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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Good Cop, Bad Cop & Burning Down the House?

I was on my way home tonight a little before 9 p.m., riding my bike the wrong way down Marshfield toward my house. I got to the intersection where my block starts and a lit firework landed on the corner about 10 feet in front of me. It was one of those popper things that mostly makes a loud noise but has a bit of a flame, too. There was a little girl in a green t-shirt on the sidewalk, about 5 feet from the firecracker. More were being thrown from the alley, in the direction of people walking by and up really close to one of the houses on the opposite corner from where the little girl was.

People to the west were yelling "stop that!" and so forth. Some woman said she was pregnant and they were going to give her a heart attack. The little girl in the green shirt looked scared.

So I did something I have never done and swore I would not do--jumped off my bike and publicly called 911. In the middle of the intersection, in front of maybe five or six people watching. I did that because I wanted them to quit and I figured it would get them to stop and the police probably wouldn't ever show up, certainly not in time to catch them.

When I finished the call I walked my bike to the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. Meanwhile the guys doing it came out of the alley and started walking east, toward the corner about 20 feet north of where I was standing.

"Did you call the police?" one of them yelled at me.

"I sure did."

"Everybody lets off fireworks!"

"Yeah, but not at people! That's dangerous."

"You live here? Mind your business."

"Yeah, I live here. Do you?"

"Yeah I live here. How long you live here?"

"I lived here four years."

They shake their heads. "We been here years and years."

"I don't care how long you've been here, don't do stuff like that. Keep it in the alley."

"Mind your business."

"I'll mind my business when you mind yours," I yelled, just as I heard one of them say,

"We'll burn down your house."

They walked away, toward Ashland. I know they don't live on this block, and I don't think they live on the next block north.

Then I looked over at my doorstep, and there was a gray-haired white man at the door. I don't think I realized he was a police officer until after he said, "I'm looking for [Dorothy]."

"She doesn't live here," I said. "She just gets mail at this address."

I was coming to the front steps just as the door opened and Medicine Man looked out.

"Does [Dorothy] live here?" the officer asked.

"Sir, he doesn't know her," I said with some irritation in my voice. (Yes, I was stressed out from what happened three seconds earlier. "I am the owner of this house and you should be talking to me." I may have cut him off as he was continuing to ask Medicine Man another question.

His partner, an African-American woman about my age and height, got offended. He probably did, too, but she was the one who made a big deal. She got out of her car, walked up behind me and started lecturing me about how nobody speaks to her partner that way, blah blah blah. I shut up and took it.

When she was about out of steam, I said very quietly and very politely, "Ma'am, may I say something?" She nodded.

I explained what had just happed half a block away and tried to explain that I had not intended any disrespect, I was just upset from what had taken place seconds earlier.

"Well, you didn't intend disrespect, but that's what you gave, so that's what you got," she said. Then she inquired what happened. I explained, trying to emphasize that I would never call about firecrackers except that these looked like they were going to hit people.

She wasn't listening. "This is Chicago. Everybody lets off firecrackers," she explained as if I were two years old or fresh from the suburbs (which maybe she thought I was by now). It wasn't worth trying to respond. They left. I'm guessing they weren't district cops--they had on black uniforms, and I just assumed they were from the sheriff and there's a warrant out on Dorothy, whom I still haven't seen since the last time I said I haven't seen her.

I went in the house shaking. Medicine Man tried to distract me with some conversation about Fr. Mike Pfleger and the reaction in Auburn Gresham to the whole flap this weekend, but I couldn't get into it. I started crying and told him for once the house extrovert needed a few minutes to herself.

I decided to call a friend from church and the local CAPS meeting who has had plenty of experience with the police. I figured she would understand and I'd feel better if I talked to her. So I called and she was home and she listened to me very well and told me a story or two of similar experiences she'd had. (If you're reading--and I know you do--thanks. You know who you are.)

I wanted to ask her advice about how seriously to take the "we'll burn your house down" threat. I was pretty sure it was just some offhanded thing they said to be annoying, but when you're one of two white people on the block, everybody knows where you live, your house was burnt to a crisp before you owned it and your neighbors can't be bothered to lock their gate or rebuild the fence between your yard and theirs, there's a reason to be scared. So I am.

My friend advised me that yes, it's probably nothing and more than likely nothing will happen, but she suggested it would be a good idea to make a police report anyway, just in case something actually did happen.

Talking to my friend calmed me down enough that I called the 9th district number, and they told me to call 311 because they don't take police reports over the phone. So I called 311, but by then I was upset again. A woman officer answered and my voice started breaking as soon as I started talking.

Fortunately, she was very nice and patient. She explained that normally the police don't take reports of threats against property. While a threat against a person warrants a police report of assault, they don't have a way to track a threat against your car or your house, not you. I told her I hadn't planned on making a report until a neighbor advised me it would be a good idea. I also played the race card and explained that I'm one of two white people on the block which makes me stick out a little. She said she would speak to her sergeant and see whether they could take it.

She put me on hold. That helped me calm down a lot. By the time she came back, I was fine. She said her sergeant had said yes, she could take the report. So she asked me a bunch of questions, which I answered very calmly. I suck at physical description so probably that was pretty worthless, but I tried to work as best I could with the fleeting picture in my head of what they looked like. She gave me the number of the report and said it'll come in the mail in a few days. I will probably mention it at the next CAPS meeting and go to Home Depot tomorrow or Friday to get those fire safety ladders I've been meaning to get for years. As long as the only fire that results from this is the one now under my butt to get those ladders, we're fine.


Patrick Barry said...

Sounds like emotional overload due to intense commitment to your neighborhood. May I suggest stopping in at the Fiesta Back of the Yards this weekend? Seems to me you will enjoy it greatly.

Maritza said...

I'm sure I'll stop by at some point. Thanks.

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