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There are few times when I’m truly caught off guard. Growing up in South-Central Los Angeles during the middle of the crack and gang explosion of the ‘80s prepared me pretty well to deal with just about anything. So when I headed down the New Orleans for this year’s Essence Music festival, despite my mother’s and friend’s pleas to “be careful down there” I felt confident I was smart enough to steer clear of trouble, and if something did go down, I was sure I could handle it.

My trip to New Orleans began like any other. I excitedly headed down south to the Big Easy for a long weekend of fun times, strong drinks (it IS New Orleans), dope concerts, and a camera full of memories.

N’awlins did not disappoint. As soon as I stepped off the plane the sticky heat engulfed me, damn near knocking the wind out of my belly and causing sweat to quickly cover my skin. Because I was traveling from Los Angeles and meeting up with friends who were coming from New York, I headed to the hotel alone. I hopped the shuttle, made the acquaintance of several helpful brothas who were eager to help a sister with her luggage, and rode to our hotel in the French Quarter.

Our first night in New Orleans was quite typical. Strolling to Café Du Monde for beignets, having dinner at a small little Creole spot in the French Market, and finally ending up on Bourbon Street to take in the debauchery that was sure to be had.

I won’t lie, typically massive crowds of Black folks (or young white folks) who are drinking to excess worry me. My history—growing up, being caught up in spontaneous riots at amusement parks, step shows, at schools—taught me that too many people in too small of a space just screams trouble, but thankfully, save for a few overly rambunctious dudes looking to holla, our first night in the Quarter went off without a hitch.

It wasn’t until our second night that things went astray.

After watching Jill Scott and Kanye West tear it down at the music festival, my friends and I again headed to Bourbon Street. This time the mood felt a little different, however. It was later, nearly two in the morning, the crowd seemed thicker and the men appeared a little more rugged.

As we crisscrossed the crowd, my friends and I had several men “accidently” bump into and grab (and in some instances palm) our asses. That should have been a signal to get the hell off the street and retreat to the safety of our hotel room, but we kept at it. After all, we only had a limited time in the city and didn’t want to let a few ignorant men mess it up.

We grabbed a Hurricane (the unofficial drink of Bourbon Street), and decided we wanted to go into one of the many clubs that lined the block to shake a tail feather. Because N’awlins allows smoking in their clubs one of our friends couldn’t stand the clouds of Mary Jane above our heads so we booked it to a small pizza joint for a slice to help soak up the alcohol. While we munched on our slices, we heard a ruckus across the street. I looked and saw a man and a woman quickly slap boxing, or so it seemed. I guess the guy got tired and decided to end the situation with a knockout punch. He hit the young woman so hard she fell, straight back into the street. After knocking her out, the guy proceeded to step over her like she was garbage and walk into the crowd of people on Bourbon Street.

Immediately, my friends and I sprang into action, running to help the young woman off the ground and trying to find a police officer to search for the guy who had laid her out. After what seemed like an eternity, two police officers casually strolled up—one smoking a cigar—and asked what the problem was. By this time the girl had regained consciousness, was bleeding, and was stunned by what just transpired.

While my friends and I tried to explain what had just gone down, the cops seemed unimpressed. They never moved with any sort of urgency, didn’t try to convince the young lady to file a report (merely asked her once if she wanted to), and even tried to spit game at us while we relayed what we saw. Unbelievable.

I was so pissed off by the lack of support the young lady received by the cops, and by the men who were nearby (one guy even filmed the incident) that I begin tweeting about the situation as we walked our friends back to their hotel.

Although I have written extensively about street harassment, have experienced it myself, and have been warned that things like this occur—where a woman is physically assaulted for simply not wanting to talk to a man—I was still shocked to witness it live.

Seeing that young woman get punched out on the street with no back-up except her friends and strangers (my crew) once again illustrated that when it comes to women navigating public spaces, sometimes we all we got.

Time and time again, I’m reminded that when horrible things happen to women—especially Black women—we are the only ones who seem to care.

From 50 Cent tweeting about killing his son’s mother over child support payments, to the junk-psychologist who tried to claim Black women were the least attractive women on Earth, when shit pops off concerning the worth, well-being, and reputation of Black women, our allies somehow fade into the background and we are left to defend ourselves.

As Black women we are used to holding our sisters down during difficult times, but we shouldn’t have to go at it alone.

And please don’t mistake this as a knock against Black men specifically, all people–Black AND White men and women—should have our backs on the basis of humanity alone, but for that young lady, all she had was us, Black women who knew how she felt, what she’d been through, and didn’t judge her because of how she looked.

Whenever things like this occur I’m thankful for my sisters. Because I know that if something ever happens to me and I can’t fend for myself, they’ll have my back…no matter what.

Have you ever had to step in to help a stranger when no one else would? Ever witnessed or been a victim of violent street harassment? How did you handle it?

Sound off!

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