Hands Up!

There are advantages to living in the city. I talk about those advantages on a regular basis in my blog: fairs, art shows, parks, and people. There are also disadvantages, such as being awakened by screaming cops and flashlights blasting through your bedroom window in the middle of the night.

Oh yes. I crawled up to consciousness from the foggy cobwebs of my dreams, because someone was shouting and explosions of white light were blasting into my bedroom. I looked at the clock: 1:33 am.

I live in a neighborhood called Montavilla. It’s in Portland’s southeast, blocks from major streets in any direction, and not at all a place I would have expected to see the culmination of a police chase. At the old Morrison Street house, we were two blocks off Stark/Washington, and heard sirens all time, often heard shots discharging. But not where I am now: it’s very quiet. Usually.

“We know you’re back here!” I hear men yelling. “Come out. Come out NOW!” The whole time this German Shepherd is going off: bark! bark! bark! bark!

I scrambled out of bed and gingerly pulled back the bedroom curtain. It’s one of those low hung windows, so the bottom of the sill is at about my kneecaps. I stood behind the curtain so that I was less visible. I could see four uniformed police officers in my back yard. The officer with the dog was 10 feet off to the kitchen side of the house. Two of them were yelling “come out!” and two of them were blasting flashlights in every direction. One blasted me in the face within two seconds of getting the curtain back. Dang, those beams are BRIGHT.

Suddenly I was struck by what a personal space my back yard is to me. It felt like a violation to have it filled with officers. All these implications hit me (I’m terribly existential at the weirdest times): I pay taxes for just this: It is my privilege to have uniformed strangers and their crime dog barking away on my property: When I say “my yard” I delude myself: It’s a communal existence, we want it to be so, we insist that it remain so, yet we do not admit it even to ourselves: When we are faced with the reality of what we have created…it is a shock.

I let go of the curtain and ran to the kitchen. I ran up to the window, gasped, and took two steps back. They were right there! Wild flashlight beams are frantically dashing in every direction – into the shrubs, up onto the roof of the separate garage, at the house. From my new position, the living room was alight like a disco with red, white, and blue glittering across the walls.

“He’s in the garage!” One guy yelled from the yard. I imagine he had discovered the window at the back, and hit it with his own nuclear flashlight beam.

“We know you’re in there. Come out!” another guy yelled.

“I’ll let the dog loose!” threatened a third voice. The dog is going bananas the whole time. Bark! Bark! Bark! Did I ever tell you I was attacked by a German Shepherd once? They are serious dogs. The officer eases his hand down to the dog’s collar, at the ready, and the Shepherd goes airborne with eagerness at each bark.

My view from the kitchen to the garage and back yard. This is the actual location of everything taking place last night. Right there!

All this yelling and barking and flashing lights are RIGHT THERE next to me. The dog is at the base of the steps out the back door. Four feet from the window I’m watching through. Then BLAM! I’m hit in the face with another nuclear blast beam of a flashlight from officer #5, who is in the driveway on the side of the house. He leaves it on me and I am virtually pinned to the spot. I have folded my arms in front of me, because I suspected I might be spotted, and I want to seem non-threatening. But I just have to watch: this is my own property.

Tension builds, they continue to yell. “Come out!” they yell at the dark. And to an officer they warn, “Get back from the door!” And with the same incredible drama of a television show, the garage door begins to open. No, with more drama. It’s like a shock wave. I can’t believe officers have this kind of thing happen on every shift. A building is surrounded, and slowly a door opens….

A 30-ish, black man emerges. He looks like a regular guy, but with his hands in the air. Damn you! I curse silently at him. How are we supposed to erase stereotypes if you’re only the second black man on my property since I’ve lived here, and you’re running from the police? Aren’t you motivated to uphold the law simply because you’re black? Just to shove it in our faces?

The aggressive flashlight beam in my face has completely blinded me, so I move backward into the living room, and the beam drops from the window. It was aggressive. I can’t explain why I knew that. It was a clear message: “Butt out, lady.” I see shadows as all the officers move a man in handcuffs along the driveway to the front of the house.

Bam! Bam! Bam! On the door at the kitchen, where I had been standing. I hear creaking on the wood floors down the hall, where my sweet little girl has also been pulled from slumber and comes to investigate. At the door is an officer who explains that they just apprehended a man from my garage.

“Yes, I saw that,” I confessed. Totally up front: that’s me. I saw it, and I saw that you saw I saw it. No sense in pretending.

“I’d like you to look in your garage for anything that does not belong to you. We’ve been chasing this guy for an hour. There were two of them; they fled an accident scene,” he pointed. My girlie was in the kitchen, so I went to her first.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

“uh huh,” she answered.

“The police caught a stranger in our back yard,” I said. “It’s ok.” I kissed her on the forehead and went out to the garage.

“He was carrying something,” the officer continued. “We think he may have hid it in here.” I poked around, but …seriously. Who can find stuff in a garage under any circumstances, much less in a sleep-haze, in pajamas, directed by a police officer? Ha, that’s almost funny.

