Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reliving the past in light of the present: My reflection on the Trayvon Martin case

In the fall of 2002, I was visiting a friend who was studying a semester in Turkey. It was my first time to Istanbul and I was excited to explore the city while waiting for my friend to get out of class. I had about two hours to kill and was enjoying walking through the winding streets, visiting the different stalls at the markets, taking in the magnificent architecture, delicious smells, enjoying the stunning colors of the city. It was shaping up to be a lovely afternoon.

Shortly into my exploration of the city, I noticed someone was following me. He was a Turkish man, looked to be about 30, and he gave me this disconcerting leer from a few feet away while I was looking at some artwork. I decided to ignore him, thinking he would just go away. He didn't. As he proceeded to follow me, all I could think about was that I just had to stay safe for 2 hours, then I would reconnect with my friend and be out of danger. I stayed in public view as much as possible. I went in and out of stores, talking to sales clerks and vendors so that I always had a person near by. I stayed to the main streets but made sure they weren't too crowded. I didn't want to get lost in the crowd because any assault he attempted could go unnoticed if there was too much going on around me. I went over and over in my head the different self defense techniques I knew, practicing in my mind how I would respond if he grabbed me by the arm, the neck, the hair. All the while, he kept following me. I looked for police officers but was wary of approaching them. Would they understand me? Would they believe me? It didn't matter. I never saw one. I visited places with mirrors or some sort of reflecting surfaces so I could see myself and know how close he was without having to look at him directly. He was always just a few feet away. This went on for almost two hours. I arrived to a plaza nearby where I was supposed to meet my friend. I was grateful my wait was almost up but then realized my pursuer was getting bolder. He was coming closer, saying words I didn't understand to my back. I decided that this was the moment I had to take my stand because he wasn't going to go away. I tucked the fear away and turned around to face him. And as I expected, he attacked me. He grabbed my arm and tugged, looking at me with such spite. He thought he had an easy victim. Some foreign girl lost in a big city. After nearly two hours of going through every defense scenario possible, I was ready for him. I punched down forcefully to loose his grip. I elbowed him in the stomach. As he doubled over, I kneed him with all my strength where I knew it would count most. He fell over, shouting what I could only assume were obscenities. As he shouted, I ran and made my way to the meeting place. I almost broke down in tears as I saw my friend. He wasn't late. He was waiting for me. I was safe.

I've never written this story down. It comes up occasionally when I'm with fellow travelers and we are regaling each other with crazy travel stories. But when I tell it, I get to the ending quickly, impressing my listeners with my self defense moves, leaving out the utter fear and helplessness that I felt for those two hours. Is it because I don't want to relive those feelings? Is it because a funny story is always better than a scary story, especially for a female traveler who loves to explore the world on her own? There's no room for fear when you have been two 56 countries and 6 continents. But in light of recent events, when a jury effectively concluded the Trayvon deserved to die for defending himself against an aggressor that fateful night, I felt compelled to relive my own experience of being followed.

Who knows what actually happened those minutes leading up to Trayvon's death? I can only speak of my own experience, of the fear I felt when being followed by someone who was larger than I was, stronger than I was, and in his own element. I can only convey the sense of helplessness I felt and the apparent lack of options I had. I can only give thanks that my story ended up well, with the attacker on his knees and I free from his grip. Had he been carrying a gun, this could've been a different outcome. Would he have used it? Would a court have found him justified for using self-defense because a girl had taken him to the ground? It was his country, his laws. Would I have been depicted as the aggressor thus deserving my fate? Did I give up my right to be the victim when I stood up for myself? Fortunately, these questions in my case are hypothetical. I still have my life.