Posts Tagged ‘police’

Protect and Serve

January 2, 2015

Cranston cops

On New Year’s Eve, we had dinner at our house with a couple of friends, and then the four of us piled into our friends’ car and headed out for our neighborhood bowling alley. A few minutes into the drive, we noticed  a weird rattling. Our friend pulled over and climbed out to investigate. Flat tire. So we all climbed out and set about changing the tire.

Easier said than done. First we had to pry the spare out of the trunk, and then we had to find the special tools, and then we had to figure out how to use them. It didn’t help that we were standing in the dark on a relatively high-speed through-street. Plus, it was cold.

We were huddled around the trunk, trying to read the instructions on the tool bag by the light of the tail lights and our phones’ flashlight settings, when a police car cruised by. Oh good, we thought. Help has arrived. And it had.

The cop angled his car protectively behind ours and trained his headlights on our work area.  We would have been grateful enough just for the light and the protection. But the officer – a slight, young white guy with a band-aid on his finger – didn’t stop there. When he realized that we hadn’t called a road service and that we were having trouble changing the tire, he pulled out his flashlight, studied the instructions, and went to work.

It didn’t take him long to get the car jacked up and remove the first couple of lug nuts. But neither he nor any of the rest of us had the strength to loosen the last lug nuts and get the flat off the car.

As luck would have it, a second police car came by. It parked up behind the first one, and the cop strolled over to see what was up. This second officer was taller and beefier than the first one. By jumping on the lug wrench a couple of times, he was able to free the flat tire.

What would we have done if the cops hadn’t come? What would we done if they hadn’t been so helpful? How could we thank them? We asked for their names so we could write a letter to their chief. But they waved the question aside.

“That’s not necessary,” the first cop said.  “Next time you get in trouble like this, you should call us.”

The second cop took a picture for the department’s Facebook page. “This will be great for community outreach,” he said.

We agreed. Those cops were good guys who do a difficult, dangerous and necessary job, and they went above and beyond what that job requires.

We all shook hands, wished each other a happy New Year, and went our separate ways. The first cop’s shift was almost over. The second one would be working until 8 the next morning. And we had a date with our local bowling alley.


We live in the Edgewood section of Cranston, Rhode Island, a relatively prosperous neighborhood of large, well-kept, owner-occupied homes between Narragansett Bay and Roger Williams Park. Like most of our neighbors, we and our friends are white, conservatively dressed English speakers. Our car was clean and – except for the tire – in good shape. And the four of us were old enough to be the police officers’ parents.

The bowling alley is less than two miles from our home. But to reach it from the block where we pulled over, we had to cross the railroad tracks and Route 95.  The bowling alley is on a busy street across from a discount grocery store, in a neighborhood where most residents rent. The other bowlers were all younger than us by at least two decades. They included people who had prominent tattoos, who weren’t white, and who weren’t speaking English.

Looking around, as we bowled through the last hour of 2014, I couldn’t help but wonder. What would the experience have been like if the flat tire hadn’t happened to us, in our neighborhood? What if it had happened to one of the other bowling parties at the alley? Would the cops have gone that extra mile? And how would we have felt, when that first cruiser pulled up, if we were younger, or less white, or if English wasn’t our first language? Would our first thought have been, Help has arrived?



January 20, 2013


My first thought was that Zeus had knocked over the refrigerator. The crash was that loud, and my sister-in-law’s dog is that big. But the only sound that followed was the jingle of Zeus’s tags as he resettled in the bedroom above us. I tried to resettle, too, but was jolted back awake almost immediately by the sounds of barking and honking. The clock read 1:30.

“Better go see what’s happening,” David said.

Upstairs, we found David’s sister at the kitchen window, on the phone with the 911 dispatcher. “I can hear a woman shouting, ‘Help me,’” Sarah was saying, “but I’m afraid to go outside.”

David and I got a better look from the front bedroom. David’s parents’ Honda, which we had driven from their condo and parked in front of Sarah’s house, had been shoved askew, its front end smashed. Nearby, a second car was on its side, with a woman trapped inside.

David pulled his coat over his pajamas, stepped into his boots with bare feet, and hurried out to help. I found jeans and a shirt and followed, expecting blood. But the woman seemed to be okay. She was standing with her head and shoulders sticking up through the passenger-side window.

“Can you help me get out?” she was saying. “I’m claustrophobic and I’m having a panic attack.”

David helped her get her leg through the window, and then spotted her as she climbed down onto the street. “Would you like to come inside where it’s warm?” he asked.

“I just need to sit down,” she said. She was very shook up and awfully young, wearing a puffy winter jacket with squiggly designs that looked like something you’d see on a high school kid, or even someone in middle school.

