Let Us Escalate


    Herewith a routine enough American story.

    The police are alerted and respond to a call. What ensues is someone shot dead. An incident, at best run-of-the-mill, balloons into a life and death cycle. And as is common in these United States, the Reaper scythes another citizen inadvertently caught up in procedure gone awry.

    If the public is lucky any subsequent anger is brief, intense, then interrupted, curtailed and supplanted by another urgency elsewhere. Should bad luck befall the police, that being focus of the short-attention span society remaining fixed, questions get more pointed while demurrals harder.

    The latter befell the Quarropas police department. In a strange way. The initial furor subsided, almost as if it entered winter hibernation. However, on the cusp of spring it all burst stronger.

    Maybe the QPD might’ve gotten a few more weeks of inattention had the seasons ground their usual course. But winter 2011-12 made up for the previous one. This winter was as mild as the prior year’s was harsh.

    Nature lent an umpire or referee’s make-up call. Whichever, salt remained piled and shovels unused with only school kids and ski lodge operators complaining about the paucity of snow days.

    The QPD benefited from an inexplicable confluence of slothful investigation, delayed reportage, and muted communal word of mouth. Or a convergence of convenient silence. Those elements normally comprise a cover-up. Yet this inertia was organic, not conspired.

    Quarropas residents generally learned of the killing through The New York Times. Until the Times published an article, the Quarropas newspaper, The Reporter Dispatch, avoided its charter. In truth, the R-D isn’t so much a local paper anymore. A handy outlet for national advertising, safe comic strips and homogenized features certainly, but neighborhood or area news? Residents are better informed through playing “telephone.”

    Left to the R-D that November night would still be shrouded in utmost secrecy. Only Times’ reporting forced our outlet’s attention. No matter. Its catch-up effort was no more thorough than its day-of coverage would’ve been.

    Days are done when the R-D properly served us. Those ended when a chain coveted its big, steady, easy profits, these drawn from the nation’s No. 1 market. Not only had I written for that broadsheet, but delivered as a boy and started reading in childhood. I also witnessed true purpose succumb to shareholder satisfaction. Money to be made cored that paper.

    By my ejection from that newsroom, the R-D was a tool, all right. An increasingly useless gin.

    After failing to subdue a 68-year-old male resident with tasers, then striking him with non-lethal projectiles, police shot him dead in his apartment. In November 2011. Wider dissemination of this evening occurred in March 2012. During those quiet months taxpayers can only hope police thoroughly sifted and catalogued the reasons and causes leading to his execution. Otherwise who could fail wondering about the silence?

    Quarropas is not a Wild West town. Having resided in a Wild West town, I rightfully claim myself an Eastern expert on this leather-slapping aspect. Unlike latter-day Dodge Cities in the country’s less cosmopolitan states, New York municipalities frown mightily upon casual gun ownership or concealment. Thankfully. I imagine foresight like that keeps gunshot rates — accidental or targeted — low.

    Certainly fewer guns reduces our general crime rate. One can’t help but notice in those swaths where weapons possession is nearly sacramental, gunplay incidents skew high. Not just crime, or perceived crime, but suicides, homicides, menacing and, my favorite, accidental shootings.

    The last is a peculiar favorite because how can adults be unaware of full chambers? With children I concede the results are tragedies. Adults, though, just dumb. If it were possible, society should thank such “careless” people beforehand for voluntarily culling themselves from our human herd.

    The Quarropas resident slain by city police was in no haste to leave this coil. Surely given the chance he would’ve insisted on extending his life until its fullest. So much so he requested the responding officers leave. That is after telling them he hadn’t called for assistance.

    Ignoring him, they hewed to protocol.

    Rather than depending on family members, concerned neighbors or caretakers to check up on seniors living alone, innovation has lessened burdens by developing systems which monitor the frail living amidst our communities. Should the fragile suffer some accident inside their homes these devices activate, alerting first responders.

