Aaron Rupar had stepped outside his home into the cool fall air to walk and chat on the phone with his father when it happened.
The hour was around 10 p.m. He wanted a little privacy. His new bride was in their apartment just a few blocks away. The neighborhood is Adams Morgan in leafy Northwest D.C. near Walter Pierce Park.
Out of the periphery of his eye, Rupar, 34, an associate editor at ThinkProgress, noticed a large, heavyset black man crossing the street and coming straight toward him.
He also noticed the gun.
Just then, the man held his weapon aloft. But as soon as he looked at the perpetrator, who wore a black bandana around his head, he lifted it and took aim.
Rupar knows he’s feeling the aftereffects of the crime. “It’s been an interesting sort of window into what it’s like to experience trauma,” he said “There are parts of it that are kind of hazy.”
He’s also still jumpy — a mere rustling or crunching of leaves as he jogs in Rock Creek Park during daylight are enough to spike his adrenalin. He thinks, “Oh my God, is someone going to jump out at me?”
Side note: Has he heard of Chandra Levy? Who goes jogging alone in Rock Creek in the middle of the day?
“Hey man, here’s my cell phone,” Rupar said as he handed over his phone with his father still on the other end of the line. He tried to anticipate what the man wanted and not get himself killed in the process.
But the gunman wasn’t interested. “No, no, where’s the money?” he asked.
“You’d like to think you could be a superhero and kick this guy in the nuts,” he said in a phone conversation with The Mirror Thursday afternoon. “Your brain is a little bit haywire. …The only option is complete compliance.”
As he gave him his wallet, their eyes met — a memory he says is forever seared into his brain. The gunman instructed him to turn around. “That was kind of scary,” Rupar recalled. “Man, is he going to shoot me?”
A couple of seconds passed and Rupar took off running, still not knowing if the man would shoot him anyway.
“The thing that was really surreal, I run and turn the corner. I’m fresh off this near death experience and you see couples out walking their dogs,” he said. “It was this weird portal.”
He called the police. Two detectives arrived quickly and asked him to drive around with them and see if they could find the perp. No such luck.
The Washington Metropolitan Police Department warned residents about the incident:
Alert: Robbery (Gun) at 2213 hrs in the 1800 block of Ontario Pl NW. Lookout for a B/M, 6’4″ with facial hair, black clothing, black bandanna, armed with a handgun. pic.twitter.com/6lkxFHOOaU
— DC Police Department (@DCPoliceDept) October 17, 2018
While Rupar insists he doesn’t want to focus on the man’s race, he said he won’t sweep the facts of what happened or the description of the assailant under the rug. The perpetrator was black. Rupar says that doesn’t mean he’s going to be afraid of black people or even have any newfound fear of large, black men.
“That would be like the quintessential racist comment,” he said. “You could find plenty of examples of people who are mugged by white people. …I know a lot of people who have been mugged by white people. …This guy could have just as easily been white.”
Rupar stressed that he did not want to “embroil” himself in any “racial controversy.” He added, “I just think it would be irresponsible to draw any inferences from it.”
Understood. But I had a few questions.
When pressed on the significance of the assailant’s race — if there is one — and what effect it could have on him, he explained, “I don’t think it’s racial [but rather] the sense that it could happen to you at any time. I don’t think it’s going to be lead to any widespread racial profiling on my part. To me it makes me more wary of general dangers like that.”
Rupar recalled a situation in Minnesota where a black person helped him when his car broke down on the highway. He also remembered a few years back when he was mugged by two black teens in Minneapolis who said they would “pop” him if he didn’t hand over his wallet. He did as he was told.
After that incident, Rupar had a mild PTSD. “I found myself being hyper-aware of groups of teens,” he said.
In 2011, Vox Managing Editor Matthew Yglesias, who worked for ThinkProgress at the time, was beaten by two black men.
“So . . . I was walking back from the home of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman and instead of doing the normal thing and taking Q Street west to 5th and then walking south, I wanted to take a shortcut by walking south on North Capitol to then cut southwest on New York,” Yglesias wrote.
“But then lo and behold right by Catania Bakery, a couple of dudes ran up from behind, punched me in the head, then kicked me a couple of times before running off. Once, years ago, in Amsterdam a guy threatened me with a knife and took my money. These guys took nothing, and just inflicted a bit of pain. All things considered the threaten/rob model of crime seems a lot more beneficial to both parties than the punch-and-run model. But I guess it takes all kinds.”
Rupar sees a silver lining weaving around what happened to him.
“When I posted about this on Twitter, it has been a surreal living wake,” he said. “I got so many nice messages.”
There was one DM, a rotten apple amid the kind, living eulogies. “Don’t you think this is karma for spreading fake news?” a stranger and obviously a President Trump supporter, asked.
Rupar says the whole thing has been pretty surreal for his new wife who has taken to joking, “I don’t want to be a widow after six weeks.”