“I’m sorry. I’m such a fuck-up,” she kept saying, as we sat on the wall in front of Sarah’s house, waiting for help to arrive. She told us she’d been drinking. She’d had a fight with her boyfriend, and decided to go for a drive and cool off. Her name was Jessica. She was twenty-four. Sam’s age, I thought.

We could already hear the sirens approaching, and one by one they arrived—fire, ambulance, two or three police cruisers, vehicle after vehicle converging on the narrow residential road, a crowd of uniformed personnel shining flashlights and asking questions, a confusion of red and blue lights pulsing through the black night.

“Have you consumed any drugs or alcohol?” a firefighter asked.

“No,” Jessica answered.

“She told me she’s been drinking,” David volunteered, and I found myself thinking, Really? We’re ratting her out? And then, Why would I cover for her?

“Anything to drink?” the firefighter repeated.

“I had a couple of beers earlier,” she said. “I won’t lie to you.” And I thought, That’s okay then. Just a couple of beers. And she’s not underage. It didn’t occur to me that she could be—probably was—lying. That I had just considered lying, myself.


A second firefighter pricked her finger. “Your blood sugar’s too low,” he told her. “Are you diabetic? When did you last eat?”

“I had a fried-egg sandwich at lunch time,” she answered.

He held out a little tube, like a travel-sized toothpaste. “Squeeze this into your cheek,” he told her. “It will raise your blood-sugar level. It tastes pretty bad.”

A baby-faced cop wearing only short sleeves, even though the night was frigid, walked right up to Jessica. “You’re supposed to be in bed.” He said it in a sing-song, condescending way, the sort of tone that pisses me off when people use it to talk to pets and toddlers. How dare you speak to her like that? I thought.

But Jessica just answered, “I was upset. I had to get out, so I thought I’d drive around,” as if they were simply continuing an ongoing conversation. The baby-faced cop told Sarah, separately, that he had seen Jessica earlier that evening, when he was called in to break up a domestic dispute. Jessica and her boyfriend had agreed to sleep it off in separate rooms.

“She doesn’t have any insurance,” a second police officer told me, after Jessica was sitting in back of one of the cruisers. “Her car has Oregon plates, but the person it’s registered to lives in Washington, and has a Hispanic last name. Neither Jessica nor her boyfriend is Hispanic.” This second cop was a tall, handsome woman. “I’m sorry,” she kept saying. “I’m sorry this has happened,” as if the whole mess were her fault.

A tow truck came. The driver tipped Jessica’s car back upright, hoisted it onto its flatbed, and drove it away, impounded. We cleared David’s parents’ stuff from the Honda—sunglasses, Benny Goodman CDs, Werther’s caramels, Whole Foods canvas bags, an armload of hiking sticks. Then we sat in Sarah’s living room, sipping Armagnac and debriefing, while Zeus dozed at our feet. By now it was after 3.

“That lady cop told me she couldn’t believe how well we were taking it,” Sarah said.

“I guess most people she sees are angry,” David said.

None of us was angry.

“I kept thinking, She’s somebody’s daughter,” I said.

In the morning, we called the insurance company and arranged for the Honda to get towed to a body shop. Then we called David’s parents and told them what had happened to their car. While we waited for this second tow truck, we looked around, seeing what we’d missed in the darkness and confusion of the night. We found the wrapper from the swab the firefighter had used before he’d pricked Jessica’s finger, studied the skid marks on the road that showed where Jessica had turned too fast and too sharp, saw the strewn bricks, where Jessica’s car had hit Sarah’s retaining wall and skimmed it before it tipped on its side, surveyed the pile of broken glass and plastic shards where she’d hit the Honda and come to rest.


She was lucky she’d hit the Honda, instead of turning completely over. Lucky the Honda wasn’t occupied when she hit it. Lucky that when she’d stormed out of the apartment and climbed into the car, she’d remembered to buckle her seat belt.

All that was clear, but there was so much I didn’t know. Who was her boyfriend? What had they been fighting about? What were they doing in Colorado Springs? How did she come to be driving that car, with its shady history? What would become of her? Who were her parents? Did they know where she was? Did they care?

The day before, we had walked up Red Rocks Canyon Trail with David’s parents. I had lagged behind, as I tend to do, taking pictures. I’d been focusing on the patterns of snow melt, fascinated by the way each stone and stick preserved, within the cool of its small shadow, a smaller residue of snow. It seemed like a metaphor for something, and I fallen asleep wondering what.


Now, as I studied the damaged Honda, I pulled my camera out once again. I focused on the layers of plastic and metal and tubes and wires that had been peeled apart and exposed. This was damage, yes. But it was only the residue of a greater disaster, whose nature and extent I could only begin to guess at.