Thursday, August 7, 2014
Getting Punched in the Face in Front of a Mini-Peace Rally Only SOUNDS Funny
Two women were yelling, "Stop the violence, honk for peace!" That's when I was punched in the face and wound up conducting a citizen's arrest. When I type those words all in a row, it's so surreal that I can't help but giggle. Giggling, by the way, was a little painful right after that.
So here's what went down...
...I was doing some yard work, and picking up litter around my home when I saw someone pull up to one of the light poles at the intersection of 26th and Penn, and tape a nightclub sign on it. I looked around and realized that all four light poles were covered in this garbage. LITTERALLY. Ha ha.
So I went around and pulled down all of these signs, many of which were tattered or rain-soaked beyond recognition, and many of which advertised concerts or events that had already passed. When I got in front of the gas station, where family or friends of Drew Billingsley, the recent homicide victim, were gathered for a mini-rally, someone approached me and asked what I was doing.
I said it was pretty obvious what I was doing - taking down these signs that were litter. We went back and forth a bit over two main points: 1) he felt that I should not worry about anything that doesn't happen on my property, and 2) that I was a racist for taking down a Black man's means of advertising. After all, I left up a garage sale sign and a lost dog sign, but took down everything else. (Not entirely true; I left up an "RIP" sign for someone who was African American.) I categorically reject both of those points.
I generally leave lost dog signs alone; I've got a dog of my own and have a soft spot for anyone who loses their pooch. Plus those signs often do come down after the dog is found or after people have given up. Likewise, garage sale signs tend to be collected after the fact. Folks don't want calls about a dog that's already been found, and people don't want strangers showing up for a garage sale weeks after the event. Those types of signs are essentially self-regulating. And in any case, the signs weren't his property either, so he had nothing to say to me about what I did with them.
I didn't articulate that to this guy, in part because he began to threaten me, both that he would fight me and that he would rob me. I actually laughed at this, "You're seriously going to fight me in front of these ladies who are calling for an end to violence?" That's when he pointed to my headphones looped around my neck and asked what was in my pocket. "Nothing." was my answer.
"I can see you got an iPod in there, so don't say nothing."
"Ok. There is nothing in my pocket that you are going to take."
It was around this time that the two women calling for peace came over and took HIS side. And that's when he sucker-punched me in the jaw. It wasn't hard enough to do major damage, but it still hurt and my face was sore for a few days after. "Oh, HELL no," I said as I pulled out the phone he was not going to steal. "I'm calling 911 RIGHT NOW."
He turned and hopped on the northbound 19 bus line. I think he honestly thought he could just punch me and make a clean getaway by jumping on the bus. Well, I followed him, got on the bus, and told the driver what happened all while I had the 911 operator on the horn. I then got off the bus and reported the bus route and vehicle number, and let the police do their thing.
Minutes later, I got a call saying they had arrested the guy and were bringing him over for identification. When the police got to my home, they said that unfortunately they couldn't arrest him for a misdemeanor that they did not see. But, said Officer Friendly, I could conduct a citizen's arrest and then they would book him.
It was at this moment that the weight of what I was about to do really hit me, harder than this fellow's punch, to be honest. I wondered about White privilege, and if the same thing would be happening if racial roles were reversed. I wondered whether this guy was just having a really bad day, and maybe this mark on his record would start him down a path of being stuck in a biased criminal justice system. (Or conversely, what if this guy had a rap sheet as long as my arm, and this was the one chance to bring him in?)
Ultimately, I decided that none of these things could affect my decision. I picked a course of action this way: I was assaulted, and the assault was unprovoked. There should be consequences for such an unwarranted attack. I would not have been satisfied with him being accosted for a few minutes in the back of a squad car; that was not enough of a consequence. And the only opportunity to bring about an appropriate consequence was right then. Right there.
So I conducted my first citizen's arrest.
That was really quite interesting. I filled out a form describing what transpired, got one of those blue cards from the police, and then per their instructions, went over to the open window of the squad car where this guy was cuffed, and said the magic words. "I'm placing you under arrest."
There will be a court date for this guy, and I'll have to go down and testify as a witness. I am actually curious about restorative justice here, in the hopes that there can be some form of reconciliation. But if he's unrepentant, I'm fine with throwing the book at him. Maybe he can be part of a sentence to serve crew that goes around and takes signs off of light poles.
In the midst of the shooting and this assault, more than a few people asked me if I plan on moving. The thought never crossed my mind. I bought my home on this corner for a number of reasons, but one of them was because I wanted to have a positive impact in an area that really needed it. I expected there would be rough spots along the way. And I can be one stubborn S.O.B. when the situation calls for it.
But the next time I took down signs from the light poles, I did it when nobody was around.