Okay, let’s start at the end: It’s 6am. A young woman is pacing up and down the half block in front of my bldg across the street. “Excuse me miss, I just got robbed…” Her voice tails off. She stands in the street, pushed off the sidewalk by a crusty pile of snow, the remnants of a blizzard five days ago.
“Excuse me, excuse me…” Buses pass by on their way to pick up workers whose days start at the crack of dawn and who are probably just glad it’s Friday. A taxi passes by, probably on the way to begin a day of shuttling New Yorkers around Manhattan.
20 minutes ago I was asleep. Sound asleep. That sleep was interrupted by the sound of a slamming door and what seemed to be the voice of a young woman who was not happy. Something in my spirit already knew what was coming…so I began a sleepy prayer: “Please don’t let this be a breakup fight…”
My prayers bounced off the ceiling and back at me. I heard a young man’s voice…muffled, tired. Here we go. I tried to hide under the covers. I made a fake attempt to fall back asleep, but it was too late. Life had once again offered me a balcony seat to the human drama that is life in this city, and I wasn’t going to let the ticket go to waste.
The couple had moved on to the front steps of the building across the street from mine. Their conversation started at a low burn, but quickly escalated. I couldn’t hear what the argument was about, but it doesn’t matter. It was bad enough that their personal matters had arrived on stage under the spotlight of city street lamps.
“Oh, okay, let me call my mother!…” Things were not going to better any time soon. Two more minutes of raised voices shouting muffled words.
“Oh, let me call the police!…“ An unfortunate, but not uncommon turn for lovers’ quarrels in our community. One of the strange parallels to this police reform / Black Lives Matter moment is that the threat of calling the police (presumably to arrest & jail, not calm down & resolve) is still played as the ultimate trump card by some people.
The bluff has been called, the argument escalates. “Oh, so now you just gon’ run me over?! Run me over then! Run me over!”
The young woman has moved to the back of a previously parked car that is now slowly backing out of the couple’s driveway. The young man is attempting to de-escalate & drive away from the situation before it gets out of hand. I think about how so many of us have so few interpersonal resources for conflict resolution. A few more start-and-stop attempts to put the car into reverse, followed each time by loud taunts from the young woman as she attempted to block the car with her body.
A squad car rolls by. It doesn’t stop. I was stunned…did they not see this? Had they seen this before and decided it wasn’t important? The car is now halfway backed into the street. The young woman is still attempting to hold on to its rear bumper with her back.
The squad car returns. Followed by another squad car. As two officers get out of each vehicle they are quickly joined by a third squad car coming from the other direction. Time for Couples Therapy with Mr. Policeman.
“Officer, I live here, I don’t know what she’s….”
The officers have split up in teams of three, forming a small huddle around the young man and one around the young woman. The two teams are separated by the car, which is now idling with the engine on, still in the middle of the street.
For the next 10 minutes the officers will attempt to decipher the truth through the tears, pleas, and justifications. It’s scary for me to watch our people pleading with the police. It’s a frightening thing to watch someone hurl all their eggs into a basket made of one-ply tissue paper.
Five minutes pass. The young man is asked to put his hands on the rear window of his car. One of the officers pats him down. I know what’s about to happen next. The young woman continues to make her case: “I don’t have keys to my house, money, nothing…”
Five more minutes in their respective huddles. The officer returns to the young man, puts the young man’s hands in cuffs, and walks him to the backseat of the second squad car while a few cars pass through this now one-lane street at accident-gawking speed.
The officers who were in the young man’s huddle have now turned their attention to his car. Flashlights out, glove compartments and seat cushions inspected. I send another prayer to the ceiling that this young man had nothing in his car that could be deemed incriminating.
The officers in the young woman’s huddle seem to be growing restless. The young woman raises her voice at one of the officers. She has alienated her defenders.
“…do I make myself clear?!”
The young woman opens her purse, turns it over, and empties its contents onto the street.
“I thought you said you didn’t have any keys?!…” The officers have had enough. They pepper her with questions. She seems flustered, sensing the tide has turned against her.
An officer returns to the young man in the backseat of the second squad car. He pulls the young man out and removes his shackles. “Get outta here…”
The young woman continues to make her case as the officers turn away and walk back to their cars. Her belongings still on the ground, she starts to pick them up as she watches the squad cars and the young man drive away.
The street is quiet again. It’s 6am. A young woman is pacing up and down the half block in front of my bldg across the street. “Excuse me miss, I just got robbed…” Her voice tails off.
– Day G.
Host, Class of Hope & Change