As I was cycling home from work yesterday evening, I decided to stop off at Waitrose at the Barbican. As I pulled up at the bike racks outside the shop, I saw some kids hanging around eyeing up the bikes. I chose an area close to the shop entrance and started to sort out locking up my bike while keeping an eye on them. I noticed one of them was riding a bike that didn’t look like a young man’s bike – it was basically a shopper bike normally ridden quite gently by women – and I got increasingly suspicious. Then a young guy walked up to one of the bikes and started fussing with the chain, in a way you would if your lock isn’t very good, or perhaps if you’re trying to cut a chain. As he turned away, with the bike, I saw wire cutters in his hand and I confronted him as he got on the bike. The confrontation went something like this.
me: excuse me, are you stealing that bike?
- he looks at me blankly
me: hey, are you stealing that bike?
him: what are you saying?
me: show my your key then.
- he starts to pull away on the bike. I follow him.
me: what are you doing? You’re stealing that bike. Give it back. Get off.
- he keeps moving.
me: hey! that’s someone’s bike. You’re fucking stealing it. Get off it.
- he keeps moving and I follow him into the road. I push him and he doesn’t fall but he gets sort of trapped, on the bike, against a bollard on the side of the road. He hits me, on the arm, I think.
me: give it back! You’re stealing that.
His friend, shouting from up the road, on another bike: hit her in the face.
- He looks at me like he’s considering it, but won’t do it.
- I realise I’m carrying my lock.
Me: Give it back.
- I hit him on the arm with my lock. He grabs my lock, but doesn’t take it off me.
His friend: hit her!
- I realise there are a group of friends and they are cycling towards me.
One of them says: get her bike!
- Another one kicks me as they cycle past. I get distracted and head for my bike. They escape.
I get back to my bike and a guy comes up and says he just told Waitrose security about the kids and they said the bike racks weren’t their responsibility.
A woman with a bike says I shouldn’t have confronted the kids. What if they’d had a knife?
I swear about Waitrose security. I swear about the kids and the pure front of stealing a bike in front of everyone.
A woman in a car says she saw the clippers the kid used.
The woman in the car drives off. The man who spoke to security goes back in the shop. The woman who told me not to act locks up her bike and goes into the shop.
I get a bit shaky and scared and want to cry. Adrenaline. I decide to not hang about, as those kids know exactly what I look like and exactly where I am. I head off and a couple of minutes later I pause for a moment to cry as the adrenaline rushes through my body, before cycling home and emailing Waitrose about their security policy.
Was I right to confront potentially dangerous kids (a group of about 5, probably about 16-years-old, I would guess) when they were obviously breaking the law?
Or, from the other perspective, why didn’t any of the other people intervene to help?
I am fairly certain that about a year ago I would not have acted with such confidence and aggression, although I think I would have said something. It was obviously not what the guy was expecting at all. I attribute this change to my taekwondo classes. I was not phased by being hit or kicked at all – far worse happens in class – and the way I moved towards him, shouting and assertive, was, in retrospect, very similar to how we are taught to attack when we do sparring training.
And do I think I did the right thing? Yes, I do. But I worry what would have happened if one of those kids had actually gone for me seriously. I had wrongly assumed that all the other people there would help, or in some way protect me from serious harm. I’m now not so sure that would have been the case and that depresses me perhaps more than anything. Those kids thought no one would do anything, and I think they would have been right if I hadn’t acted. They don’t need to carry knives. They just have to have everyone else think they are and they can do whatever they want.