Who R U? Leave Me Alone!

Last Thursday at 7:55am, I approached the intersection of Stone Way & 35th on foot.  I wanted to cross Stone Way.  But there was a guy standing there are the intersection, shaking uncontrollably and unsteady on his feet.  I hung back until the light changed, then passed him.

After crossing the intersection, I turned left headed toward Solsticio.  I wasn’t thinking about the man at the stop light anymore.  But as I turned to drop something in a trashcan a block later, I saw that man out of the corner of my eye.  He was practically on my back!  How did he do that so fast and so quietly?

He shuffled off another direction the moment I spotted him.

I think the term is “shadowed.”  I was shadowed.  What we he after?  My wallet?  Backpack?  Slicing open the backpack in the hopes that a nice iPhone would drop out?  Who knows.

But I started thinking — I walk this neighborhood a lot.  I know where I am.  I’m generally aware of people around me.  I know when something looks out of place. How did this happen?  How did I get surprised like that? And what would I have done if the man had grabbed my property and/or assaulted me?  Should I carry pepper spray in the future?  Take a self-defense course?

Enter Diane Horswill, SPD North Precinct Crime Prevention Coordinator, who graciously agreed to share some personal safety tips with Wallyhood:

  • Walk like you drive.  Glance over your shoulder periodically when walking, just like you would check a rear view mirror in a car.
  • If you are approached by someone, make sure you are not near a building or fire hydrant.  You want to have room to move and escape.
  • Plant your feet.  Stand in a defensive position.
  • If the person is approaching you and/or means you harm:
    • Say, “BACK AWAY”  “WHO ARE YOU?” or “LEAVE ME ALONE!”  This will alert bystanders that something is wrong.  And will allow someone who is simply violating your space or mistaking you for someone else to remedy the problem.
    • Most people get hurt resisting.  Do anything you can to save your life; fight to protect yourself, but not your property.  Don’t fight over property.
    • If someone says, “Hand over your wallet,” try dropping some cash on the ground.  If the perpetrator picks it up, you gain a few moments to move away.
    • Use a double-wallet that has a secret insider zipper where you keep your most valuable items.  Then if you do get asked to empty your wallet, you may still get to hang on to those special items.

And still other tips about life as a pedestrian:

  • Talking on your phone may help you feel safer, but you’re not safer.  Do not talk on the phone while walking. It is a distraction.
  • If someone asks you a question, step back from them as you answer it.  Doing so can prevent snatchings.   Diane doesn’t even stop when asked for the time on the street, she just answers as she continues walking.
  • Most of the time, muggers do not run up and attack you.  You’d see them coming.  Instead, they like to be in more control.  They’re likely to walk up and ask a polite question.   If asked for directions or the time of day, beware of that moment when you look at your watch or phone.  You’re now distracted & easier to victimize.
  • Most muggers don’t look like bad guys.  They look reasonable & you don’t get your defenses up.  Always be alert, even when people around you look “normal.”
  • Avoid pepper spray.  If someone is close enough for you to spray them, they’re close enough to knock the canister out of your hand.  On the flip side, if the person is further away & you manage to spray them, you’ll have a hard time justifying your use of the spray.
    • Instead, Diane recommends using a mini foghorn in a can, sold at marine stores.  Nobody gets hurt, you’ll get the attention you need from other people nearby (Diane says cars will stop on the street!), and you just might startle the perpetrator well enough to give you an edge.  The horn can’t be used against you, either.
  • Avoid whistles.  When frightened, your breathing changes and a whistle can be too hard to use.
  • Again, be sure to yell, “Who Are You?” and “Leave Me Alone.”  That’ll guarantee that passersby know you’re possibly in trouble.

Fisheries Supply at 1900 North Northlake Way carries tiny little signal horns in a can for about $7.  Actually, they have lots of cool stuff in that store.  Cleaning supplies, storage items, clothing, moisture sucker uppers.  And plenty of mini foghorns.  We can all have one.  Stay safe out there, everybody!

Wallyhood wishes to thank Diane Horswill for so kindly sharing her expertise with us.   Anyone ever thinking about calling SPD, but aren’t sure who to call or whether to call at all, Diane’s a wonderful, entirely approachable resource.  Contact her at (206) 684-7711 or diane.horswill at seattle dot gov.

  1. Karen said,

    The airhorn is a great idea. We use one to ask the bridgemaster to open the Fremont Bridge when we go through by sailboat, and those puppies are painfully loud. They will scare the pants off anyone who wasn’t expecting it on the street, and yes, I’m sure they would stop traffic.

    (Just be sure you don’t carry it in a spot where you could accidentally press the button–like in a deep bag full of stuff. You could give yourself heart attack.)

    Fri, February 18 at 11:03 am
  2. Helen said,

    Someone gave me great advice to get an air horn for the house to scare intruders so I found one at Big 5. But I didn’t know there were little ones you could carry around with you. I’m getting one for sure! Not at all comfortable with the idea of pepper spray. Thanks for the great research and tips, Chris, stay safe everyone!

