Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Close to Home

A few weeks back our oldest child was robbed at gunpoint. He wasn’t in a “bad” part of town or anyplace he might have thought to have his guard up, but in his own neighborhood, the one he’s lived in for almost 17 years. It was around 9 on a Sunday evening just after he had sat with the adults to watch The Sopranos, the episode where the boy only a few years older than him makes a half-assed attempt at killing himself in the family swimming pool. That scene was harrowing, almost too violent and intense, and in a passing moment of parental guilt we wondered whether we shouldn’t have somehow steered him away from the show, although at his age it’s a little late to start laying down restrictions on what he can watch on TV.

Afterward he felt the urge to peddle off some steam on his bike, as he sometimes does after dark, and took off around the neighborhood. Near an intersection several blocks from home he slowed to allow what he thinks was a red Ford Expedition to pass. Instead, the SUV’s lights went out, the vehicle rolled to a stop and a pistol came out the driver’s-side window, aimed at his head. He was addressed, repeatedly, as “nigger” (he’s white) and told to empty his pockets on the ground. He kept his eyes down, as he was instructed to do when he first entered the service economy, and placed his cell phone and house key on the pavement. One of the jabonies in the SUV---all were sporting sunglasses and bandanas over their scalps and faces, out for a Sunday evening drive---collected the bounty, and off they roared.

The cops were pretty good. After our son biked home, shaken and out of breath, we called 911, handed the phone to our wife, grabbed a utensil and set off to see if we could spot the vehicle (you never know). By the time we got to the scene an HPD patrol car was already there, and as we drove around aimlessly nearby the officer seemed to spend a lot of time casing the area and talking with neighbors who had wandered outside. Back at the house, our son told her he thought his assailants were probably Hispanic, maybe white, and that he hadn’t been able to get the license plate.

There it ended---out only a cell phone, a small price. We recovered the house key, which apparently held no attraction for the pricks.

That episode was fresh on our mind a week later when, at about 3 p.m. on a Saturday, we wheeled around the corner from our house and saw a half-dozen HPD cars in front of a neighbor’s. The dogs were out sniffing and one of the officers gripped a shotgun. The homeowner was in her front yard, looking whipsawed. A bystander we didn’t know explained that someone had broken into her house---on a sunny weekend afternoon---with the apparent aim of robbery and/or assault, but the woman managed to trigger an alarm that brought the cops. The asshole fled on foot.

“Maybe they can shoot him, save everybody a lot of trouble,” the bystander said.

We nodded, whole-heartedly, adding: And then they can put the Taser right on his sorry ass.

These aren’t pretty thoughts, we know, but that’s the way it plays these days in the Emerging Paradigm of Opportunity Urbanism.

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