“I think I should try harder to remember to lock the garage,” I said. Aside from existentialism, my humor tries to come out at all hours of the night, too, apparently.

“Yes, would you please?” agreed the officer. “In fact, I’m locking it for you now,” he said, turning the lock and pulling the door closed behind us.

I went back inside, and tried to slow my breathing. I crawled onto girlie’s bed and gave her some quick snuggles to reassure her. I crawled into my own and glanced at the clock again. 1:44 am. Wow! That was a jam-packed 11 minutes. I closed my eyes and saw the image of a black man, lit up by white-hot flashlights, emerging from my own garage. The dog was still barking, as well as one of the neighborhood dogs. A stranger. A fugitive. Why were you running? I asked him silently. Don’t flee a scene, stay there. You have rights, don’t run. Don’t give them the opportunity to pin race on you. Damnit.

Am I the racist? Am I deluded?

Bam! Bam! Bam! This time, the front door. I leapt from bed to get to the door to avoid more banging that would disturb my kid.

“Hello Ma’am. How are you tonight?”

“Tired,” I answered. (Seriously? What kind of question is that?)

“We just apprehended a man in your garage.”

“Yes, I saw that.”

“You saw it? Yes, well, he is being arrested for trespassing. Do you recognize this man?” He held up the man’s driver’s license and shined his flashlight on it for me. (I had no idea what a critical tool the police flashlight is) I didn’t recognize the face, which looked older and more tired than the vibrant face I had seen minutes before. “Is there any reason why this man would be in your garage?” The officer held up the light, not in my face, but to illuminate my face. It was interrogation; eliminating a possible lead. I played my part.

“No, sir.” I looked right into his eyes and held the gaze for a beat. No fear.

I gave him my name, my phone number, the zip code. He told me the DA’s office might be calling me later. He filled out a Victim/Complaint Information Form on my behalf, noted the charge was Criminal Trespass. I asked if I did find something in the garage, should I call the DA? He gave me his card and said to call him.

wow.

I view the episode as a very entertaining paragraph in this chapter of my life. I was never scared, not even a little concerned. I was riveted. I will do a better job at locking my garage now, but only to make sure no hoodlum steals Miss T’s bike. Maybe I should lock the house too. What a pain.

I just don’t fear as much as everyone else, apparently. Fear is a terrible waste of time and energy, and it’s bad for one’s health. I have as much chance of dying from a frozen block of toilet water falling from an airplane, as getting attacked in my bed by a criminal, as eating poison mushrooms. If I’m going to be realistic about fear, then I should commit to it and be afraid of everything that could happen, right? That’s the only way to be honest about it.

But to actively respond to legitimate fears of every possible trauma in a person’s life…that would be ridiculous. Every person who is afraid has chosen to be afraid of a particular thing, or things. So, I choose not to be afraid. It’s my prerogative. If it’s my time to suffer tragedy, then it’s my time. The odds are greatly stacked against it though. Criminal attacks and winning the lottery: they are equally represented in my life. Which is: I won twenty bucks with Lotto last year, and my kid’s bike was stolen once.

Entertaining as it was… and despite the fact that I got a blog post out of it… I continue to look forward to the day when I can move back to the country, where there are less flashlights.

8 thoughts on “Hands Up!

  1. uch, I think about this perpetuating stereotypes thing all the time. and then it makes me feel racist. Thanks for writng and I’m glad there are people paid to keep us safe

    1. Yeah Em, I’m glad they’re out there too. I’m glad for barking crime dogs. We seem hardwired to cling to stereotypes, even when we know better. So, the fact that you even think about it means you’re overriding the dark side of human nature. Thanks for commenting.

  2. You, me, and our father are going to have to eventually heed the wisdom people keep throwing and actually write our respective books… I was struck by how well written and readable this was, very good storytelling.

  3. Hey Cuz, Glad you two are okay with the exception of the loss of sleep. I hate locked doors too and seldom lock mine. With three dogs that have the freedom of the house and back yard I feel very safe and never lock my place.

    I agree with you. Why run? It will be interesting to see what the circumstances were that caused them to bolt. I wonder why he chose your home to take cover? Necessity? What the dog getting too close and your drive way the nearest? What a drag. Nothing like getting involved without wanting to be and yet I have to believe there is a reason. Only time will tell what that reason will ultimately turn out to be. I will check your blog from time to time, I have a feeling that this is not over.

    Love you both,
    Debbie

    1. Thanks for your comments, Cuz. We are totally fine. Better than fine. I asked Miss T in the morning if she was scared to see all the cops in the back yard. “No, I was just mad because they woke me up. I wanted to yell at them to be quiet!” ha ha ha. I guess we’re a couple of tough girls. 😉

  4. I’m amazed that you had the presence of mind and concern to even think about the race/stereotype thing. If I was in this situation, I would have just been angry and frightened that there was a guy in my garage.

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