Kill Me or Leave Me Alone: Street Harassment as a Public Health Issue

This one is for Afrolicious and the notion of Appophenia.

Last Saturday on the way home on the metro platform I was tired.

I had been dancing. Bier was consumed. I spent the afternoon reading, and the evening posted up with my friend All Spirit and then the night dancing.

All Spirit bounced early, and he was my ride so I darted home on the metro. Looking back I should have asked another homie for a ride home.

I am walking on the metro platform and these two young Black men, are eyeing, me, saying something and if you know me you know I always trust my intuition. Full stop.

My intuition told me that I wasn’t safe and that I needed to act.

So rather than go back and for with these cats because it is late,  and I still needed to get home, and the platform was relatively empty,  I say to him “Aye blood, I’m from East Oakland California, either kill me or leave me alone.”

Even as I type it, I still can’t believe that it came out my mouth.

One of the dudes was like she from Oakland. She from Oakland and kinda let me be.

The other one took it personal as a threat. He left me alone, but there were was definitely a threat of violence in his body language and his words.

Whatever my fate was that night, I was ready.

I am so sick and tired of being treated like shit because of what is between my legs.

I felt uncomfortable the next day about what I had done, so I called my brother.

I mean, I understand full and well that things could have escalated. However over the last 3 months I have had these public interactions with Black men challenging, with the explicit threat of violence, my right to be in public.

So I called my brother to help me get some context. He told me that you never know what you are going to need to do to stay alive in a situation. Sometimes it is being silent, sometimes it is setting someone straight from the gate. After he said this, and related a similar experience that he had around standing up for himself when someone threatened him, I felt better. Still uneasy but better.

This street harassment+gendered violence experience also has me thinking about Charlie Sheen.

One of the reasons why I take all of these Charlie Sheen tweets so serious is because he beat his ex wife, and because he is imploding right in front of us.

The whole time I have been trying to think about how to write this post I have been watching the discourse around Charlie Sheen.

Men, Black men and White men can joke and shit about how Charlie and what not is funny, but as a Black woman, trying to get from point A to point B, who demands to be treated like a human being, violence or the threat of violence is a real part of my day to day existence.

Nothing Charlie says is funny because that man speaking to me that way on the train platform was not funny.

It really is out of pocket that I have to damn near be ready to die just to assert my humanity after dancing to Prince all night long.


Street harassment as a public health issue?

Can you believe I said it?

Is it time for me to leave the city?

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  1. says


    gurl. Gurl. that is some Warrior shit right there. like, chills on my body right now.

    Kill me or leave me alone. WHAT. TM that shit, or something.

    “I am so sick and tired of being treated like shit because of what is between my legs.”

    That statement makes me incredibly sad because it’s incredibly true. Imma go do some #Mulling right now.

    But thank you. Thank you. #courage #fromthefuture

  2. says

    Wow. That statement is powerful. I don’t think I would ever say that to a man, the “kill me or leave me alone” because I have encountered ones who would gladly choose option A without a second thought.

    I can relate to the street harassment because I have endured it my entire life growing up and living on the East Coast. I live in the Bay Area now but in SIlicon Valley. Bittersweet. I don’t encounter street harassment anymore but it seems to be only because there are few Black men in this area. Very few men of other races have done this, though on the cyber side of harassment, men of a variety of races do this. Behind a computer it seems that any man is comfortable with doing this, but in physical presence, generally only Black men are “comfortable” enough to harass Black women.

    It is tiring and stressful. The worst part is that other women will suggest that I “get over it” and should be “glad” to be threatened or harassed since it must mean that I “look good.” This is a sad state of affairs where sheer aggression and threats are ok and needed or self-esteem because we are in an attention hungry culture in combination with one where injustice based on race (so Black men can be included) not gender (where they are a part of the dominant group) are the only ones that can be admonished.

    I feel genuinely relieved living here because I rarely have in-person problems. Some cyber ones linger but it is still an improvement over what I dealt with every day of my life since about 12 or 13.

    Good post.

  3. arieswym says

    I’m reading Dream City which primarily recounts Marion Berry’s history in DC up to 1994. And one of the things the book recounts is Berry’s violence toward women, slapping women who didn’t give him the drugs or sex he wanted and once so far raping a woman. After all of that he still got another term as mayor and is back on the city council.

    That with this post just had me thinking about how pervasive the threat of violence is against women. And how there are few repercussions for it.

    And to your last question: if you were going to leave the city, where would you go such that it would be better?

  4. Renina says

    at Arieswym: Not sure where I would go or if a space outside of the city that isnt on a farm could sustain me. I can do animals and crops but suburbs. THe pain, the pain!

    at Trudy. I am glad you like it.

    at Feel of the Free
    “I am so sick and tired of being treated like shit because of what is between my legs.”
    Its not just whats between my legs. Its also the color of my skin. This is not say what White women are not harassed, because they are. But the risk of harassing a white female body vs a black female body has both a history and typically different outcomes because of the police.

  5. BlackLizLemon says

    Hell yeah, it’s a public health issue! I recently read somewhere that Black folks have racial PTSD…in other words we’re always on alert and stressed out about the racial attitudes of White folks. Unfortunately, I think this holds true for Black women when it comes to navigating public spaces with Black men. It’s like our stress level is always on “megatron max,” and we all know how stress has an impact on our physical health.

