Last night two police officers were shot in Harlem. One was shot dead and the second is not expected to survive. My condolences to their friends and family.
I tried to be a cop in the mid 2000s , I scored fairly well, although I thought I should have done better. My list number was 385. I looked at the occupation as a chance at a solid gig, with bennies and a nice retirement plan. I thought I could have been good at it but my investigator felt differently. After being in applicant processing limbo for a few years I was advised to withdraw my candidacy in 2013. I didn’t meet the psychological profile. It was a blessing in disguise considering today’s social climate.
I know straight up criminals who have more respect and compassion for police officers than the cashier at Whole Foods with ACAB tatted on his neck. It’s funny to me that majority of the people professing their hatred for cops are the ones who would need them the most. There is a lot of hypocrisy out there but I’ll keep it light.
1997 was live. On Friday June 6th, I was drinking beer and wandering around the neighborhood writing graffiti with my friends Mage and Tales. I grew up with Mage, friends since I was in second grade or so, he lived across the street from my Nana. June 6th is her birthday. Not the greatest birthday gift for her that year. Tales, I first met when I was ten years old but didn’t hang out regularly with him until two years later. The parks did that, Memorial Park and 21 Park brought together smaller groups of friends.
We hit an easy rooftop and some garages and roll down gates along Francis Lewis Boulevard, and during the mission cops rolled up on us. We ditched the beer and the paint quickly and the cops questioned us. One younger cop, the quiet type and one older short dickhead cop with a stubby unlit cigar in his mouth. He might as well been a character from some 80s cop show. He was adamant that we were up to no good, he wasn’t wrong, but we were not offering up anything incriminating. We were told to get the fuck home.
When they pulled away we grabbed our stash and made our way back to Memorial Park where we emptied the remainder of our paint on the handball court. If memory serves me right it was Tales’ idea to get more beer. We walked to Parsons Boulevard and 14th avenue to a convenience store that I’m sure had a proper name though it wasn’t displayed, everyone called it Haji’s, I don’t know if it was the proprietor’s name or something affectionate or discriminatory, it doesn’t matter because fuck that guy.
Mage and I waited on the corner. Tales came running out laughing with a 12 pack of beer in each arm. Haji’s was definitely on the receiving end of various levels of robbery. A few paces behind Tales was a vigilante in hot pursuit. This rather large busybody chased us on foot and then in his van for what felt like forever. I won’t lie I thought it was mad fun, like the ultimate game of manhunt. I don’t think we got to even drink one of those beers. Mage was asthmatic, and by this point was beginning to struggle, and was falling behind. As soon as we seemed to finally elude the hero, a cop car pulled up on Mage.
Tales and I were further up the block. We had a moment to get away but I felt bad leaving Mage behind, at the time I thought I was being a loyal friend, and what was the worst thing that could happen it was only 24 cans of Budweiser. I was a dumb kid, steadfast, but dumb.
The cops turned the corner and hopped out, Mage was handcuffed in the backseat, visibly upset. It was the same two cops from earlier. The older police officer gloated, “I knew I’d get you.” Who the fuck were we? I wasn’t aware of the city wide manhunt for three punk kids who shoplifted domestic beer. Hand it over, hand it over, hand it over.
The senior citizen flatfoot was nasty, unnecessarily aggressive toward us all the while and then we were brought to Haji’s where it escalated. I learned how easily things can spiral out of control. Haji identified the three of us, regardless of the fact Mage and I had not entered the store, and stated that we assaulted him and took more than just the brews. Each time I interjected to call him out on his false accusations I was told to shut the fuck up. We were paying the price for all the kids who stole gum, and the teenagers who ran out with beer and the adults who stuck the place up and cleared out the reggie. We were on the hook for all of it.
For all the crimes we actually committed it was ironic that we were catching a bunch of felonies for ones we didn’t commit. I learned that night how easy it is to get jammed up.
Life is about experiences and this was another one. My first real arrest, experiencing precinct holding cells, Central Bookings, Halal sandwiches, and finally the first arraignment. Now it’s a memory. My favorite recollection of that night is a crackhead looking dude in a tattered shirt, covered in blood asking me for my shirt, when I said no, his demeanor changed, “Cool, man. I wouldn’t give it to me, either.” He asked us what we did, and offered up why he was there. Interesting conversation to say the least.
“Bunch of fucking ugly chicks over there, huh,” said the Crackhead, pointing to the group of girls on the bench across from us. I don’t remember how we responded, but he got a kick out of it. “They don’t put the girls in with the guys, you fucking idiots.” He wasn’t wrong.
Almost thirty hours later, shuffling from cell to cell, and sleeping on dirty floors, and bullshitting with people we finally were brought before the judge. One charge was dismissed and two were dropped to class A misdemeanors. 155.25: petit larceny, the appropriation of someone else’s property for yourself, and 165.40: criminal possession of stolen property. Though we were not arrested with anything in our possession, just saying.
The judge gave us each an ACD and community service. ACD, an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal. Given an ACD is a victory, unless you get arrested again. If you can stay out of trouble for typically a period of six months, the charges got dismissed but if you don’t and find yourself in handcuffs again, you’ll get hit with all the charges. It would not be my last arrest or my last ACD, JF used to joke that I only get arrested every seven months.
The petty mischief I got caught doing as a young man directly affected my dismissal from the NYPD, and it was probably for the best. I don’t have a high opinion of people, I think most are shit, so I’m not surprised when someone who happens to be a cop behaves badly. On the flip side, it is peculiar when someone who advocates for human rights feels quite comfortable declaring things like the only good cop is a dead cop.
I know and love some good people who are or were police officers and they deserved, like anyone else, to punch out and go home at the end of the day. For any profession with the slightest amount of risk one takes to provide for their family that is always the objective. I know it’s mine.
I saw Tales for the first time in over a decade this summer at Mage’s funeral mass. When I walked up to St. Luke’s and saw him, I thought of that night and all the other idiotic things we did growing up, I gave him a hug and said, “Good to see you.” And I meant it.