I was at work the other day when a friend and co-worker of mine returned from her break. She was very visibly distraught, and I asked her what was up. She explained that she’d gone on a date the previous night, and that morning her date had texted her to ask how she’d liked the date. She told him that she’d had a good time, but confessed that she wasn’t really interested in continuing to date him. At first, he’d responded amicably, saying something to the effect of, “I understand, I wish you all the best.”
Minutes later, though, he began a textual tirade that included telling her that she was “a waste of his time” and that this was why she was single, and so on. This, apparently, continued throughout the day, and culminated in one particularly nasty text in which he called her an “ugly whore”, shortly followed by another (that she had received while she was on her break) that read, “I will find u and kill u”.
I can’t tell you how my heart caught in my throat when she read the last text message to me. Up until that point, as I’d listened to her recount all of this, I’d simply shaken my head in disgust at the gross behavior of what was obviously a very insecure and unstable man. That final text message, however, took the entire situation to a new level.
I told her we needed to report him, immediately. Death threats are no joke. And I’d be damned if I’d let my friend – who was, again, very obviously shaken up by this – stand helplessly by while this idiotic asshole unloaded his crazy rage on her. As I told her, “No one should be led to believe that they can get away with saying this kind of shit to someone else.”
We weren’t really sure what to do. I posted a plea on Facebook for advice, and Googled “what to do if you’re receiving threatening text messages”, but most of the sites I found were largely unhelpful as they were geared more toward people who were being harassed by unidentified numbers.
During my break, I walked to nearby Penn Station and tracked down a police officer who didn’t look busy. I explained the situation to him and asked his advice. An older, fatherly type, he agreed that the text message should be taken seriously and seemed genuinely concerned about our predicament. He suggested we visit the precinct on 35th between 8th and 9th. He said we’d have to fill out a report. I thanked him for his help and went back to work.
After we finished up with work later that evening, we walked over to the precinct. Being relatively law-abiding citizens, neither of us had ever been to a police station before and we weren’t sure what to expect. Everything I knew (and believed I should expect to see) came from what I’d seen on TV and in movies. And surely, in New York, in midtown Manhattan, late at night, we were bound to see some excitement! I imagined belligerent ne’er-do-wells being dragged through the station in handcuffs. I imagined lots of commotion and noise – possibly shouting, maybe crying! I was… kind of excited.
So, I was a little surprised when we walked in and saw mostly a lot of police officers sitting around, chatting idly.
We explained our situation to a female police officer and she directed us to another room to sit and wait. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more excitement.
(Shortly after we showed up, a man came in. He was sweaty and out of breath, and told the officers that he’d lost his ID when he was running down the street and wanted to file a report. He kept pacing around, opening and closing his cell phone. He demanded a bathroom, and a glass of water. The female officer who’d spoken to us earlier talked to him with the forced patience and badly veiled frustration of someone who’d grown accustomed to putting up with difficult people. “No, sir, you cannot have a glass of water. This is not a restaurant,” she said, through gritted teeth. “You want to fill out these forms? Have a seat.” The man would not sit down, though, and kept pacing around. At one point he walked over to a wall of pamphlets and took one that read, “Safeguarding Against Sexual Harassment”. The police officer was losing her patience. “Sir, sit down so we can fill out these forms.” He kept walking around. “Can I take them with me?” he asked. “No, sir, you have to sit here and fill them out. Do you want to, or not?” she asked. “Can I use the bathroom? Can I have a glass of water?” he asked, ignoring her. It was, at this point, concluded that this man was high off his rocker on something because at one point the officer asked him to stop and to look her in the eye, and he refused to. Then he called 911. In the police station. “Sir, hang up the phone. Why are you calling 911? You’re IN a police station.” Finally, they asked him to leave and he did. SO THAT WAS EXCITING.)
While all of this was happening, a woman grudgingly came out of her office to see why we were there. We explained the situation again. She seemed unconcerned, and in fact seemed irritated that we were there. “Where do you live? Why did you come here?” she asked. I told her that the police officer in Penn Station had suggested that we come over here, and since my friend had received the text messages while she was at work, it made sense to just come to the nearest police station.
She did not try and contain her annoyance. “No, you probably need to go to the one in Harlem, where you live.”
“But she didn’t get the text messages in Harlem. She got them here. And it’s a cell phone, so it’s not like there is a specific location where the incident occurred, so it shouldn’t matter what police station she goes to,” we reasoned with her. All we had to do was fill out a report, right? How complicated could this be?
“Let me look up where the Harlem precinct is and I’ll get back to you,” she said, and walked back into her office.
We could see her through the glass partition. She sat there for about ten minutes on her computer. During this time, I used my iPhone to look up the address of the precinct in Harlem. So, I don’t know what she was doing. My friend went into her office and told her we didn’t need her help because we’d found the address ourselves, NO THANKS TO YOU, and we’d go figure it out on our own. She unhelpfully gave us the phone number to the precinct and suggested that we call before we went over there in case they couldn’t help us either. She did not apologize for not helping us. I won’t even use the word “try”, because there was literally no effort made on her part to do anything to help us.
And, given what was happening in the police station (i.e., nothing), it’s not as if she had more pressing matters to attend to.
