Big, black and crazy, but alive…

I thought of the below described call today after seeing an online friend of mine, Tshaka, Tweet about his status as a “big black guy” and what that implies when he is confronted by law enforcement (not that he is a LEO frequent flyer at all) versus others in society acting the same way.

There are so many ways to dissect incidents such as the recent Tulsa shooting, and this one will be dissected too, but at the end of the day, we as police officers fail when we kill somebody, even when it’s justified.

I have so much more to say on that, but I need to kick it around first. In the meantime, during the below encounter, it never crossed my mind to point a gun at this kid, but what if I had been a smaller officer? What if I was a petite, female officer? Should it matter? It does, but should it?

The entire encounter lasted probably forty-five minutes. It took that long to calm him down and get him to help. Totally worth the wait to avoid unnecessary violence.

Discuss.

———————————-

It was a fairly warm day, at least for the first week in April here in St. Louis.

I was working on this particular Saturday in 2015, patrolling the streets of North St. Louis, when I got a call for an OBS.

I don’t know if OBS has any significance outside of first-responder parlance, but in that realm, my work realm, it means a call for a person acting “crazy.”

They are my least favorite type of calls to respond to simply because they usually involve dealing with people who just aren’t in their right minds, usually because they’ve stopped taking medication.

I recall that this 911 caller was the subject’s dad, and he wanted to report that his twenty-two year old son was indeed off of his medication and acting erratically. The dad said he would meet police in a parking lot where his son was ranting and raving about nothing in particular.

I also remember the dispatcher relaying that the subject was trying to fight people, and that he weighed 350 pounds.

Yikes. I assumed that was information that the dad gave because he thought it might be important.

I cleared the call with the dispatcher and chuckled to myself as I envisioned an out of breath Fat Albert looking character trying to fight people in the parking lot of a strip mall very typical of those in impoverished areas.

This one has a liquor store, a Chinese takeout restaurant and an auto parts store, but none of them was even open yet. There was no crowd.

More importantly, there were certainly no 350 pound crazy people trying to fight anybody around either.

I waited patiently, knowing my good fortune wouldn’t last, when I noticed a white sedan heading through the lot in my direction. It was pretty clear that this person was driving with a purpose, and I sighed knowing that the driver wouldn’t have anything but bad news to share with me.

Sure enough, the man in the sedan was the person who had called 911 about his son’s behavior.

He told me that he’d given the wrong parking lot location, and that his son was actually across the street, at the barber shop.

I cringed at his words.

OBS calls are awful enough when there is nobody around to further agitate the person, but trying to deal with some of them in public, when a crowd is around, can be a nightmare and North Side barber shops on Saturday mornings are sure to have a crowd around.

I imagined the scene in my head before heading across the street, and I was close to on point, but not quite.

What I imagined to be a group of about ten or twelve people outside was closer to thirty or forty.

What I imagined to be an obese, Fat Albert look-alike was a stocky, muscular behemoth of a young man.

And I may have underestimated the level of his “crazy” as well.

I generally don’t touch my Taser, but I had it in my hand before I even stepped out of my car on this call.

The son in this case was well over six feet tall, and he was built like a brick shit house. I know that because he wasn’t wearing a shirt, even though it wasn’t really a day to be walking around shirtless.

Blood dripped from his face or mouth, it was hard to tell which, and his chest and stomach were blood stained as well.

He scowled at the sight of me and spit blood onto the hood of my police cruiser.

I looked at him disappointingly.

“That’s not very nice,” I said while motioning towards the spit on my car.

He spit on my car again, undeterred by my opinions on his social graces.

When he suddenly stepped towards me, I raised my Taser at him and told him that he’d better back off. I wasn’t threatening or angry or hostile in my tone at all.

I said it very matter of factly.

He did stop about ten feet away and raged on about his father when he noticed him standing nearby. He cursed at his dad as his dad tried to talk to him, and it became clear to me that his dad being there was a problem.

My assist had arrived at some point, and I was glad to see him. He was an officer I trusted not to make a shitty situation worse by acting like an asshole or agitating an already agitated mentally ill person.

Thank God for small victories sometimes.

I asked the dad to leave while we waited for EMS to arrive, and he did.

The son continued to rant and curse. Now that dad was gone, he was cursing white people generally, and the two white cops in front of him more specifically.

We were only eight months removed from the Michael Brown shooting at this point, and as I looked at the crowd behind him, I noticed that almost every single one of them was holding a cell phone to their face, hoping to catch some sort of police misconduct on video.

My partner and I let this man rant and rave and spit on my car, but every time he made a move towards us, he would stop when I told him to do so and began to raise my Taser. We were able to mostly keep the car between us and him while we waited for more help to arrive.

A couple of detectives stopped by and thankfully, one of them was black. He was able to have some dialogue with this guy that I wasn’t ever going to get simply because of my skin color and this guy’s current mental condition.

I’m okay with stepping back, if that’ll calm things down.

An old lady stepped out of the crowd and said that she knew the young man. She asked if she could speak to him.

The other detective, a white guy, said no, but it was my call and I thought it was a good idea.

I didn’t sense she was in any danger, so I allowed her to talk to the kid. She was able to talk a little sense into him, where nobody else could. While standing there listening to her tell this kid things like, “Hey, these white officers aren’t playing with you,” and “Do you know that these white officers are just looking for a reason to kill you” stung a little bit, her words were working to calm him, which mattered more than my feelings just then.

While the tension was still obviously in the air, EMS finally showed up.

Mercifully, as if Jesus was on my side that day, both of the EMS operators were black. They and the woman were able to coax the young man into the back of the ambulance to be taken to some hospital in order to get him back on the medicine he needs to function in society again.

 

 

 

 

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5 Responses to Big, black and crazy, but alive…

  1. Paul says:

    perfect, with a nonlethal plan B. Community involvement. Tulsa female officer was not alone. Other officer tazed.

  2. Thank you for checking your ego and feelings and taking steps to de-escalate the situation. I applaud the vast majority of police officers who respond daily to calls like this in a similar manner. I implore all officers to follow your lead in situations like this. Keep up the good work, Officer Re!

  3. Thank yo for sharing this perspective, Don. I know some folk who definitely need to read it. To them, apparently the punishment for being 5150 is Capital Punishment. Not to lessen the respect for the fact that you have to deal with people at their worst… I know I wouldn’t want to do it and I have the utmost admiration for the fact that you’ve chosen to be the line between me and those who would do me harm, either intentionally, willfully or as a result of their own negligence or poor life choices.

  4. Yup. That’s how it’s supposed to go. Thank you!

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