Tag Archives: police

Things Are Not Always as They Seem

One of the arguments I hear frequently regarding the demand to “defund the police,” is that we’ll all be sorry when there are no police around to protect us. Ignoring, for the moment, the reality that nobody is seriously calling for the complete elimination of police, I’d like to share a story I think illustrates how incomplete this narrative is.

This story took place a little over 40.5 years ago and I remember some of it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. It was, in fact, on my half birthday – December 4, 1979. At the time I was living with my girlfriend, later to be my wife, in a small two-bedroom apartment above a garage at the East end of Carroll Canal in Venice, California. The place was probably no more than 600 sq. ft. It was behind a house that faced Ocean Avenue and there were stairs leading up to our front door from both Eastern Court, which was essentially an alley, and from behind the house in front of us.

At the time I was working with my father and my brother in our small, family-owned wholesale food delivery business. My girlfriend was a waitress at Gulliver’s. On that night, I was working on some bills for our business and she was at work.

For some time, kids in the neighborhood would run up the stairs from one side and down on the other. It was a bit annoying as they were pretty noisy about it. While I was working I heard a noise and thought the kids were getting ready to make a ruckus. I grabbed my six battery Kel-light (a very heavy flashlight, suitable for cracking heads) and jumped out onto the porch.

I had no intention of hurting anyone. I just wanted to scare these kids in the forlorn hope they would find someone else to torment. I was surprised to find a young man, perhaps a bit older than me, who I had frightened and who appeared to be lost. In fact, he asked me for directions to a place I can’t remember. What happened next, though, I remember clear as a bell.

He looked around for a moment. I was really feeling bad that I had scared him and was totally taken by surprise when he produced a handgun and held it to my head.

“Let’s go inside,” he said to me. I was in no position to argue. Now, this isn’t really the important part of the story; not for my purposes today, so I won’t go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, I was held at gunpoint and asked questions about money and women in the area. Knowing my girlfriend would be coming home soon lent a certain air of urgency to the situation, but he was the guy with the gun.

In fact, since he asked me to tell him where all my weapons were, he had replaced his handgun with my Ruger Blackhawk, a .357 Magnum piece which, at one point, he pointed at my head while I was lying spread-eagle on the floor and said, “I’m going to blow your fucking brains out.” I asked him “why,” and he said, “because you’re a honky.” “Is that all?” I asked. He had no answer.

Then he told me to put my hands behind my back and went out to the living room (there was no hallway, just a door that was open so he could see me.) While he had been talking to and threatening me, I had managed to get my foot behind that door and, as soon as he looked away for a second, I managed to do a prone spin kick and slammed the door.

Adrenaline was pumping and I practically levitated myself off the floor with one arm, and quickly reached into the closet where I had hidden my Ithaca Riot Pump Shotgun. I quickly chambered a round (it was double ought buck) and yelled at the door, “Get the fuck out of my house or I’ll kill you.” I don’t think he heard a word I said, as he hightailed it out of there. Before continuing, here’s a link to an appellate court decision regarding one of this guy’s three murder convictions, which describes the evens in more detail.

Now, here’s the part of the story I believe is relevant to the issue of how valuable the police are in deterring and dealing with crime. After I had gone through the second bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen to ensure he was gone, I called the LAPD. I had seen them patrolling and knew this was their jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the dispatcher told me I should call the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (we were a little over a block or two from Marina del Rey, which was county property.)

Although still certain it was LAPD jurisdiction, I called the Sheriff’s office only to be told “Nope. That’s LAPD. Call them.” I called LAPD again and was told it must be the Santa Monica PD who have jurisdiction there. I called SMPD and was told, “Nope. LAPD has jurisdiction.” I called LAPD once more and, finally, they somehow realized they did, indeed, have jurisdiction of my neighborhood. They said they would send a car.

When the officer arrived, he was by himself, he had his cover (his hat) off, and his sidearm was holstered with the hammer guard fastened. When I told him what had happened—which I had also told the dispatcher—he was both shocked and surprised. He said he would never have approached to door like that if he knew it was an armed robbery he was responding to.