    The Quarropas man owned such a system. On a November 2011 night his device summoned help. Unnecessarily as it turned out. He’d been asleep and somehow triggered his alarm. I wonder how many false calls those things emit throughout a year? From tossing and turning sleepers whose inadvertent gestures jostle services into action.

    This is what likely occurred that night.

    Quarropas police respond quickly. Hour or day immaterial, they are johnnies on the spot. Which is what we expect.

    I’ve lived here 46 of my 53 years. Once a New York City bedroom community, Quarropas swells into a corporate center during weekdays. Hubbub subsides slightly over weekends. Residents and shoppers overwhelming us support high-end commercial ventures few locals ever could’ve imagined placing outposts here. During my school days, Quarropas was a suburban Mayberry.

    Now, thanks to urban renewal and a ravenous business climate, retailers see our city’s possibility for high cotton and crave inclusion accordingly. And while this progress has foisted many kinds of change, mostly good, some dispiriting, services have stayed exemplary.

    They were five star when we lived in a Green Acres with streetlamps and stoplights. Our little Gotham retains this.

    “Big city” accoutrements aside, emergencies seldom occur here. Hence the outsized police presence back in November.

    Reportage states 12 officers eventually materialized at a medical emergency. Since it the graveyard shift few, if any, who answered likely had extensive experience. Doesn’t the number alone indicate nothing much else was happening in Quarropas that night? This call probably interrupted many pendulums between boredom and tedium. 

    At the scene, the future victim refused assistance. He possibly understood what had happened. A mistake, not a mishap. Perhaps he was embarrassed for all the fuss. After all he was someone who knew propriety. An ex-marine, with him I bet the attribute was a priority. So the sooner police wished him goodnight and left, the quicker his correctly squared world could restore itself. And he’d resume dreaming.

    However, his assurances failed persuading police. They would not vacate the premises. Hindsight suggests their next step ought have been waking a neighbor, discovering whether he or she on terms good enough to convince him to open his door and at least allow them a cursory inspection of his well-being.

    The police did nothing of the sort.

    The recalcitrant man inside forced them to unhinge his door and enter. Let’s switch point of view to inside looking out.

    A 68-year-old pensioner, roused from slumber by voices claiming themselves police, insisting some incident within his own domicile requires him to give them immediate entry. Right now!

    In overmedicated America is it a stretch to suppose a prescription or several flooded his veins? And while QPD demands should’ve been clearly enunciated, maybe medicinal effects fogged his mind. After all the fellow had been wrenched from sleep. Maybe during midday compliance is simple. But after midnight?

    He refused.

    Apartment door unhooked and leaning off to the side, police confront a befuddled old man clad in underwear. Befuddled because he didn’t call them, doesn’t need them. Dressed as he is because he’d been asleep, not entertaining. Nor expecting an invasion.

    Police miscomprehend the picture. None of the dozen officers sees what’s before them. Rather than offer calming explanation, defusing the situation, hey, maybe even apologizing, they pump up tension. Today’s police are expert at that.

    Raised in Quarropas I don’t recall many, if any, use of force instances. That just may be muzzy boyhood glow coloring memory. But comparing our present force against its former members, don’t I remember plenty more listening, patience, and peaceful outcomes?

    Of course those cops were my father’s age so probably to a man each had served in World War II or Korea. It wasn’t the combat so much, as the worldliness brought onto the job. Much of today’s cohort lacks that intangible. It shows.

    In earlier times, a police badge projected authority. That, and the officer’s sidearm as well as his nightstick, of course. But still, first impression was tin. Who didn’t understand what the uniform represented and in wearing it how he should present himself? Believe it or not appearance and countenance can either mollify or enflame. All depends on what’s to be imposed, I guess.

    To me, contemporary patrol officers rarely exude such confidence. Sometimes I feel they’re almost unsure of where they stand. Or how to stand. Those my junior at least. More than a few appear to be playing policeman and hope not getting caught out in the ruse.

