Ambushing the Ambushers - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Ambushing the Ambushers

Ambushing the Ambushers

By Damien Noorbakhsh


Because in street crime scenarios, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad without a scorecard.

By Damien Noorbakhsh

I’ve lived in San Francisco since I was 16 years old. That makes 21 years now. For the first six, I lived near the Western Addition, and for the remaining amount of time, near the Tenderloin. Two neighborhoods that don’t exactly have the best reputations. I also went to high school at Galileo, which at the time had the worst reputation in the city as far as violence and gang activity.

Despite all this, I’ve never had any problems with street crime. Granted, I’ve been practicing martial arts since I was a kid and seriously lifting weights since I was in high school, and I used to fight competitively. But I think the trick has been to always be aware of my environment and to always use common sense to keep myself out of potentially bad situations. 

With that said, about a month ago, I was walking back from Japantown. Specifically, back from the karate dojo that I’ve been going to since I was 17. It was about 9:30 p.m. on a Monday. I’m walking down Sutter Street approaching Franklin, and I see three guys. Three guys who I just knew were up to no good.

It’s hard to tell what “up to no good” even means anymore, we’ve gone so tribal. Does it mean they were working class? Were they poor? Were they fraternity boys out for a drink and some trouble? I don’t know. I do know I was thinking with my subanalytical animal brain and they felt off to me. And, oh yeah, they also happened to be Black. Now, just so we’re clear, since I came to San Francisco, I’ve always been around Black folks. And I’m not 100 percent white myself, that’s why I can say this without a scintilla of so-called “White Guilt.”

If you think I’m being a mindless racist and just profiling, sorry, but the murder was caught on surveillance camera. This is an uncomfortable age we live in.

What I mean to say is that there are some guys from some neighborhoods that have a certain look, particular dress, and so on, and if you’ve been here long enough, it’s not that difficult to know what area someone’s from, especially if you went to high school here. With that said, these guys were from Oakland. 

Now mind you, Sutter and Franklin at night is desolate. There are no restaurants, bars or businesses open at that time. Mind you also, back in March and just one block away on Post Street, an English tourist was killed during a robbery. And sorry to have to break this to you, it was also two Black guys who did it. If you think I’m being a mindless racist and just profiling, sorry, but the murder was caught on surveillance camera. This is an uncomfortable age we live in.


So, here I am, in just about the same place at just about the same time. Part of me, the fighter part, says, “Fuck these guys.” Plus I’m licensed to carry a gun. Problem though, is that when I go to the dojo, I don’t carry weapons. So the rational part of me says, “Exit stage right.”

So that’s what I did.

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A sword is mightier than flip-flops and shorts.

Source Photo courtesy of Damien Noorbakhsh

I made a right down Franklin. After about 15 feet, I look over my shoulder, and sure enough, they’re following me. I’m not going to lie, I was getting scared. But I was also getting pissed. I’m a buff guy, with a shaved head, wearing flip-flops and cargo shorts in 50 degree weather. What on earth do they think I have on me that would be of any value? Also, do I look like an easy victim? 

Anyway, I’m approaching Daniel Burnham Court, which is a street that runs perpendicular to Franklin and cuts between Sutter and Post. I knew that down this street, there was an apartment building that has a driveway that connects to a garage. My hope was that if the garage was open, I could lose them in there.

So I make a left down Daniel Burnham. Again, look over my shoulder, and sure enough, they’re still following me. So I double-time it in my flip-flops, go through some brush and thankfully, find the garage open. I quickly made it to the other side that put me on Post Street. Now from here, I could have easily gone home. But the pissed-off fighter part of my brain kicked back in.

I also started thinking about how my wife has to walk to work every day and that in the 21 years that I’ve lived here, nothing like this has ever happened to me. So the decision I reached was, “I’m going to ambush them.”

So, rather than go home, I went up Post, back to Franklin, then back to the top of Daniel Burnham. I peeked around the corner. Two of them were standing by the driveway of the apartment complex. Then after about a minute, the third emerged from the garage. Even though I obviously knew what these guys were up to, this was 110 percent confirmation.

Once the third guy came out, they all started walking back up to Franklin toward where I was now standing. So I waited for about 30 seconds behind the wall, then when I heard their footsteps, I jumped out.

“Hey! You looking for me?”

The creepy thing is, there was no reaction from them. Nothing verbal at least. One guy reached into his waistband, but they, in unison, started walking backward, slowly.

“You know you’re going to get shot doing this shit right?”

Still, nothing. They walked down the hill toward Van Ness and disappeared into the night. 

I was tempted to call the cops, but honestly I know how this city works and how hard it works to preserve its rep as a tourist destination, a magical place where crime never happens. But it does. Just not that night.

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