe said:
Either way pepper or bear spray is your friend.
Bear repellent sprays fairly far and wide. I wouldn't deploy it while rolling on the bicycle - if I'd had some last night, I'd have stopped the bike and waited for them to come into range. Three or four well-timed shots could incapacitate several aggressors. You gamble on the other guys backing up and leaving before you spray them or call the cops. Bear spray's almost always the option that follows escape. Ideally, if you're using it, then other possibilities have been ruled out, and it's the best solution you have - not the perfect one. Short of turning around in time and escaping or shafts of frozen urine falling from an airplane and impaling the perpetrators, there is no perfect solution.

I guess, like the ongoing helmet debate, it comes down to how prepared you are for the "black swan." Your only realistic hope is to mitigate its damage. If you decline those mitigating options for whatever reason, then you're reliant mostly on luck when everything goes terribly wrong.




H3N3 said:
In order for either to be effective, you need to first be off a moving bicycle, and then aware of the wind direction, and then have less than 6 people on you-- no?



Gabe said:
Either way pepper or bear spray is your friend.
Where's TC when we need someone to take this thread from the theoretical to field-tested strategies?


Niall Munnelly said:
Bear repellent sprays fairly far and wide. I wouldn't deploy it while rolling on the bicycle - if I'd had some last night, I'd have stopped the bike and waited for them to come into range. Three or four well-timed shots could incapacitate several aggressors. You gamble on the other guys backing up and leaving before you spray them or call the cops. Bear spray's almost always the option that follows escape. Ideally, if you're using it, then other possibilities have been ruled out, and it's the best solution you have - not the perfect one. Short of turning around in time and escaping or shafts of frozen urine falling from an airplane and impaling the perpetrators, there is no perfect solution.

I guess, like the ongoing helmet debate, it comes down to how prepared you are for the "black swan." Your only realistic hope is to mitigate its damage. If you decline those mitigating options for whatever reason, then you're reliant mostly on luck when everything goes terribly wrong.




H3N3 said:
In order for either to be effective, you need to first be off a moving bicycle, and then aware of the wind direction, and then have less than 6 people on you-- no?



Gabe said:
Either way pepper or bear spray is your friend.
I used plain old pepper spray against three assailants when I lived by the Laramie/Lake El stop in 2006. I'd be grateful for any other strategies, though.



Kevin Conway said:
Where's TC when we need someone to take this thread from the theoretical to field-tested strategies?


Niall Munnelly said:
Bear repellent sprays fairly far and wide. I wouldn't deploy it while rolling on the bicycle - if I'd had some last night, I'd have stopped the bike and waited for them to come into range. Three or four well-timed shots could incapacitate several aggressors. You gamble on the other guys backing up and leaving before you spray them or call the cops. Bear spray's almost always the option that follows escape. Ideally, if you're using it, then other possibilities have been ruled out, and it's the best solution you have - not the perfect one. Short of turning around in time and escaping or shafts of frozen urine falling from an airplane and impaling the perpetrators, there is no perfect solution.

I guess, like the ongoing helmet debate, it comes down to how prepared you are for the "black swan." Your only realistic hope is to mitigate its damage. If you decline those mitigating options for whatever reason, then you're reliant mostly on luck when everything goes terribly wrong.




H3N3 said:
In order for either to be effective, you need to first be off a moving bicycle, and then aware of the wind direction, and then have less than 6 people on you-- no?



Gabe said:
Either way pepper or bear spray is your friend.
This is awful. Hooray for Ortliebs!

I ride at night a lot and pass through one neighborhood where people do get jumped sometimes. I am incredibly scared of physical violence and have turned around a few times, basically whenever I see more than two men/teenagers hanging around by the side of the street, and gone a block or two out of my way. It does feel silly and overly cautious sometimes, but then, absolutely no need to risk it.

I carry pepper spray sometimes, but seriously doubt I'd ever have time to use it. When I was younger, a friend had a device one could just pull on, and it made an unbearably loud screeching noise - does anyone know if/where those are available these days? I feel like it would be easier to use, and has the huge advantage that it can't be used against the victim...
This is just awful. I have had this happen to some of my friends in Rogers Park. Middle of the afternoon on Howard. Not a new trend. Very good response on your part! Hold you head high and heal. I hope you enjoy your bike again. It will take time. I have been mugged and it never really goes away.
VERY glad you are ok! :-)
I was jumped by 4 bangers in Bellwood several years ago and here is what I learned:
1. Don't ever be forced to slow down by passing through a group. I did and was punched in the jaw and dumped off my bike.
2. Your helmet will save your head from kicks just as well as from the pavement.
3. Your best friend (your bike) will be used as a weapon against you by the assholes. Don't blame the bike.
4. Make the beating stop as soon as possible with this trick I learned from a Chicago cop: Pull your money out of your pocket, show it to the thugs, throw it as far as you can, and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
oh dear, niall..now you're quoting nicholas taleb? Im so glad to hear that you fought back and are in good enough spirits to report it. It was a riveting account. I would beg you to take a different route though..its not worth it. Even going north by about 7 blocks to Fulton and heading westward would be a *lot* safer. Please consider it..



Niall Munnelly said:
Bear repellent sprays fairly far and wide. I wouldn't deploy it while rolling on the bicycle - if I'd had some last night, I'd have stopped the bike and waited for them to come into range. Three or four well-timed shots could incapacitate several aggressors. You gamble on the other guys backing up and leaving before you spray them or call the cops. Bear spray's almost always the option that follows escape. Ideally, if you're using it, then other possibilities have been ruled out, and it's the best solution you have - not the perfect one. Short of turning around in time and escaping or shafts of frozen urine falling from an airplane and impaling the perpetrators, there is no perfect solution.

