Couldn’t sleep. Sitting curbside at an all-night cafe in Downtown LA eating messy, mediocre chicken wings.
An LAPD sergeant stands a few feet away, waiting for his own food. His radio squawks briefly, then I notice him turn and step calmly into the street.
I look up when he calls to a man on the opposite sidewalk. “Show me your hands.”
The man across the street takes a few steps into Spring Street, toward the officer, who then draws his sidearm.
“Get down on the ground.”
Just here I’m not sure of protocol. Do I dive under the table right away or do I wipe the mojo sauce from my hands first? Keeping still seems to be the best course. Drumette remains suspended between plate and chin, though I do, with a napkin in my other hand, dab a little sauce from my lips.
The object of the sergeant’s attention stands his ground. His hand gestures say, “Here I am. What are you going to do about it?” He remains upright.
Two patrol cars screech to a stop. A helicopter searchlight bathes the 600 block of Spring Street in white. My chicken wing is still a foot above my plate.
Now five pistols are pointed at the figure in the middle of the street. I assess possible lines of fire and determine that I’m not in any of them.
“Get down. DOWN!”
The man in the street doesn’t budge. I’m worried.
“Get down. Get down. Get down on the ground.”
The hand gestures continue.
I wish I could say that I’m terrified but I’m not. I realize that what I am perhaps about to witness will merely be a closer-up version of something I’ve seen so many times on TV and in movies. If the man in the street reaches for his wallet or a Kleenex in his back pocket and the officers fire at him, there won’t be any skin off my teeth.
That’s callous and I’m not proud to say it but it’s the truth. But it’s also truth through my filters. Society and my parents taught me that the policeman is my friend. They taught me to report crimes. Other people learned from society and their parents that policemen are most definitely not their friends and are not to be trusted, aided or obeyed.
It’s easy for me to watch the scene playing out just yards away and think, “Man, are you stupid or what? Do what the guy says!” But that’s my logic and it’s wrong to expect someone else to conform to it.
Finally he lowers to his knees, then flattens himself face-down on the pavement. The officers inch closer until one of them holsters his pistol, reaches behind for his handcuffs, and fastens them around the wrists of the man in the street.
Tension eases. The helicopter tilts away and one policeman returns to his patrol car and drives off. The others escort their subject to the far side of the street, where they begin their search of his pockets.
The entire incident lasts no more than a minute or two but it is easy to imagine how lives could have ended or changed during that brief encounter.
I hope the cafe kept the officer’s food warm.