Home » Eve Pearlman

Eve Pearlman: No innocent bystanders

Submitted by on 1, November 6, 2009 – 6:00 am18 Comments

Last Tuesday, just past dusk, I was riding my bike home from Borders when, near the corner of Park Street and Otis Drive, I noticed a young man, maybe in his 20s, yelling at a young woman of similar age. They were near the boundary of the Walgreens parking lot, he in the lot and she on the sidewalk on the other side of the park strip. He was letting loose a trail of expletives and insults, the nasty and demeaning nature of which I find it hard to recapture in the retelling.

He ordered the young woman to come to him, saying, “You f—-ing b—–.” Stepping toward him, she banged her face on lowest branch of a newly-planted liquidambar there on the strip of greenery. She stepped back, rubbing her forehead, all the while he kept up a steady stream of expletives.

I wheeled over. “He can’t talk to you like that,” I said. She turned to face me. “We’re fine,” she said. “It’s okay.” He turned to face me. “Who are you?” he demanded, surveying me. He was not a big man, but bigger than I am, and I was glad that my wheel was between us, and that there was traffic all around. “You don’t know us!” He reached in his front right pocket. I felt a slip of fear. He continued. “Where are you from?” he asked. “This is the Bay Area, and I can talk to her how I want to.” It was puzzling logic, laughable if not cruel. I repeated my statement: “You can’t talk to her like that.”

“Who are you?” he questioned again. “You don’t know us,” he said, turning away.

The two walked on toward the corner, she carrying a Walgreens plastic bag that dangled by her side, and he continuing on with his nasty stream of insults. I stood over my bike, watching. I pulled out my cell phone and thought about taking a picture. But then I worried how he might react to the flash. My phone takes terrible pictures anyway. And it was dark. And what would a picture do?

Should I call 911? Were any laws being broken? Is it illegal to yell and swear and insult someone? Wouldn’t he just stop yelling if the police came? Why was I shaking? That I knew: because I was shocked that on an otherwise peaceful evening, this young woman, standing just a few feet from me, was being cursed and verbally assaulted.

The light changed, and the pair crossed Park Street. Once across the street, she stopped, and stood facing the intersection, as if waiting to cross in the other direction. He proceeded perhaps ten feet down Otis and then called back. “What?” he yelled. “You like that lady better than me? You don’t even know her!” And then she turned and followed him.

On they went, he yelling, she walking beside him. Would police come and find them if I called? And then what? I pulled my bike back onto the street, and as I rode by the pair I shouted – was it loud and clear enough for her to hear? – “You don’t have to be treated like that! You don’t have to be with him!” I saw their heads jerk up when they heard my voice, but neither responded.

I rode on in the night air, thinking about what this man’s life had been that made him think it was acceptable to talk to her like that. And what her life had been to allow herself to be mistreated and demeaned like that.

And I wondered if it was stupid of me say anything. Probably. He could have been far more aggressive toward me. I could have spurred him to be more cruel to her.

Then I realized why I had intervened. It was because of the news reports that I’d been reading about last Saturday’s gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside her high school just after her homecoming dance in Richmond. Fifteen or 20 teens watched, the news reports said. Some joined in. They say it went on for more than two hours. Calls and texts went out from the crowd, yes, but only to share the news. No one stepped into a shadow and called 911. The girl was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition after someone finally called, after it was over. She was found under a bench in the alley behind the school.

I think it’s because of that teenage girl in Richmond that I spoke to that couple on the corner. Because there are no innocent bystanders.

Contact Eve Pearlman at eve@theislandofalameda.com.


  • Miriam says:

    Thank you.



  • Jill Staten says:

    It seems to me that men like that have no reason to change their behavior. Treating women badly makes them feel big and powerful. The only hope for changing this behavior is to convince women to stop putting up with it. I have been trying to figure out how to help make that happen. As your experience shows, women choose to be with these men.

    It sounds like your comments to the woman may have planted a new idea in her head ("You don't have to be treated like that! You don't have to be with him!") Maybe the way to change the norm is to do exactly what you did: Speak up when we see women being abused, verbally or otherwise. Thank you.

  • Jack B. says:

    Eve, please be careful. I used to be a social worker and thereby a mandated reporter. The cycle of abuse is a very tricky thing, and the person you are trying to help can and will turn on you to help appease the abuser. I know it defies logic but… well, just be careful. Calling the police is the better call than getting directly involved, imho.

  • Steve says:

    No, it wasn't stupid that you said something — You did a good thing.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Most dangerous calls that cops can respond to are domestic disturbances. Only takes a second to turn violent, right after they join forces and take it out on the intervenor. Leave it to the trained professionals. If you don't know enough to understand the dynamics, and have been trained to handle the risks to everyone involved, including yourself and your loved ones growing older without you, move on. Call it in. Watch, wait for the arrival of the police. Same thing for any other crime, call it in.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    Good on all of you! Yeah, best to just call the police, but if you can watch from a safe position, good to do that, too.

    My sister and I were shopping at Safeway one time last summer, right in the middle of the day, and there was this guy and his van and this woman who sort of seemed to be with him, but they were arguing and he was swearing at her up and down with some pretty rank language, and telling her to get in the van. We spotted one of the security guards and made a beeline over there. He started over to the van after we told him what was up, but the woman got in the van and the guy pulled out and took off. We can only hope that it was all okay, but it sure looked ugly.

    All the time, but especially in these times, we've got to look out for each other. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • J Richard says:

    You put yourself in an dangerous and potentially untenable situation. The outcome could have easily been catastrophic and you are lucky. By dissing him in front of his b….. and intervening when he was performing his act – just as he has been taught to perform by the peer group he runs with – he very well could have pulled a 9mm from his pocket and you wouldn't be writing today.

