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I would blog about Atlanta, but I heard a terrible thing last night.

I was awoken at 3:30 am by the sound of a woman screaming outside my window. A man was yelling, "You bitch!" and probably some other epithets at her and she was wailing/crying/screaming and pleading, "Please stop! Just stop! Please stop!" over and over and over again. I woke up, glanced at the clock, thought about looking out the window to see what was going on, thought about calling the police, but couldn't get it together enough to wake up enough to do either of those things. I closed my eyes, but it kept going on for what felt like about ten minutes. It could have been a lot longer or a lot shorter, since whenever it stopped for even a minute I would drift off to sleep.

This was disturbing on many levels.
  1. I don't know what he was doing to her (I find it hard to believe that all he was doing was calling her a bitch since she sounded seriously frightened), and really didn't want to know (hence the repeated attempts to sleep through it, none of them terribly successful), but my God. I wouldn't want to be that woman. She was making was a horrible sound and I felt terrible for her. It was the sound of someone less powerful begging for something from someone more powerful. The wailing sound reminded me of a trapped animal. It was a soul-ripping sound. I hope I never have to make such a sound for any reason. Ever.

  2. What was he doing to her and why wouldn't he stop?

  3. Why, oh why, didn't I call the police? I mean, what's wrong with me? If that had been me crying/wailing/screaming, I am sure that I would want the police called, at least to diffuse the situation. (I am not naive enough to think that this situation, whatever it was, could actually be solved or helped for longer than half an hour by police intervention.) When I woke up this morning, I justified it to myself by saying that if I had the non-emergency number for the local police precinct, I would have called that. As it was, all I had handy was 9-1-1, and I didn't feel comfortable calling 9-1-1 for what felt like a "domestic dispute" to me. I hate those words--domestic dispute. They let me off the hook, but not in a good way. There is no reason why this kind of thing (by which I mean the escalation of violence to this level) should be any more acceptable between spouses/partners than between strangers. If it had been a woman trying to get a passerby to stop from assaulting her or verbally abusing her (and maybe it was--I have no way of really knowing), would I have been more inclined to "get involved"? What if it had been two women? Two men? My inaction reminded me of Kitty Genovese and frightened me. It's not like I would even have had to get involved in any even moderately dangerous way--all I had to do was pick up the phone to call the police. And I didn't. Really, what's wrong with me?

  4. Did anyone else call the police? How many people woke up? How many people thought about it?

  5. I wonder what I would do if this happened again. It's probably more like "when" than if. A few weeks ago, I was walking down the street and coming towards me was a couple that was arguing loudly while pushing a baby carriage down the street. In this case, it seemed that the woman had the upper hand, at least with this particular form of verbal sparring. She said, "You know what you are? You're an ignorant asshole!" and was elaborating on that point and backing it up ("this is how you're ignorant" and "this is how you're an asshole") and he was sort of just taking it. Maybe he called her a bitch, I don't know. In any case, I wasn't going to interfere. I didn't think that anyone was in any physical danger. (I wonder if I would have felt differently if the male half of the couple had the verbal upper hand.) As it was, I just felt a little bit bad for the guy and really, really bad for the kid who was sitting in the baby carriage. Aside from that, all I really felt was overwhelming gratitude that I didn't grow up in a house with parents who called each other "ignorant asshole[s]." These two incidents, only a few weeks apart, lead me to think that I might be witness to more "domestic disputes" in the future, and have to think about the best (and most helpful to the aggrieved party) way to respond. I think I will start by looking up the non-emergency number for the local police precinct.

  6. How does a woman end up in that situation? How does a man end up in that situation? I mean, what forces propelled these two people to be out in the street at 3:30 am on a Tuesday morning, him calling her a bitch, her begging him to stop doing whatever he was doing, waking up the neighbors? I have been witness to arguments between people in one household, including some that involved, sadly, name calling (more along the lines of "idiot" than "bitch," though), physical violence, and crying. That was horrible enough, but because I was witness to it, I could imagine how it could happen. But this...this was different. How do people get to that point? Was her only option begging him to stop? Could she have walked away? Could he have stopped himself before it got to this point? Could things have gone differently in their lives so that they wouldn't have ended up enacting that scene?
What is the world coming to, people? And how could I have just gone back to sleep?

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Don't be so hard on yourself. It's hard to react intelligently to such a horrible situation the first time you confront it. I would have the non-emergency police number handy, like near your phone, so you can easily dial it in the future. You could also want to ask at the nearest police station what you should have done. They might know of a neighborhood watch organization, too.
Regarding the case you described where the woman seemed to have the upper hand verbally--I read somewhere that men are more likely to respond with violence precisely in a situation where they can't respond effectively verbally.
Regarding the woman who was screaming last night--this clearly seems like a case where you should have called 911, not the non-emergency police number, as I'm sure you realize now that you are awake. Don't be too hard on yourself for being too confused to realize that when you were half asleep. In any case, it might not be a bad idea to keep the non-emergency police number handy, so you will be less reluctant to call the police in marginal cases.
I would call 911 in that situation. Who's to say it's not a real emergency. --MLG
If you want to reach the police in non-emergency situations, you can call 311, but like others have said, that sounds like a 911 situation. The more you call 911 in situations like this, the more likely it is they'll have more police patrolling the streets in the future.
I agree with the above posters. If you're going to call already, you might as well call 911 and get them there quick. That's what 911 is for. Worst case scenario, they get there, the people involved are gone, and you give your report to the cops. (Hopefully no one will be found dead in an alley days later and the detectives question you--a la Law & Order-- if anyone heard anything suspicious.)Seriously, though, call 911 next time.
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