After he took my information, I asked him if they were going to dust for fingerprints or anything. He told me I didn’t want them to do that, as it was messy and I’d be left to clean it up. I reluctantly accepted that. He left. By now my girlfriend had come home and I had to recount the episode to her. A couple hours later, we were asleep when the phone rang. It was the police. A man had been murdered near my place and they found a set of keys that I had reported as stolen. They wanted to talk to me now.

I ended up going to the station and working with an artist on a description. I have a really good memory and, over forty years ago, it was even sharper. When the guy was finally apprehended (because he went on a rampage, killing one more man and raping a couple of women) I was pleased to see the drawing we had worked on looked very much like the man I remembered. I can almost still see his face today.

So . . . my point here is that the police are seldom available to intervene and stop crimes in progress. They’re not magicians or fortune tellers. They can’t foresee when crimes will happen. We depend on their investigative powers and the depth of their ability to mine data and information (clues) to find perpetrators and flesh out a case for prosecutors to use in court.

I know not everyone could have done what I did. My years of training in Hapkido and my familiarity with weapons, as well as my preparation in creating a hiding spot he could not find, gave me the ability to get away from him. Unfortunately, though, the reality is we’re essentially on our own in day-to-day living. It’s unrealistic to expect the police to be there for us at all times and in all places.

This, to me, is the crux of the issue when it comes to transforming policing. We expect far too much from our police forces. We need to rethink how we deploy every kind of social resource to ensure the safety and health of everyone in our communities. Done right, there is generally no need for someone with a weapon to respond to a domestic disturbance. The same should probably be true of traffic violations. Why on earth do we have to face a person who is armed (regardless of how infrequently that sidearm is used) after making an illegal u-turn or going five miles an hour over the speed limit.

I don’t have all the answers. Not by a longshot . . . and certainly not in this post. However, I have a good idea what many of the questions are that need to be answered, and one of the most important is: How can we transform policing to better protect both the public and the men and women who choose to serve us in that capacity?


From a Friend

This is a poem a friend of mine in Ohio posted on FB yesterday. I asked her for permission to share it, as I think it’s powerful. Hope you get out of it as much as I did.

Eric Garner & George Floyd in Heaven, Before Their Black Police Victim Grief Support Group Meeting

“Hey, man.”

“Hey.”

“Nice to meet you…Well, you know what I mean.”

“I got you.”

“Philando brought you to the meeting?”

“Yeah. You know. We both from Minnesota.”

“Yeah. It’s nice to have somebody from home you can hang with… Well, you know what I mean.”

“I got you.”

“You from New York, right?”

“Yeah.”

“You must got a ton of homies up here.”

“My daughter is up here, man.”

“Oh…yeah…that’s right.”

“Yeah, man.”

“My bad…I ain’t mean….”

“It’s all right, man. You ain’t do it.”

“It’s crazy, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“I always thought about dying, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“I always knew the time would come, and I would have to go.”

“Yup. It’s the way it is.”

“I just…I never wanted one of them to be what took me out.”

“I hear you.”

“It’s fucked up.”

“Beyond.”

“You born with the white man’s knee on your neck. You die with his knee on your neck.”

“With his stick at your throat.”

“You walk around scared of your own skin and your own bones – how Goddamn breakable they are.”

“Like you toothpicks and tissue.”

“You live a whole life and never get to fucking breathe freely.”

“And then you get here and…”

“It’s better?”

“You’re safer. No more body, no more beating.”

“But?”

“Angels ain’t omnipotent, you know? We can’t do shit but put the thought into the person’s head.”

“So we gotta do it. We gotta do it, man. We gotta get them to stand up. We gotta get them to fight for it.”

“For ‘it’?”

“Freedom. They say they want it. They gotta get off they ass then.”

(c) Michelle R. Smith 2020


Be Safe! ¡Cuidate!