    Fri, February 18 at 12:24 pm
  3. JJ said,

    Very good article and some great tips involved. As a 3-time “muggee” (not ever in Seattle, btw) I would like to emphasize the “walk like you drive” theory. The last two times I was jumped, I saw them coming from behind 1/2 a block behind and was able to react appropriately and not get injured or lose property. Also –
    * If approached by multiple people, try to keep them all in front of you, no matter the distractions.
    * If, like me, you can’t help giving the time (darn Mid-Western roots), raise your watch up to eye level so that you are still looking at the question-asker. This way your head isn’t down glancing at your watch.

    Love the airhorn idea, btw, especially to have in the house. Thanks for the great site!

    Fri, February 18 at 12:37 pm
  4. protected static said,

    “Just be sure you don’t carry it in a spot where you could accidentally press the button–like in a deep bag full of stuff. You could give yourself heart attack.”

    Or create a whole new kind of embarrassment over ‘letting it rip’ in an elevator!

    Fri, February 18 at 12:53 pm
  5. Chris W. said,

    @protected static… now I am tempted!

    @Karen… I was going to drop it into my backpack but was already worried about that button. Thanks for mentioning!

    @Helen & JJ — thanks to you both!

    Fri, February 18 at 2:06 pm
  6. Chris Witwer said,

    Editorial note: Two comments from the same commenter have been removed for violating Wallyhood’s comment policy, found here: http://www.wallyhood.org/2010/10/comment-policy/

    Fri, February 18 at 4:16 pm
  7. Helen said,

    Chris, you’re truly one of the nicest people I know and your contributions to Wallyhood have been tremendous. Go, Chris, go!

    Fri, February 18 at 4:57 pm
  8. Chris W. said,

    You’re very kind, Helen! Hugs to you & stay safe out there!

    Fri, February 18 at 5:12 pm
  9. matt said,


    Fri, February 18 at 5:49 pm
  10. abigail said,

    the information in Chris’s article is timely and important. It may also be the answer to why even caring people do not stop for a person who appears to need help. Alas, sometimes the person “in need” is a lure. Keep on and phone for help.

    33, thanks for the additional tips.

    Fri, February 18 at 7:51 pm
  11. Tim said,

    If just the presence of a gun, mace, or a knife would scare the attacker off, as it does in most cases if we are honest about it, then so would an air horn. Of course it is a lot harder to hang onto and carry an air horn than any of the above and your attacker has to not just slap it out of your hands. If your attacker is determined you are going to need something that puts him out of commission and an air horn ain’t it.

    Sat, February 19 at 5:40 am
  12. Eric said,

    One more tip from the parks department- don’t be shy about calling 911 for people that are acting strangely or being disruptive. Patrols are distributed in proportion to the time, location, and number of 911 calls received. In particular, the parks department asks neighbors to report bad behavior in parks at night.

    Before hearing that I had always thought 911 should be reserved for life threatening incidents requiring immediate assistance.

    Sat, February 19 at 9:25 am
  13. Chris W. said,

    Oh yes, thanks Eric!

    Sat, February 19 at 9:51 am
  14. protected static said,

    To follow up on Eric’s point: In Seattle, if you want the police to show up and check things out, you must call 911. Other places want you to call the non-emergency dispatch number, which is what I grew up with… Whenever I’ve done that here, I’ve been told that I should have called 911, and the 911 operator would have assigned a priority to the call based on severity.

    Sat, February 19 at 11:51 am
  15. cody said,

    I look forward to hearing Burks honking at signs on poles.

    Sat, February 19 at 2:30 pm
  16. SeattleAlan said,

    Excellent ideas, but sad we need to be so aware of these things in Wallingford.

    Sat, February 19 at 2:34 pm
  17. Jack said,

    Tim got it exactly right.

    Sun, February 20 at 12:15 am
  18. The person behind Chris said,

    I apologize for the bluntness of my previous comment, there could have been much nicer ways to say that its a little dramatic to assume that you are being “shadowed” by a person who means you harm. That being said… Suggesting to people that they should be carrying around mace and or a blow horn is ridiculous- you causing a ruckus with your fear mongering and making other people in the community feel unsafe. Can you imagine everyone walking around with mace and blow horns on 45th street? Because somebody walks with an off balanced gate it doesn’t mean they are dangerous. You must believe your famous in this area to have people following you. Again-its not meant to be mean. I just hope you consider what you are suggesting to people in your community, and stop alarming us all. You’ll be fine.

    Thu, February 24 at 2:16 pm
  19. Chris W. said,

    Hey, Follower! Thanks for weighing in again. I understand your concerns about the fear-mongering & appreciate your mentioning that here. It was really shocking how very close this guy was, and obviously trying to sneak up on me — but that’s just how I felt about it. Maybe I misinterpreted. You’re absolutely correct: 45th street would indeed be a nightmare if we were all afraid of anyone who stepped into our personal space. Thanks again!

    Thu, February 24 at 2:27 pm
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