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Letter to the Editor, by Alia Douglas

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – I wait for the bus in the same place every day to go home from work: Rio Branco, near Presidente Vargas, in Centro. There are so many people in the street between 5PM and 7PM that I never felt especially unsafe.

My bus, the 010 (or C-10) always stops a little further back from the stop, so I tend to wait on the side of a newspaper kiosk that is slightly away from the rest of the people waiting at the stop. So many others are usually waiting there that I don’t feel isolated. Last Friday, at about 6:30 PM, I didn’t notice that nobody else was standing with me, because so many people were walking by.

I noticed a man come out from a small street nearby. He was about to cross Rio Branco, then looked right at me. It didn’t occur to me that he was planning something; he could have been looking at something behind me.

He circled around, and walked back behind where I was, behind the newspaper kiosk, out of sight. At that moment I remember thinking, “Okay, he really wasn’t looking at me after all,” and feeling relieved. And in another second, he was next to me, repeating, “Just the phone. Just the phone.”

His voice was angry, his eyes wide and crazy. He was jittery. I was frozen, staring at him. He motioned downward with his eyes, and I followed his glance. His hand was gripping the handle of a knife hidden in his waistband. After that, I realized that this guy would probably not hesitate to hurt me if I resisted, since I’ve seen the countless viral videos of stabbings in the street, no matter if there are people around.

I had no choice – I reached into my purse and handed him my phone. In shock, I stood frozen, looking at him. He started screaming for me to go away, to run away from him. I backed away and walked toward the other people, who were waiting to welcome me to the safety of the group.

They had seen the entire encounter but unable to do anything for fear of what the man might do. They made sure I was okay, telling me I did the right thing, as he ran across the street and disappeared. I looked around for a policeman, but there was none.

So what did I, a 32 year old woman who has always thought of herself as street smart and cautious, learn?
– Always stand with other people, even if others are walking by. If you are standing still alone in a crowd of moving people, you are alone.
– If someone in the street looks at you too intently, get away as soon as you can – get into a building, to a group of people, anything.
– Just hand it over. The phone is replaceable, but you are not. Common sense, but worth repeating.

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