This weekend Trump is threatening mass deportations . . . again! It may not happen. However, if it does here’s some information you or someone you know may want to have available. One of the hallmarks of our nation is the concept of the rule of law, which means nobody is above the law; neither is anyone outside the law. Every “person” enjoys the rights afforded them by the Constitution of the United States. We’re all entitled to due process and the equal application of the law. Know your rights . . . and be thankful we have an organization like the ACLU that fights for them, incessantly. They’re one of five organizations I donate to monthly. Please consider sending them a few bucks to support their work. And please consider sharing this info with someone you know who might benefit from it. Thank you.


When Do We Fight Back?

At what point do we switch from nonviolent protest to righteous self-defense? Climate denial is empowering polluters who don’t give a shit how sick we get or how many of us suffer untimely deaths because of their fucking intransigence. When do we rise up in indignation and demand, or force, the changes necessary to halt climate change . . . assuming it isn’t already too late?

On ‘Hottest Day in History of France,’ World Told ‘Do Not Look Away’ as Police Tear-Gas Climate Campaigners in Paris


Reflections On My Second Life

Thirty-eight years ago tonight I came within a hair’s breadth of being murdered in my own home. It’s an interesting story, I suppose, but recalling it still causes a little adrenaline to spill into my bloodstream. Some of the facts are in this decision, but the main reason I’ve bookmarked the site for myself is to help me remember when it happened. It was on my 32nd half-birthday and, although I remember more detail than I wish, I can’t seem to keep the year in my head.

At one point I was laying on the floor and the perp, Leonard Brown, was sitting on my futon. He pointed my Ruger Blackhawk at my head and said, “I’m going to blow your fucking brains out.” I asked, simply, “Why?” He responded, “Cause you’re a honky.” I said, “Is that all?” He had no response to that.

He started telling me a story about being in Vietnam but, having spent many years working with lots of veterans from that war, I could tell he hadn’t really been there. He was, I believe, trying to work himself into enough of a frenzy – as well as getting me to respond fearfully, which I declined to do, so he could shoot me.

Eventually, he went to get something to tie my hands behind my back, something I was not going to allow to happen, regardless of the consequences, as I was sure that would be the end for me. He had to leave the bedroom momentarily and I had been slowly working my foot behind the door. As he left, I was able to slam the door, practically levitate myself off the floor one-handed (lots of adrenaline at that point), and grab my shotgun from a spot where I had hidden it in my closet.

I pumped a round into the chamber and said, “Get out of my house or I’ll kill you.” I heard him flee. Since I could not see where he was, and my girlfriend at the time (later to become my first wife) was going to be home at any minute, I could not fire through the door. I ended up going through the apartment, room by room, as I wasn’t sure if he had actually made it out. It was harrowing, to say the least.

There’s a lot more to the story, including three murders, several rapes, and somewhat of a comedy of errors (not funny at the time) getting the police to come and take a report. It took me five phone calls to three different jurisdictions – I was living in Venice, next to Marina del Rey – before the LAPD, who I called first and knew had jurisdictions as I saw them patrolling all the time, showed up. The officer who arrived was alone, had his hat in hand, and the safety strap to his sidearm in place, which unnerved him when he found out he was working an armed burglary and hadn’t been told so by the dispatcher.

Mr. Brown was eventually arrested, mainly due to his continuing crime spree. I ended up testifying against him twice – once at his original trial and again, years later, at a retrial on one of his murder counts.

The Court got one of the facts wrong in this decision. He only stole one weapon from me, and that was the Blackhawk, which he used to kill three men over the course of about a week and a half. I never got that handgun back, nor did I get back the beautiful pocket watch I had been given years prior by my maternal grandfather. I still miss the watch sometimes.


Martial Law or Cocooning?

A deserted Harvard Square

Twitter pic of Harvard Square

“It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.” — John Philpot Curran

I came across an interesting blog post via my Facebook feed today. It’s a personal account of one man’s experiences and some of his thoughts during the Boston bombing and manhunt. The author, Phil Johnson, discusses a few interesting issues, the first of which is the contradictory feelings one has when simultaneously feeling relief you or your friends weren’t affecting by a tragic event, while knowing full-well others have been devastated. He concludes “You can’t really call that luck”, and I agree. It is the dialectic of life, the yin yang of our existence, karma. Poorly understood, I think it leads some to conclude life is a zero-sum game.