    Hell, last night I damn near had a heart attack coming out my front door. Some random dude was in the vestibule waiting for my neighbor. But it scared the ish out of me because a) I don’t know dude and he is literally standing outside my front door, and b) our neighborhood has been the scene of a lot of recent robberies and assaults, one that I was a victim of.

    So, yes, when your entire body tenses up walking out the front door just to go to to 7-11 for some 7-Up, when your chest tightens just from the idea of taking the Metro to work…yeah, that’s a problem.

    And they wonder why we have the highest rates of blood pressure, cholesterol, heart attacks, depression, etc…

  6. Nigerian Sista says

    Wow…what the saying…you went hard. I understand your frustration because it usually takes a boiling point to get there, I am a 26 year old Nigerian woman who has been in the US since age 4 and I am very curvy woman and many black males (strangers) made my life hell for it! It was as if they thought I deserved the treatment just because of something I couldn’t control. I barely go out anymore because for about 7 months in 2009-2010 I was harassed by black males avertime I left the house. It didnt matter where I was. The street, the metro, the grocery store, the mall. I couldn’t ESCAPE it. As long as I was by myself and out of my home I belive they saw me as their PREY, that was certainly what they conveyed to me. I would get ‘compliments’, insults, cursed out, people getting in my personal space, stalker (people following me on foot and in cars) and it happened in all these places. What had I done to bring this on? NOTHING. Black males would just be bold enough to walk up to me and start harassing me. And I was paranoid because a lot of times it involved them walking behind me because I couldn’t see them. This was done on purpose…you know the element of surprise I had enough and bought pepper spray put it on my key chain and literally walked aroung with pepper spray in my hand EVERYWHERE. If someone touched me I would begin to spray. Enough is enough. One of the main reasons I stay home is because I was harassed in a grocery store by a black male. My brother was in another store in the shopping center so I called him to vent so he came to the store and confronted the guy. Guess what happened.. the guy pulled out a gun on my brother with me standing next to my brother. We later found out that this was a DC police officer. He told police that he felt threatened by my brother (who was 16) and that’s why he removed his weapon without announcing himself. Nevrmind he harassed and followed me in the store even as I tried to get away from him. It took me filing a complaint and appeal for him to only get SPOKEN TO. I am taken legal action against him for Ptsd. I should have been safe in that store, but even in a grocery store on a weekday in the early evening, black males will still attack and get violent with a woman of color for no reason. What’s funny is that while I was getting harassed other black males were laughing, but when police asked people what they saw guess what…they said they heard ME yelling at HIM…interesting huh? Goes to show you…

  7. Renina says

    @Nigerian Sista,

    Little bear! I am so sorry this happened to you.

    You are brave and you are not alone. That popo showed his gun, is the devil. Officer Anderson and I ARE on first name basis because he needed to know the I understand that this was becoming a pattern of harassment and patterns and protected classes make for legal nightmares.

    I hope that you spirit finds a way to free itself of this ramifications of his violence and threat of violence and that you are able to reclaim your RIGHT to be in public.

    All Love,


  8. noturpunchingbag says

    I can relate to what you ladies are talking about. I’m just so thankful that I wasn’t born with a voluptuous body. The things that I’ve heard about what you ladies go through is really scary. I never felt my physical person being endangered. But I have dealt with the name calling, pathetic attempts at lowering my self esteem, and the hounding for a block just to convey to me how displeased they were I didn’t allow them their right of having my name and number. When I was a teen I always thought that I was the only one going through this. The harassment gave me social anxiety so I didn’t keep many friends.

    Yesterday when I was walking down the street, looking extra fab I must add (two people had just told me that I should be a model), this group of young black guys walks past and one feels the need to yell out “I LIKE WHITE GIRLS!” EPIC FAIL. That was by far the most pathetic attempt that a black man has ever made to try and attack my self esteem.

    If black men only knew when they saw me that I have no desire to be within a ten foot radius of them. I’m pretty and they know that I know this. I think maybe they think that I feel they should approach me. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My experiences with black males outside of my family have been so negative that I don’t have the capacity to be physically or emotionally attracted to them. I don’t hate them or anything I just feel numb towards even the best looking black men. It’s really annoying that when I’m out with my boyfriend at a club or something, black guys want to give me all of this positive attention. I see right through you guys. You only want a beautiful black woman when you see that another race of man desires her. You guys are so lame.

    Please start to realize this. When you see a really pretty classy looking sistah walking down the street, you should not feel threatened. She probably doesn’t want your black ass. She’s probably experienced more racism and sexism from men who look just like you for a large portion of her life and now she only wants another race of man. You can think what you want but more and more black women are waking up and getting themselves in order so they can experience normalcy from real men who don’t look at them as second choice, but conversely as a beautiful catch that they are lucky to have found. Several of my boyfriend’s friends have recently wifed up some beautiful black women and they themselves are handsome successful men.

    African American love is dead and harassing, self hating, racist, black men killed it. But I’m good, I always wanted to adopt so I’ll have my beautiful black child regardless. Oh and not to worry, us black women are not as pathetic as you all are to bash men of our own race to our boyfriends. Most of us defend you in so many ways. Even when some of our boyfriends/fiance’s/husbands have been defending our honor from you. We know that if you look bad we look bad.