Tag Archives: Venice

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?


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.


Eighth Decade, Here I Come!

During my activity against the War in Vietnam, as well as other Peace & Justice movement activities I was involved in, I really never thought I would see my thirties. I know now I was a dreamer and a bit too wrapped up in my view of what was happening in the country, but I thought we were ripe for a revolution and I thought I would be on the front lines. That was nearly fifty years ago and time has given me a new perspective on life, the universe, and everything (H/T to Douglas Adams R.I.P.).

Today, however, marks the mid-point in my seventieth journey around our home star, Sol. It’s my half-birthday! I know . . . aren’t I a little too old to be celebrating half birthdays? I suppose, but this day has some other significance for me. Today marks the thirty-seventh year since a man surprised me on my doorstep in Venice, California, where I was living with my soon-to-be wife. He held me at gunpoint*, threatening to blow my “fucking brains out.” I managed to escape when he went to get something with which to tie my hands behind my back, something I had no intention of allowing him to do. I was prepared to attempt attacking him as he tried, but I didn’t have to. I had been preparing by slowly getting my right foot behind the bedroom door. I was lying spread-eagled on the floor, and each time he looked away I inched my foot closer and closer to the position I wanted.

Fortunately, I was able to get away from him by slamming the bedroom door (well, almost. The landlord had installed new carpeting and neglected to plane the bottom of the door, so it was almost impossible to shut it without a lot of force) in his face, levitating myself from the floor (lots of adrenaline involved at this point), grabbing my Ithaca Riot Pump Shotgun from the closet where I had carefully hidden it and practiced this very thing, and suggested he leave before I killed him. The remainder of the story is a bit convoluted and involved numerous calls to three different police departments before the first one I called finally realized they were, indeed, the proper jurisdiction for where I lived; about 200 feet east of Carroll Canal, on Ocean Avenue. It was years before I was able to finally throw off the hyper-vigilance this episode generated in me.

Also, this coming April I will be ten years older than my father was when he shed his mortal coil. This past September marked thirty-two years since he died. If you’ve read some of my other posts, his death weighed on heavily on me for quite some time. I was always considered the spitting image of him and my mother used to say “You’re just like your father” so often I was convinced fifty-nine was the limit for me as well. I think it wasn’t until I passed the age where he had had his second heart attack, and I had nothing more than moderate hypertension to deal with, I finally convinced myself I would likely live longer than he had.

So, here I am on the downside of my seventieth year on the planet. I actually used Microsoft Project to determine exactly when I would begin the second half of the year, and it was midnight today. Now, in celebration of having made it this far, and because it’s “the season,” I’m sharing two pictures I just found of a couple of my earliest Christmases. Next year is going to be interesting, no doubt. Perhaps it’s been long enough, and I can fully retell the story of this episode some time soon. This was a start.

rickysanta

Not So Happy. Perhaps Wondering Why I’m Sitting on Santa’s Lap When I’m Jewish!

rickysanta2

Much Happier. I Must Have Decided I Was An Atheist By Now & It Didn’t Matter.

 


 

* The link “He held me at gunpoint,” above, is to the decision in a re-trial the defendant won on one count of murder he was found guilty of. I was required to appear as a witness and, since he had become a jailhouse lawyer in the interim, he represented himself, meaning he was the one who questioned me when I gave my testimony. Two things – He was partially victorious on several other charges and the case was remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. As far as I know, he’s still in prison. Second, although the appellate court states he took three guns from me, he only took one; a Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum, with which he shot and killed two people. I carried a fair amount of guilt around for quite some time before I could finally convince myself those deaths were not at least partially on me.


Something Borrowed – Something Blue

I got married for the first time (there have been only two) in my early thirties; somewhere around 1980 to be inexact. It was a self-organized, backyard party held at the home of friends in Venice, California. We were living in Playa del Rey at the time. I was just reminded I wore a turquoise bowling shirt a friend loaned me that he had recently  purchased second-hand from Aaardvark’s Odd Ark in Venice.

Turquoise Wedding/Bowling Shirt

My Turquoise Wedding/Bowling Shirt

I have a lot of slides from the wedding. Of course, they’ve been sitting in a binder for the last three decades, which is about how long ago I divorced my first wife (who, btw, remains a friend but who I see very infrequently and always at an event involving my brother’s family, as she was close to my SIL and her family). I have no desire to go out and spend money to have photos made of these, but I did try to scan one of the slides that shows me in the shirt. It didn’t work too well, so I went around the house looking for enough clear backlighting to snap a pic with my iPhone 4S. I offer it herewith.

I’m sharing this because it is somewhat indicative of the kind of relationship, wedding, and marriage (despite its having ended) Alina and I had. In our case, it was the Groom who wore – in one garment – something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.


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