Tuesday, March 07, 2006

City of Compton

Last Night's Meal: Donato's Pizza
Sunday Night's Meal: OYO (affectionately known as "on your own" at our house--I had popcorn)

We planned for pizza last night because I had to drive to a client's office that is about 45 minutes one way, so I knew I would be home late. Whenever I am the car alone, I always listen to NPR. I am a total NPR junkie. Jeff thinks it is just too liberal, but I argue even in its most liberal moments, it provides an important element of yin and yang in my life. Not sure if it is the yin or the yang.

In fact, I heard a story on there one day about how segmented America has become (gee, really?) because of the large number of choices we now have on how to get news and information. Cable news networks, XM Satellite Radio (which I love)with its America Right and America Left channels, websites, and more printed publications than ever. The story was talking about how people now make choices not to listen to something that provides a point of view that they disagree with, therefore, they never have the opportunity to even HEAR the other side. They immediately say, "this person, channel, writer, etc. doesn't think like me--this isn't for me" and they seek out something to read, watch, listen to that features like-minded people. How boring. I have always felt like in order to know what I DO like, I have to see something I don't like.

Anyway, I am getting way off the issue at hand and will end up with yet another very long blog entry. Do you read the whole thing when they are that long? Yesterday's NPR story that struck something inside of me was a story about the city of Compton in California (link to the full story http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5247323). Things are going from bad to worse in Compton these days. They have have had a 70+ percent rise in the crime rate. Almost every murder there is connected to gang violence and the tension between gangs continues to rise.

Of course, residents feel like police are not doing their jobs. And, that certainly could be the case. But, two other key factors that have been identified by experts as potential sources for the rise. First, the growing numbers of OG's getting released from prison after doing their fifteen, twenty or more years; these "Original Gang members" are angrier and more prepared than ever to die for their gang.

Second, the police have in fact changed the way they patrol the area. The Sheriff's department decided that officers, like United Methodist pastors, need to move around on a regular basis. So, unlike before, when one officer would patrol a beat for 15 years or more--and know every person on the streets of that beat--they rotate in and out. But, the problem has gotten so bad that now they have assigned officers to particular gangs and are trying to find ways to integrate officers into the community.

Naturally, when I hear this story I think of Jeff (my husband, the police officer). First, just thinking about him knowing and chatting with all of his known trouble-makers or sources of information on his beat. The hookers, homeless, drunks and crackheads. Yep. Those are his buddies. It isn't rare that he will be reading the paper, watching the news, and there will be a smile on his face like he has just seen a friend in the paper, "Oh, look--it is Antonio." While Antonio is in the paper facing charges of assault or criminal recklessness, Jeff is amused to see someone he knows in the paper.

I am totally confident, in some weird way, that Jeff is respected and trusted by his crew of misfits. I have no doubt that he treats most of them with respect and they respond. And, I have no doubt that Jeff, odd as it seems--a boy who was raised Penecostal Holiness and burns in the sun if he is out for more than fifteen minutes--finds connections with these people.

Next, I worry about the consolidation. Now he has a beat. And, while he might not work it every shift, he works it often enough to know his way around it with his eyes closed. He can sense trouble and knows when things look out of place. Really, this is comforting to me not for the increased level of police effectiveness I think it provides the citizens, but because I think it is an extra layer of protection for Jeff against something going terribly wrong. At this point, I don't know what the consolidation will mean for changes in his beat, no one does.

The story continues. They are rolling down the street in a police car, talking about the neighborhood and the gangs. You here the officer making conversation with residents (obviously young gang members) and listen in as they describe a recent shooting on their street. Next, you here a panicked call over the radio, "taking shots, taking shots." And the tone of the report changes. They speed to back up an officer who attempted to make a traffic stop on a car with four gang members on it and they opened fire. The reporter describes the sea of red lights, I hear sirens, and I just get chills.

Really, I don' t want to know. The suspects flee the car and run into a house--a stranger's house. The woman runs out and tells of her family members still inside. She saw the suspects come in and head for her dining room, so she ran out. Is this real? I feel this huge sense of disappointment. This story that seemed so interesting has now turned my stomach. They go on to describe the S.W.A.T. team's tactics in what becomes a long standoff, with helicopters and all. Honestly, I cannot even think about things like this.

Ever day, I kiss Jeff goodbye and he heads out for situations just like this, or situations that are all on the verge of ending like this. I keep as far away from this as I can. And the interesting part of it is that situations like this are exactly what he loves. Adrenaline rush. He loves the rush. He also loves to use his training. I completely understand that. But, I just cannot think about what that involves. I know it can happen to anyone, anywhere...But how many of you watch your husbands put on a bullet-proof vest to go to work?

He comes home and is excited that he got to use his shot gun to search a house; all I can think about is someone hiding behind the wall as he enters a room. I am such a scaredy-cat and he is unphased. But, I think about how crazy people are and how desperate someone is in a situation that causes them to flee from police (or commit the crime that is the reason they were fleeing from the police). Really, these days I think it is by the grace of God every time he arrests someone and it doesn't end badly.

Me being who I am, when he tells these stories, I conjure up visuals to go along with it. I am the girl who is always disappointed in the books they turn into movies because I like the way I saw it in my mind's eye better. I see the inside of the crack house, dirty blue walls and unclaimed clothes on the floor next to a moldy and stained mattress that probably sat through a rainstorm on the curb before someone drug it six blocks on the sidewalk to dump it in that house.

Images like that usually appear later that night in my dreams. This summer he broke his foot trying to apprehend someone who decided to flee after a traffic stop. He tells the story of this guy emerging from his car, over six feet tall, looking at Jeff square in the eye and saying, "I am not going back to jail, mother fucker" and he takes off running. Jeff is beaming--the chase is on. I am sinking--the chase is on.

Really, I cannot think about this every day. And, I don't. I put so much faith in God on this one. I believe Jeff is doing what he was put on this earth to do. I truly believe his spirit is needed to nurture these tired crack whores and homeless felons. I have to believe that God will protect him. And, I continue to encourage him to shoot first and ask questions later. I rather be embarrassed and have him be fired, but he will be alive--driving the U-Haul as we move to a tiny town where he will start his career over. He laughs, and says, "that is not what it says in the general orders."

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