Let’s step back for a minute and consider the fact that, for real, this dude threatening my friend could have actually been very serious. In light of all of the news stories in the past year alone about men who’d snapped, who’d lost their shit and killed women in their life who they perceived had wronged them, it was definitely not unreasonable to think that this man may have been completely serious about his threat. I don’t know if maybe this woman was just way too jaded with her job or what, but her complete lack of concern and her unwillingness to do anything to help us was both unbelievably frustrating and extremely disheartening.
(Sadly, anyone who has ever had any experience with anyone employed in a government office will understand exactly what kind of woman this is. She reminds me of every person I’ve ever spoken to at the DMV or at the Post Office. But at the Post Office, when you’re trying to mail a package, dealing with someone like her amounts to little more than an inconvenience. At the police station, when you’re trying to report a death threat, dealing with someone like her is incredibly aggravating.)
Before we left, I peeked into her office once more. “May I ask what your name is?” I said, politely. “Pia Barksdale,” she grumbled, and then eyed me suspiciously. “Why? Is there a problem?”
“No,” I said. “I just wanted to know the name of the person who HELPED us. Goodnight!”
So, everyone take note: if you have to report a text message death threat, run far far far away if a woman named Pia Barksdale is assigned to help you. Because she won’t! In fact she may not help you with anything!
Visiting the police station was suddenly a lot less exciting and a lot more depressing and frustrating. I worried about the possibility of this man actually tracking us down and then killing us both. A lot of time had passed since he’d sent the text message.
Outside the police station, we called the precinct in Harlem (on 102nd St.). My friend explained the situation, told them she wanted to file a report, and wanted to know if that would be possible before we headed up that way and wasted any more time (since, at this point, it was nearly midnight). The man on the phone suggested that she call 911.
“You want me to call 911?” my friend asked, dumbfounded.
I almost lost my shit, and started shouting. I was about to be one of those belligerent ne’er-do-wells being dragged through the police station. “THEY WANT US TO CALL 911? WE ARE ON THE PHONE WITH THE POLICE. IN FRONT OF ANOTHER POLICE STATION. WHAT. THE. FUCK. THIS IS FUCKING RIDICULOUS.”
I continued to rant and rave (mostly to myself, because my friend was still on the phone) about the absurdity of this situation. The police are supposed to be here to PROTECT and SERVE us and they weren’t doing SHIT. Nobody seemed to want to help us! My friend was getting death threats, and every person we talked to seemed only interested in passing the buck of responsibility on to someone else. A GREAT WORLD WE LIVE IN.
Finally, it was determined that we would, in fact, make the trip up to Harlem. And hopefully someone would help us.
We got off the 6 train at 103rd. The precinct was on 102nd. As we walked into the station, we passed a police officer sitting in a squad car playing a game on an iPad. (One of the major takeaways I had from the evening was that the life of a NYPD officer is infinitely less exciting than it’s portrayed in movies or on TV. Nearly every officer I saw during the course of the evening was just sitting around talking, or doing paperwork.)
Fortunately, things get better from here. There was no one in the Harlem station, either, aside from officers. The woman at the front desk was extremely helpful. We explained the situation to her, and she immediately got the paperwork out and began to fill it out. It didn’t take more than ten or fifteen minutes to do, and she was very pleasant with both of us. An officer sitting near her also chatted amicably with us, and offered us some insight about the process of filing a report like this.
(You fill out a report with any identifying information you know about the person, along with what was done or said to you. You’re then given a special sheet of paper that includes a number you can call if you are contacted again by the person who threatened you, who can then help you determine what moves to make next.)
We thanked both the woman and the officer for being extremely nice and very helpful. “You’ve restored my faith in the NYPD!” I said jovially.
The officer looked up at me warily. “You must be easily convinced of things, then,” he said. “Sorry. I guess I’m just really jaded doing this job for as long as I have.”
Wow. Right? That was kind of depressing to hear, especially because he was so nice.
Anyway, we left and went our separate ways. Since we filed the report, my friend has gotten more harassing and threatening text messages from the man she went on a date with. She got in touch with a detective who has been assigned to her case, and last I heard, they were discussing the option of arresting and charging the man – which I have emphatically encouraged her to do.
For me, the entire experience was certainly eye-opening on a number of different levels, but in the end it comes down to something very simple: as I said before, no one – man or woman – should be led to believe that they can threaten harm on another and get away with it. My friend – who is a genuinely kind person – meant well when she was honest about not wanting to see this man again, and certainly did not deserve to be treated the way that she did in response. I hope that man, wherever he is, learns his lesson and eventually gets the help he needs to address his insecurities and identify ways to handle rejection without threatening (seriously or otherwise) the life of another.
And, for anyone who receives threatening text messages/phone calls/e-mails (or has a friend who does), please take it seriously and report them. It doesn’t take that long, and in the end you will walk away with even just a little more peace of mind. Even if you encounter your own version of bureaucratic nightmare Pia Barksdale, there are people out there who do want to help you and who want to ensure that you are safe. If more people reported threatening messages like the one my friend received (and mind you, she wasn’t going to report this at first until I insisted and offered to go with her), then maybe fewer people would resort to tactics like this to bully and intimidate people they think have done them wrong. It’s important that we continue to send the message that behavior like this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by anyone.