#989: Thoughts on a Cop

October 5th, 2018

He was lanky and each pore of his skin oozed young.

He had a baseball cap popped too low on his head, like his mom had shoved it down before licking her thumb to scrub a bit of schmutz off his cheek. He noticed people looking at him — noticed me looking at him — and bit his lower lip, chewing it a bit as the train rumbled northward.

He turned and I got a better look down the aisle of the machine strapped to his hip. I helped pay for it. It could kill us all.

If I am in trouble, I will call a police officer and he or she will be my hero. Hes and shes in the past have been my heroes, both for the good and the demon-ridden sides of me. A woman years ago called me to sit with her after her ex beat her up. By the time the cops found him, he had already been mugged.

He had the shit mugged out of him.

When I saw the moment in the woman’s eyes she realized how that mugging was so quickly timed around the arrival of Chicago Police, a dark part of me cheered. I was 25 and will feel terrible forever about this.

The young cop on the train shifted and squirmed. He adjusted his bulletproof vest and I pictured a little boy on the first day of school, struggling with his backpack straps.

One of the best people I know is a Chicago Police Department officer. He is a truly good, kind man. Knowing who he is off the job affects my perception of police, but the biggest kindness I can give him is to exclude him from this story. He’s not referenced as evidence pro or con about the department. Our connection is just used as another clue I’m an unreliable narrator.

I’m white. The boy cop in the CPD baseball cap is too. His partner isn’t.

The partner — or at least the cop standing next to him — was a firm, staid Hispanic man as impressive as the boy was green. Shirt and haircut so sharp you could cut yourself on the edges, he was a shark trawling amongst us prawn. Triple-chevron on the arm, the sergeant shot his eyes around the train car. The boy did too.

Chin jutted, the sergeant checked the entrances and exits, the blind spots, details I can’t imagine but that an experienced cop knows to look for.

Lip chewed and head pointed toward the floor, the rookie glanced to see who was staring at him.

We were staring at him.

I’m writing this as the jury weighs the fate of Jason Van Dyke, a Chicago police officer who shot and killed a black teenager. It’s become something deeper in Chicago than one more shooting. It’s become a symbol of race and politics, whether the beat cops on the street are predator or prey.

The city is tense, waiting on its referendum on the ones called protector.

The city’s not waiting for my take on the Chicago police, and I’m not offering one. I’m offering no defense. I think Van Dyke murdered a child. Whether he did it through anger or fear isn’t my verdict. I think we all pay when the appointed saints are sinners, but I know my skin, cash and neighborhood mean others will pay far, far more than I ever could.

And I look at the boy on the train.

He’s innocent and grueling, massive and muscular. He could break me and has a gun strapped to him — another endless gun in this endless America — that could end me. Maybe he’s a hero, maybe he’s not, but right now he’s a boy told he’s a man and handed a weapon that makes him a god.

After all, what’s more godly than power over life and death?

I look at his future in the man standing with him, the one who oozes confidence, the one who makes white me feel safe. What will turn A to B? What will tighten those wide eyes, set the lip from bitten to jutting?

And which is more dangerous, the shark or the little boy given a handgun and told to play cops and robbers?

The first story for this site happened during the trial of a Chicago police officer. Another decade, another 988 afternoons, another cop on trial. The story was called “Cycles.”

I thought I was being clever.

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