For a fistful of dollar
Gavin was riding his skateboard at night near Lincoln Park while his mother was walking a few feet away. As Gavin practiced his sick skateboard tricks, he was absorbed by the board. His tight jeans and Justin Bieber style haircut were perfectly fashionable in other circles. In the dank shadows of El Castillo, he may as well have painted “prey” on his back.
The three older boys who approached him were of a different caliber. They had high socks, baggy shorts, and bald heads. Even Gavin, when noticed them too late to flee knew they were bad news. Gavin realized it was night, in El Castillo. Sure the park was better lit and not as rife with crime as it had been in the bad old days of the late eighties, but bad things still did happen here.
The smallest of the three boys, still taller than Gavin by inches, walked in front of the other two. He thrust his right hand out, palm up, and with eyes glittering in excitement demanded, “Give me a dollar! I know you have a dollar!”
Gavin gulped and stalled for time, worried the sight of his wallet would only make it worse. He under a yellow lights, clutching his skateboard, and stuttered, “I don’t have a dollar.”
His defiance, slight as it was, enraged the other boy. He stepped forward and yelled, “Give me a dollar!”
Gavin, quaking behind his skateboard, held like a shield between him and the three repeated, “I don’t have a dollar.”
One of the taller boys, the leaner one of the two, stepped forward. “Give me your skateboard then.” He said with a gleam of greed in his eyes.
Gavin bolted. Like a hare before hounds the movement was instinctual, flight for safety, flight for life. The three hoodlums, predators of the park chased him through the park, hot on the trail of their prey.
Gavin ran, legs pumping, skateboard clutched to his side. His heart pounded in fear and his eyes desperately scanned the park for his mother. He was in trouble, big trouble, maybe Mom could save him somehow, but only if he could find her.
There! He ran to his mother screaming, “Help! Help Me!”
Gavin’s mom stopped, stunned. Gavin didn’t run, he skated. Everywhere.
Right behind him there were three men, chasing him. Almost without conscious thought, she drew her cell phone from her purse and changed the math by adding 9-1-1, she turned and fled next to Gavin.
Mother and son fled through the park, both screaming for help as the cell phone connected and an operator picked up. The light on the side of her face from the cell phone and the mother’s cry of, “Policia! Auxilia!” alerted the predators to a change in the game. The prey had just summoned other predators. The three boys immediately broke off and made a sharp right turn, fleeing southbound on Polk Street.
“A91, A91 handle the robbery just occurred at Sunset and Taylor, Code Three.”
“A91 Roger, responding code three from Sunset and Bush St.” I replied.
I was still working with Officer De Vito, a cop so methodical I felt three heartbeats from a savage death by boredom every night. He breathed the Marathon Career paradigm and considered each step conscientiously. We drove through Lincoln Park, looking in all directions for either a group of three male Hispanics (the suspects) or a young juvenile with a skateboard (listed as the victim). On the corner of Wilshire and Park St, we a kid standing with his mother, both panting under a streetlight. My partner stopped the car and we both dismounted to investigate.
Gavin told me his tale while the helicopter growled around.
“So tell me Gavin, these three guys making these demands, were you scared?”
Gavin replied quickly, without thought, “Hell yeah, I was really scared.”
I smiled a vindictive smile. Fear changes everything in California. Now if only we could find the suspects. Fortunately, the El Castillo Gang unit was in fine form that night. As the two gang officers were driving northbound on Polk Street they saw three young gangsters collapsed on the stairs of an apartment building, breathing heavily and sweating. Police work doesn’t always have to be hard.
When the Gang officers broadcast their position and the possible suspects, we told Gavin that we might have found the guys and they would be in handcuffs, but that didn’t automatically mean that they were the same suspects who tried to rob him. Even with the admonishment, Gavin didn’t falter. As each suspect was led into the bright front lights of the police vehicle Gavin said from the back seat, “that’s him.” Within an hour of an attempted robbery all three suspects were positively identified and sitting in El Castillo’s Jail. A neat piece of work in a night.
