It was Sunday June 15th, a few hours before starting my final year of medicine, as I headed to the graduation dinner of colleagues at my university. I took the unfortunate decision to go to the location by a “service,” or the cheap fare for taxis in Beirut. The place was within walkable distance on any given day but I was borderline suited up and it was June in Beirut.
The taxi picked up a 25 year old guy who wanted to go to “Hotel Dieu” and drove onwards. He dropped me off next to Banque Byblos on Achrafieh’s main road, facing Sofil, and I gave him 20,000.
That was mistake #1.
The moment he saw the bill, he started barraging me about how I hadn’t told him that I had such a huge bill with me. I looked at him and replied: “it’s just 20,000. What would you have done if I had a bigger bill?”
He didn’t like my reply. Perhaps I should have just ignored, but I have a very low threshold as an individual for unnecessary rudeness. A few minutes later as he held up traffic, under a street camera belonging to the bank or the nearby Dutch embassy, he threw all 1000LL bills at me, so I got out of the car and closed the door behind me with an extra flair. I turned my back and crossed the street.
That was mistake #2.
A moment later, I started hearing shouting from behind me. “I will fuck your mother, you cunt!” I turned around and saw that the taxi driver was addressing me. I turned around and walked onwards. “You cunt, you cunt. Your mother is a whore.” I turned around and immediately gave him the finger. His voice kept rising and the insults kept coming. I gave him a second finger and walked onwards.
That was mistake #3.
I walked down the Sofil road, on my way to the location of the graduation dinner, when I heard the shouting get closer. The guy he was supposed to take with him to Hotel Dieu still in the car, the taxi driver drove his car towards me. A moment later, he was out of his car with a bat and before I knew it he slammed me on the side. It was one of those fight or flight moments we get taught about in biology. I decided to fight. So I started beating him as he hit me with the bat he had.
A minute or so later, I break free as the valet parking personnel of nearby “Le Maillon” come close. The taxi driver then runs to his car and drives away as he sees people getting closer. I hadn’t gotten his license plate number. The guy with him was texting throughout; he hadn’t moved a muscle.
My (brief) medical training allowed me to quickly assess my injuries. I felt blood gushing down my neck and lip. I also felt a bruise over my forehead and shoulder. I hadn’t lost consciousness, nor did I feel dizzy or vomit. I assumed my injuries were minimal so I marched on the dinner.
I was disheveled and obviously shocked. I had never thought such a thing would happen to me. My friends were all smiling when they saw me. Their smiles turned into shock when they saw my bloody neck. They went with me to the bathroom to help me clean up.
The graduating physicians assessed my head wound and decided it was superficial and didn’t need stitches. I let my body’s coagulation system run its course and headed back to the dinner. I decided not to ruin the night for the friends who wanted me there, and I tried my best not to.
A couple of hours later, I couldn’t take it anymore so I headed out to my hospital’s ER room. I entered without going through the personnel at the entrance. I saw familiar residents. They knew me. They immediately asked what was wrong so I explained to them that I needed a medical report of what had happened to me to present it to the police. The ER physician asked me to go open a file, the way any other patient would do. I told him I didn’t have money on me – he couldn’t care less. There was no preferential treatment for their own student there. I paid whatever fee they asked, running out of money in the process, and waited in my own triage cubicle.
I quickly told the resident examining me that there was nothing wrong. I just needed my wound cleaned so I can get on my way. The whole thing took about an hour. I was out of the ER and broke my 1AM. My friend was going to take me to the police to file an official complaint.
The best part of the night was yet upon me.
I arrived to the police station a few minutes later. What do you need, the policeman guarding the door asked. I told him the purpose of my visit and he directed me to the 5th floor. To reach said floor, he pointed me towards an elevator for everyone minus “officers.” The elevator wasn’t working.
I reached the 5th floor and explained what had happened to the personnel there. Their initial reaction was not to ask whether I was okay or not, it was to make sure they understood the precise location of where the assault had happened. The reason? “The location falls outside of the jurisdiction of this floor. Please go to the 1st floor so they can assist you.”
Make sure you go down the elevator to the ground floor, they said, it doesn’t stop at the first. I did as they said.
On the first floor, the personnel there brought up fancy Google Earth. They had underestimated my ability to read Beirut from satellite, telling me I wouldn’t understand what I saw. I pointed them to where the assault had happened. Guess what? It wasn’t their jurisdiction either. I was pointed to another floor.
I went up. It wouldn’t end there. “Did the assault happen on the sidewalk or on the asphalt?” They asked. “Does it matter?” I replied. Of course it did. Their jurisdiction only extended to the asphalt of the road going up from Mar Mkhayel towards Achrafieh’s main street. The assault on me had happened on the way down to Mar Mkhayel… on the sidewalk. So what what I supposed to do?
“You look okay,” they said, “and we’re obviously not going to do anything now. So why don’t you come back tomorrow at 9AM?”
I didn’t return.
Perhaps I had different expectations of how my first police encounter and how my first calling upon the law would work.
Perhaps I was too foolish to believe that those policemen wouldn’t waste an entire hour of my time at 1:30AM in the morning sending me between their office’s floors in their vain attempts to throw their work off on each other.
Perhaps I was too stupid to believe I would actually get the law working for me, in an area with about 100 cameras per squared meter, by simply asking for my right without resorting to my non-existent connections to help push my cause forward.
My friends told me I should have gone the second day and wasted my time because no one will give me my right if I don’t fight for it, but I have to ask: is it acceptable that, after getting assaulted with a bat at a supposedly safe street in your capital, you need to also figuratively fight with those whose job is to supposedly fight for you, wasting your energy and effort at something they told you wouldn’t lead to much anyway?
I guess I’m lucky he didn’t have a gun.
As I was walking down the stairs to exit the police station, I saw those anniversary posters for our internal security forces. “Our job is to serve and protect you,” they said. I just laughed at the irony as I headed back to the car that drove me back home.