D'Angelo Hampton keeps his belongings hidden when he takes the Green Line downtown from his home in Austin. He keeps his head up, greets the people he passes and always makes sure to stick to well-lit, busy streets.
But the 23-year-old wasn't always as vigilant about his commute. In fact, he never thought much about what he would do if attacked—until a gunpoint robbery in November caused him to rethink his routine. As he walked on a dimly-lit side street to his home, two hooded assailants forced him into an alley, where he was told to lie on his stomach as they took some of his belongings.
"I thought about it unrealistically, we've all had those fantasies … like we automatically know karate or something," he said.
Hampton complied with his two assailants not knowing if their gun was real, but he said he would put up a fight if he was ever attacked again. He has even considered taking self-defense classes.
Although safety experts recommend victims not take on their assailants, recent news stories have chronicled commuters successfully doing just the opposite. Last month, 50-year-old Linette Kossow chased down a man who snatched her wallet on the No. 36 Broadway CTA bus, retrieved the stolen goods and then delivered a religious lecture to the thief.
Kossow was tired of being a victim, she told the Tribune.
Others have had successes taking a stand as well. A 24-year-old was bruised and bloodied in December after he attempted to mug a reported expert in mixed martial arts. In the same month, a security guard thwarted a mugging at the North/Clybourn Red Line stop that led to three arrests. And in November, a 63-year-old man fought back against five men who robbed him, only to have them return his property. Such high-profile reports of victims winning against their aggressors raise the question: Should Chicagoans be fighting back instead of giving in?
"I had a lot of bad things happen, and I was just done," said Kossow, who also has had her apartment burglarized and her email hacked. "I was just frustrated. I was tired of being a victim."
Miguel Fuentes, head of the Chicago and national chapters of grassroots safety group The Guardian Angels, said fighting back is a bad idea most of the time.
"Most situations won't end up like [the MMA fighter incident]," he said. "Is what you have more valuable than your life?"
Fuentes said Chicago residents should take simple steps to make sure they aren't victims in the first place. Take off the headphones and put away the smartphones, he said. And if you do become a victim, focus on the assailant.
"The best thing to do is get the best possible description, a facial description," he said, adding that victims should pay attention to details that stand out, such as shoes or identifying scars. Fuentes also said commuters should think more about taking self-defense classes, should an attack become violent.
For Kate Webster, director of violence prevention programs at Chicago-based Thousand Waves Martial Arts, deciding to fight back is something everyone needs to carefully think about.
"People need to have a plan, and decided already what they are willing to fight for," she said. Taking on a mugger or intervening into a dangerous situation doesn't always mean getting physical, she said. Thousand Waves teaches students several tactics on how to confront violence. In one case, a student was mugged and chose to give up her wallet in lieu of fighting, but she kept calm and was able to persuade the mugger to give her $2 for the bus.
"We call that an unpleasant business negotiation," Webster said.
Those who are successful in fighting off their attackers, Webster said, likely have thought out how they would react to a theft or assault. And while stories like an MMA-trained heavyweight mercilessly taking on a thug romanticize the idea of fighting back, the reality is that it can get ugly, according to Webster.
"It's not a pretty sort of martial arts type of fight," she said. "It's going to get dirty; [you] are going to get hurt."
Although Hampton didn't choose to engage his attackers because of their firearm, he said if faced with an unarmed mugger in the future, he would act differently.
"I would definitely put up a fight," he said. "Putting up a struggle, it stalls for time for something good to happen."
But for CTA commuter Carolyn Trauner, getting physical does no good.
"Whoever is mugging you in these situations, they just want your things," she said. "I just feel like [fighting] would escalate the situation so much quicker."
The only surefire way to make sure you don't have to fight back is to not become a victim in the first place. Courtesy of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, here are some tips to stay safe while out and about in the city.
Keep belongings close, and hold on tight