The taller skinny one who demanded the skateboard was Mirandized first. He refused to waive his Miranda rights, “Fuck You. I don’t have anything to say.”
“Alright.” I said “Then we are out of here.” and turned to leave the room.
“Wait!” Skinny cried.
I turned around, “What? you said you don’t want to talk. I’m out.”
“Look, you are just going to leave, just like that? And take me to jail?! What about what I have to say?”
I sighed. “Honestly dude, based on what happened, you don’t need to say anything for us to take you in. We don’t mess around with felonies.”
“Felonies!” Skinny squeaked, “But I didn’t do nothing! I was just drinking a 40 with my friends and then the cops stopped us.”
“Right, and sweating heavily like you had just been running?” I asked with a smirk.
He scowled, “I don’t have anything to say about that.”
I walked out. Next interview was with Chubby and much more entertaining. With the final Holy Miranda Invocation, “Do you want to talk about what happened?” He replied, “Of course I do. I didn’t do anything, man.”
“Alright, that’s simple enough” I said and got up to leave.
“Wait! This isn’t over! I mean, what am I being charged with again?”
I groaned and sat back down. I’m not on some lengthy cop drama. “Like I told you, robbery.”
“Yeah, but the guy that said I did this, what race was he?”
“He’s Hispanic,” I said and leaned in, eyes narrowed “Why?”
Chubby leaned back in the interview chair and smiled easily, “Because.” He leaned forward as if letting us in on a secret and his voice became fierce with passion, “I would NEVER hurt one of my people. I’d go anywhere and stab anyone for La Raza.”
“That’s cute. If it’s true then you have nothing to worry about, alright? Someone will be along later to book you into the jail downtown.” I loved the irony of the least aggressive suspect being the biggest talker after the commission of the crime.
With one last interview, Officer De Vito and I took the sixteen year old, Tiny, to be processed, but of course he just had to have had a beer or two, so per procedure he was taken to the ER for medical treatment. As we waited two hours for him to receive “treatment” he got bored and couldn’t help bemoaning his fate.
“Oh man, is this serious?”
I shrugged, “It’s a felony, but you are a juvenile, so who knows.” Cops spend the majority of their time on an investigation with the suspect instead of the victim. A victim’s story takes five to ten minutes and the preliminary investigation maybe an hour. But booking a suspect means you will be interacting with them for at least two hours. May as well keep them calm.
Tiny shrugged and kicked his feet while sitting on the edge of the hospital bed. He was small enough that De Vito and I didn’t feel any threat from his being uncuffed. “Its important for my future that I don’t get in too much trouble.”
As part of his processing I had seen Tiny’s burgeoning rap sheet. Though sixteen he already had three misdemeanor convictions. Now with a felony arrest and a likely conviction, his “future” was looking shaky. “Oh yeah? Where do you go to school?”
“Oh I dropped out when I was in ninth grade.” He said casually.
“Well what is it you want to do?” I asked.
“I’m going to be a firefighter!”
I started laughing. “Tiny, the firefighters are even more selective than the police force, there’s no way the fire department is going to take you with your rap sheet. Maybe you can be lucky enough to work on a fire line at a prison camp.”
Crestfallen, Tiny tried again, “Well, that’s okay, because my other plan was to be a cop.”
My laughter increased, but I managed to choke out, “with three misdemeanors and this arrest, good luck my friend, but its so highly unlikely I don’t see the point of even talking about it.”
Tiny crossed his arms stubbornly and stared at me defiantly, down to his last line of defense and willing to use his “kill shot”: “I’ll just join the Marines then!”
I stopped laughing and looked at Tiny seriously. “Tiny, that’s not going to happen either. You’ll never make it into the Marines and they’ll never accept you into their ranks.”
“Yeah? How the fuck would you know?” Tiny fired back.