He goes on to explain his mental journey from envisioning the perpetrators (especially after seeing a picture of the younger brother, Dzhokhar) as “pure evil” to reading an innocuous tweet of his and thinking “What could be more human that that?” As one who generally believes people are complex and capable of both great good and despicable evil, I found this revelation interesting and somewhat instructive, but hardly new or particularly revealing.

There is one thing he writes about that got my attention, though. Keep in mind I’ve read a lot of personal accounts of the bombing and subsequent activities (you probably have too), so it’s not that I’m dismissive of the personal tragedies experienced. It’s just that this particular issue that kind of lept out at me is something many thoughtful people are discussing, though usually in a slightly different direction than I gleaned from this tidbit. Here’s his paragraph:

“Throughout the day I jumped between Twitter, Reddit, the Boston Globe, and local TV for news. Jeremiah, a PJA developer, wrote a blog post about how social media gave us all our own private situation rooms from which to monitor events, something totally absent during the events of 9/11, when we were still dependent on the mainstream media.”

There are, it seems to me, a whole bunch of important issues contained in this paragraph. One of them is the way our consumption and processing of news and information is being transformed by social media (further encouraged by the alternate realities of the incompetence and disingenuousness of the MSM). In case you didn’t click on the link in the quote of his I’ve provided, consider this other blog post written by a colleague who discusses the communication differences between 9/11 and the five days between April 15 and 19, which I think are truly profound.

However, what I find of greatest interest is sussing out the implications (if any) of the entire City “sheltering-in-place” during the manhunt. I’m not entirely certain how I feel about it. On the one hand, for the period of time everyone was confined to their homes a heavily militarized police force had complete control of the City streets. On the other hand, the people of Boston, Watertown, etc. seemed quite willing to forego a little bit of freedom to expedite the search for a perpetrator they wanted to be caught. So, is their willingness a product of a situation in which most everyone was on the same page regarding the desired outcome, or is it an indication our citizenry is slowly giving control of the streets to law enforcement? Furthermore, is this a good thing or is it something more sinister and less-than-benign?

Some may argue it’s “unpatriotic”, perhaps cynical, of me to question what seems to have been a salutary outcome. However, I’ve never been one to believe the end justifies the means. This is one reason due process of  law is so important in this country. It provides, theoretically, a means to ensure all are treated fairly. As well, it’s hard to be sanguine in the face of the possibility we are slowly giving way to the transformation of our nation into a police state. At the pace I’m envisioning, most would not notice and, once in place, would be difficult to convince it had happened. I don’t have a good answer to these questions. Neither do I wish to be paranoid. I do, however, want to explore the implications further. I would like to see others do the same.


Important Stuff Happening Here!

Installation Marketing - Lowe's

Hey! Guess What I’m Doing Inside.

As I was leaving my house yesterday to go pick up my daughters from school, I noticed a sign reminiscent of the political signs that had been so ubiquitous in my town for the past month or so. This one was in my neighbor’s yard, stuck in the median grassy area between the sidewalk and the street. Although I wanted a picture of it for this blog, I was in a bit of a hurry to get my oldest and had to continue on. I was pleased to find, upon returning to drop her off, it was still there. I got out of my vehicle for a moment and snapped this picture before going after my younger one.

Right after I saw it, though, I found myself wondering if there was a way I could do something like this. My first thought was I should have a big sign I can raise on my roof that says things like “Rick writing here!”, “Rick editing text in progress”, “Rick proofreading a blog post right now”. Now that I think of it, I doubt that’s a very good idea. Actually, the city would likely frown on it and I’d soon find myself at odds with the very people I wish to work more closely with. There’s likely an ordinance prohibiting it. Scratch that.

So, how about this? In keeping with my theme of being a Senior Inspector of the U.S. Grammar Police, I’m thinking when I go to someone’s house or office I should put up some yellow plastic tape that reads “Possible Literary Crime Scene. Do Not Cross!” How’s that sound? Any better ideas?


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