As I was just walking across Fullerton in broad daylight, heading north on Kedzie, a young woman started screaming “help me, somebody please help me!” I looked up to find her sprinting down the street, away from a man in a red coat, and directly into my arms. I put my body between hers and his and moved us further away. I asked her what she needed, what was happening, what was her name. The man in the red coat was walking away, periodically looking back over his shoulder. I learned that the man (who she didn’t know) had spit on her as she walked down the street. When she asked “did you just spit on me?,” he told her to keep walking and that he was going to smack her. He then started chasing her and that is when she screamed and ran.

I stayed with her and another very kind woman joined us for a bit.  At one point someone suggested calling the police, and the woman turned to me and asked if I could call the cops. I really didn’t know what to say. I told her I don’t like to call the cops, especially when it’s probable that someone is dealing with mental health issues.  When I told her I had reservations, she seemed ok with that too.  She seemed to be in shock, overall.  After we talked for a while I walked her to the train, past the place where the dude had been lurking.

I felt it was my responsibility to know what to do and yet I didn’t have a clue.  It felt like I had an opportunity to contribute not just to this one person’s safety but also to the other people he might attack, and even to his own safety if only I could figure out the right thing to do. But I stood there stupefied.  How do you reconcile your larger concern with systemic problems with immediate danger or threat?  Especially if you have experienced similar danger or threat in the past and it brings stuff up for you?  I’ve had a similar experience on that same stretch in the middle of the day and it was truly upsetting.  I didn’t call anyone at all, then or today.

I ask you, smart and compassionate people, what is the best thing to do in this situation?