“Dude, I’m a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps. I was deployed three times to three different combat zones. The city government isn’t going to want you because you already have a decent criminal record. The Marine Corps isn’t going to take you because first all the wars are dying down, which you would know if you cared about going to school, so they don’t need everybody they can find. They are actually looking to decrease the number of Marines in the ranks due to budget cuts; they aren’t interested in barrel scrapings. Second, to get in you need to pass a test called the ASVAB and seeing that you dropped out IN NINTH GRADE, good luck passing that. Which just leaves you with a life of crime. Speaking of which, you just failed to rob a fourteen year old child for a DOLLAR!” It was a small tirade, but I felt better for being honest with Tiny. When Tiny started to cry, I smiled. Not for his tears, but for the beautiful reversal that had been effected. Earlier that night, armored by numbers and size, Tiny and company had intimidated and frightened a child, to terrorize him for their own pleasure. Now, simply by stating fact and separating Tiny from his coterie, the consequences weighed crushingly on his shoulders.
A nurse heard the commotion and looked inside the room, concerned. She looked at Tiny sitting on the bed in tears and me standing quietly by the wall. When she glared at me I grinned back at her, “The truth hurts.”
The nurse’s glare only intensified at me. Who was the real bully here? Maybe I should feed him glitter and rainbows like everyone else in his life. I raised my hands to either side of my head in surrender and said placidly, “Hey, he’s the one who want to rob children in Lincoln Park.”
Nurse Ratchet’s glare now included Tiny, who seemed to collapse further in on himself under her admittedly withering stare. Satisfied that her job was done, the nurse stalked off wordlessly, the only paragon around.
During the rest of the booking process Tiny breathlessly assured De Vito and I of his pure intent to change his life. He had seen the light! I told him “words are worthless, actions are the only currency that I recognize.” That still didn’t stop his attempts to impress us with his declarations of conversion, but at least he was told.
A month later I testified at the preliminary trial of Skinny and Chubby. Skinny’s defense attorney went straight for my credibility.
“Officer isn’t it true that you are supposed to take full and accurate reports?”
“Then why isn’t it listed how far away my client was standing from the victim?”
“It didn’t matter.”
“And how could it not matter?”
“They were close enough to talk to him and cause him to be afraid of them.” Haha, I know the elements of the crime.
“And why would he be afraid, Officer?”
The defense attorney was starting to annoy me, so my response statement came out with more heat than I like to present when testifying. “Because any reasonable person would be afraid when approached by three suspects at night, in a dangerous area, especially when all three are older, taller, and stronger than them.”
Skinny’s attorney’s eyes gleamed with victory as he sprung his verbal trap. “Well officer, if these things are so important, why weren’t they listed in the report?”
To be honest, I kind of growled, “The time of day is listed in the report. The location is listed in the report. The height, weight, and age of each suspect and the victim are listed in the report. It is not my fault if you can’t connect the listed facts together for a conclusion.” For whatever reason, the defense attorney had no further questions and the District Attorney (the Prosecution) walked out of the courtroom laughing quietly to herself.
I didn’t get the opportunity to testify against Tiny, the juvenile court D.A. decided that Gavin’s testimony would be enough. Still, as I was walking out of the courthouse I saw him waiting outside of the courtroom, waiting to testify and looking really nervous. I get paid two hours overtime whether I testify or not, so I tried to earn my pay on the way out by stopping to bolster his spirits before testifying.
I walked up to Gavin and said, “Hey man, how’s it going?”
He looked up through his hair at me looking even more scared than he had earlier. I could tell he didn’t recognize me; not unusual, most people can’t see past the uniform. “I’m the cop that took the report the night this kid tried to rob you.” I told him.
He smiled at me in recognition and relaxed, “Oh yeah.”
I smiled back and leaned in as if telling him a secret in confidence, “I just wanted to tell you, don’t worry about these guys, they are scared once someone bigger than them comes along. Now when you go in there to testify, you will see the suspect sitting there and you might be scared, but you don’t have to worry. Just remember: I made him cry just by using words.”
Gavin straightened up. As I walked out of court to my tiny trashed truck, I couldn’t help but smile. Perhaps this experience, instead of enfeebling Gavin, would be a stepping stone for future greatness. A person can hope.