It’s not often that I feel so vulnerable. This Saturday night was different. I was walking home from my parents’ home with my daughter when we saw a large group of teenagers ahead. ‘It’s OK’, I said, ‘Just keep walking and we’ll be fine.’ The young men looked around 15 years old and, based on the social-psychological principle that teenagers tend normally only to notice other teenagers – unless deliberately looking out for others – I assumed that we would be, to all intents and purposes, invisible to them. Unfortunately, this turned out to be one of those occasional exceptions to the rule.
It started with lone voices hurling abusive comments at us. Then others joined in. Their chants got louder and louder in threatening unison as they now started to follow closely behind us. ‘Don’t look back’, I said, ‘Just keep walking. They’re trying to provoke a response.’ We both tried to continue, to not-show anxiety, yet my heart was pounding and my mind was racing. What if they were to become more aggressive? What if they were to become physically violent? I looked around for potential escape routes; driveways and doorways into which I could usher my daughter hurriedly if things got worse.
As we progressed, the group stopped their pursuit and, thankfully, I heard their voices fall further back. We discovered afterwards on social media that ‘a large group of teenage neo-Nazis’ had been reported as harassing people in that area that night, and that the police had been called out. As I reflected on how I had felt, I was aware of an unnerving sense of powerlessness. How to protect my daughter, as a father? How to handle such a large gang, psyched-up in pack mentality? How to respond to these young people, as a follower of Jesus? How to view these antagonists, as trouble or as trouble-d?
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