    It's best to tuck away civil instincts towards intervention and call 911 – if you feel you want to get involved at all. His behavior is part and parcel of the thug society we read about and live in every day. That's my take on it.

  • Miriam says:

    It is the fear of intervening that makes all of us less safe. It is difficult to know the results of a particular action. Yes, he may have pulled a 9mm, but you may also have a 9mm pulled on you some day because somewhere, someone else did not intervene. You need to trust your instincts.



  • laurie W. says:

    I love that you spoke to them, even if they weren't listening, even if she followed him home, even if she continued to take more of it into the evening. I know she'll remember your voice, even if it's months from now, even a whisper of it, she'll remember what you said. Good going Eve.

  • Kin says:

    The point that can't be overlooked is that you chose to take action. It would have been very easy to pass right on by with nothing more than a shake of the head. Regardless of how you responded, you chose to act. Kudos to Eve.

  • Sharon says:

    Thank you, Eve. You did a brave (and dangerous)thing. Thank you for telling us about it. Thank you for being the change.

  • Spanky M says:

    Good for you, but do be careful. A friend of mine once intervened in a an argument like this and the woman who was being abused turned and hit him in the face with a beer bottle.

  • Keith Nealy says:

    I'm glad you spoke up. And I appreciate your commitment based on reversing the attitude in Richmond. We have to be willing to act. Yes, it's dangerous. But if more took responsibility maybe the message would be clearer that such abuse is unacceptable.

    I have intervened on numerous occasions. I live across from a public park. I believe it is right to speak up. It has always stopped the abuse. On one occasion the perpetrator came over to me and knocked me to the ground with a punch in the face. But it stopped him from attacking his "girl friend." I'm glad he hit me rather than her. He was later arrested.

    I understand everyone's concern that you could be injured or worse, and there are your own loved ones to consider besides yourself. But I still believe it does damage to yourself and to our community not to respond. When it's not right you should respond in whatever way seems best to you. But you should act.

  • Keith Nealy says:

    One more thought. What if it was your loved one that was being abused. Would you then say you should not interfere? If we are truly to love another as ourself, then we should protect others as we would our family.

  • bok says:

    @jill staten: women stay with men who abuse them because they are terrorized over an extended period of time. Once they are convinced they are in a trap and there is no way out, staying with the guy is no longer a choice. They are acting out of fear. I don't question your statement that we should all speak up if we see anyone being abused, but to say that her decision is a simple "choice" is mistaken. Eve's shaking and terror is something that woman is probably experiencing on a daily basis. It brainwashes a person. I speak from experience. Still, we should all do what we can to help the abused ease their fears and re-program them to leave.

    As far as those acting in concert by watching the Richmond assault, here is an article about "the bystander effect", and how we can educate others to speak up.


  • Laurel Yeates says:

    Fifteen years ago, my young daughter and I witnessed a child being abused in Target. I impulsively spoke up and asked the father to stop bullying the child. He responded as you can imagine (expletive and MYOB). As they walked away, I said to the little boy, "Sweetie, you should not be treated like that. Other parents don't do that to their kids." I tried to get a manager to call the police (pre-cell phone days) but by then the offender was gone. My daughter was scared about the incident and my husband was furious that I had engaged the man with our daughter nearby. At the time, I was writing a weekly column for the Alameda Journal, so I did three consecutive columns on what you should do if you witness these episodes in public. I called social services, the police department, store managers. There was no consensus and no easy answers, but it sparked a lot of conversation. I still don't know if I did the right thing that day with my daughter in harm's way. But, the one thing I learned that day is that if I can do NOTHING else, I can plant a seed that this isn't right. I have since spoken up many times. To an abusive mother waiting in line with a tired child, I offered to hold her place so she could step out of line to comfort and calm her child. When she said no, I suggested that it wasn't the child's fault that she was 4 years old and hungry and tired of waiting and that maybe the purchase was not that important. Again, nothing. I have no delusions about changing anything for the mother, but maybe, just maybe, the chiuld will remember when someone spoke up for her. Since having access to a cell phone, I have called 911 and told the offending parties that that's what I was doing and why. I have also followed offenders to their cars, close enough that I could get a license number. Again, my intervention isn't going to change anyone. But if I can just plant a seed …

  • bok says:

    I've been re-thinking what I got out of the article link I posted. Little of it applies to the assault in Richmond. If people were texting and sending pictures by cell, anyone on the receiving end could have called 911. One person called, two hours into the assault, and she had heard of it second hand. there were probably tens of people who could have called without any repercussions. That's disturbing.

    Someone once told me that "if you stand up and speak your opinion, be prepared to feel very very alone." Courage is doing what's right in spite of being afraid. Eve, you did that, and even if nothing good came of it, hopefully someone else noticed what you did and will think twice of keeping quiet when they see something similar. Go Eve!


  • Mike says:

    I was in the bathroom of a movie theater in Oakland with my four year old after a movie. We were washing our hands when a couple of young punks (late teens/early twenties) came in yelling obscenities. Every other word was F this and F that.

    I said in a loud voice, "hey, knock it off" indicating that there was a little kid present. The biggest of the two came over and said he was going to "F me up" if I didn't mind my own business. I got up close and said "right now punk." After a moment to consider it, he backed down.

    Point of the story, really two points; these guys assume they're going to scare you off, but they are really cowards. And, two, some things you have no choice about being your business. Some business chooses you.

    We left the bathroom and my boy told my wife in the lobby what happened. She asked him if he was scared. Taking his cue that he should probably have been scared, he said he was. I told him, "hey, you're with daddy. What can possibly happen?"

    I was glad that one of us was young enough to believe that.

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