I guess, like the ongoing helmet debate, it comes down to how prepared you are for the "black swan." Your only realistic hope is to mitigate its damage. If you decline those mitigating options for whatever reason, then you're reliant mostly on luck when everything goes terribly wrong.




H3N3 said:
In order for either to be effective, you need to first be off a moving bicycle, and then aware of the wind direction, and then have less than 6 people on you-- no?



Gabe said:
Either way pepper or bear spray is your friend.
This sounds very similar to what happened to me at the end of August and was probably the same group of thugs. I was riding home on westbound Adams commuting home from teaching at about 9:30 pm when 3 people walked out in the street wielding large wooden clubs. I've lived in East Garfield Park for almost 3 years and I'm so used to jaywalkers that it didn't occur to me that these guys (actually, 2 were female, so I guess that would be guy and gals) were trying to stop me. When I saw the guy raise the club to stop me, it was too late to turn around or pull some sort of fast maneuver. I stopped to avoid getting clubbed off of my bike and he asked me for my wallet, while simultaneously feeling through both of my pants pockets (eww... I don't think he was necessarily looking for my money...) I felt through my courier bag while trying to keep him from taking the whole bag, all the time telling him that I was a teacher and the only thing of value in there was my grade book (but also thinking my keys, and phone, and sketchbook, and whatnot). I grabbed my wallet and shoved it at him while he was behind me post-pant violation and risked biking away without giving up my bag. He ran after yelling at me, the gals never did a thing, and I biked away as fast as I could. I biked straight home about 5 more minutes so I could get clear of them, catch my breath, and make necessary phone calls. I wasn't about to stop a block away and call police in case they had a car waiting or back-up.

It was scary as hell, I luckily didn't get hurt, but had to cancel every piece of plastic in my wallet. The assailants did, however, use my CTA card over the next couple of days because I forgot to cancel it. I got the info off of the CTA card site and there should be video of him (them?), but I have yet to get a call back from the police after giving that information over a month ago. I did report the theft immediately, but had 11th precinct police come to my house, not leave their car, make me come outside, and tell me that I needed to go straight to the 12th to report it. This is bullshit, so please don't ever let a cop tell you that you can't report a crime that happened elsewhere on the spot. I should've gotten their car # and reported them, but I was pretty shaken up at the time and just wanted to file a robbery report and get it over with.

Be careful out there. Don't wear headphones while riding. Wear a helmet. Be aware of your surroundings and pedestrians. I don't know if pepper spray is the answer due to wind and my general clumsiness, but I'm at the point where I want to have my U-lock within easy reach for a smack-down. Perhaps one of those telescoping wands would be ideal? A decoy wallet? Superhero strength?

I take Randolph/Washington home now. It seems better lit, wider, and more trafficked by police and regular folks. Stay off of Adams and be super careful on Damen by the United Center.
Must be the head injury ;)



chixieonfixie said:
oh dear, niall..now you're quoting nicholas taleb?
Jen,
I'd like to get more info and see if we can get help from the alderman about that particular location.
As I noted in the previous thread I've been in touch about problems in other parts of the second ward and been met with genuine concern.
I sent a friend request-- would appreciate your e-mail address so I can make the connection with more than one victim (I'm assuming if you feel it may be the same assailants that it's the same location).
Thanks.


Jen Thomas said:
This sounds very similar to what happened to me at the end of August and was probably the same group of thugs. I was riding home on westbound Adams commuting home from teaching at about 9:30 pm when 3 people walked out in the street wielding large wooden clubs. I've lived in East Garfield Park for almost 3 years and I'm so used to jaywalkers that it didn't occur to me that these guys (actually, 2 were female, so I guess that would be guy and gals) were trying to stop me. When I saw the guy raise the club to stop me, it was too late to turn around or pull some sort of fast maneuver. I stopped to avoid getting clubbed off of my bike and he asked me for my wallet, while simultaneously feeling through both of my pants pockets (eww... I don't think he was necessarily looking for my money...) I felt through my courier bag while trying to keep him from taking the whole bag, all the time telling him that I was a teacher and the only thing of value in there was my grade book (but also thinking my keys, and phone, and sketchbook, and whatnot). I grabbed my wallet and shoved it at him while he was behind me post-pant violation and risked biking away without giving up my bag. He ran after yelling at me, the gals never did a thing, and I biked away as fast as I could. I biked straight home about 5 more minutes so I could get clear of them, catch my breath, and make necessary phone calls. I wasn't about to stop a block away and call police in case they had a car waiting or back-up.

It was scary as hell, I luckily didn't get hurt, but had to cancel every piece of plastic in my wallet. The assailants did, however, use my CTA card over the next couple of days because I forgot to cancel it. I got the info off of the CTA card site and there should be video of him (them?), but I have yet to get a call back from the police after giving that information over a month ago. I did report the theft immediately, but had 11th precinct police come to my house, not leave their car, make me come outside, and tell me that I needed to go straight to the 12th to report it. This is bullshit, so please don't ever let a cop tell you that you can't report a crime that happened elsewhere on the spot. I should've gotten their car # and reported them, but I was pretty shaken up at the time and just wanted to file a robbery report and get it over with.

Be careful out there. Don't wear headphones while riding. Wear a helmet. Be aware of your surroundings and pedestrians. I don't know if pepper spray is the answer due to wind and my general clumsiness, but I'm at the point where I want to have my U-lock within easy reach for a smack-down. Perhaps one of those telescoping wands would be ideal? A decoy wallet? Superhero strength?

I take Randolph/Washington home now. It seems better lit, wider, and more trafficked by police and regular folks. Stay off of Adams and be super careful on Damen by the United Center.

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