    Newer officers also trend heavily towards bulking up, sporting high and tights, if not shorn altogether, while doing their utmost to come across as unyielding. Cross or belligerent are common faces presented the public. Nor does it make them any more approachable knowing since 9/11 police armament upgrades now include enough ordnance to successfully assault and neutralize small Caribbean nations. The wrong fender-bender could be prelude to a real-life session of Carmegeddon.

    Are these peace officers or paramilitary foot soldiers? Yes. There is a difference. And the latter invaded a Quarropas apartment late one night in November.

    A previous instance requiring QPD massive force. I wasn’t close but I read about it. In fact I also bent an elbow with the columnist who spun the situation’s “personal” angle.

    Just after I’d graduated university and returned to Quarropas the first time, a local miscreant jumped from double-A crime annals into the majors. He could’ve used a lot more seasoning because one of his first big-time forays drew the wrong spectators, who phoned the blues.

    Jonesy, an R-D columnist, had received a QPD heads-up. Back then press and police were nowhere near as antipodal as today. Probably because the same sort of people sharing the same interests and backgrounds filled both occupations. Not so today.

    A decades long R-D fixture, Jonesy had heard and seen plenty. He instinctively knew what suited print and what vanished down memory holes. In Quarropas, he’d become that prized ink-stained wretch. A trustworthy one.

    Jonesy hustled over to the crime scene. A chief or detective let him inside the cordon. Escorted him all the way up to where the action was. The suspect had barricaded himself in an apartment.

    Amateur as he was, though, the suspect hadn’t cut down sightlines. I doubt QPD employed sharpshooters then. This occurred before every department clamored for SWAT teams. Let’s say for Quarropas a couple of officers who’d once rated army or marine marksmanship sufficed. Open shots abounded. None were taken. Learning who they dealt with, police waited him out.

    During “the siege,” columnist and officers swapped stories. Some which went no farther than speakers and listeners. One or two reached the bar where I ran across Jonesy. I recognized him from the mug shot above his column. Younger and surer, I regarded his efforts as hokey. Now I know better.

    He was the reliable tether among Quarropas residents whose influence waned as they aged and the city grew beyond them. Gentle, repeated recollections of how they and “their” Quarropas once were sustained them. Memory is powerful. No more so when escaping the present.

    Easy as it would’ve been, why hadn’t those police clipped the crook and ended the day sooner? An impetuous younger man asked. He was admonished, learning impatience served little good purpose. The criminal, such as he was, demanded no urgency. He inconvenienced people, yes, but he posed no genuine threat. Exhausting him without discharging shots benefited everyone.

    A few hours later the suspect meekly gave up. Jonesy exploited him as column fodder. What didn’t make that column? Submitting without resistance didn’t mean lack of immediate justice. Cuffed and riding to the stationhouse his custodians gave him a “wood shampoo.”

    Jumbling as events must’ve transpired in November 2011, distance and de-emphasis have further confused those hours. If the police statements are correct, not one of the dozen officers answering canvassed the dead man’s immediate neighbors to get some kind of handle on with whom they dealt. Confronting him, disbelieving their eyes, common sense evaded them all.

    Subjecting events to interpretive massaging are audios and videos. Witnesses from various parts of the apartment building have added pieces to the story’s mosaic.

    Police goading may’ve further incited the incident. Witnesses claim so and digital compilations may refute or verify it. Yes. The QPD, their recordings and witnesses can tell that night three ways. A grand jury, not an editor, should sort it out.

    The dead man is accused of precipitating his demise. He allegedly held a butcher knife and hatchet, menacing all with these implements. Considering the rude entry into his home, seems reasonable he’d defend himself. If he were so armed, then what followed saw and raised stakes.

    Invariably sometime in the future a police representative won’t offer the victim’s family condolences. Nor beseech their forgiveness. Rather, wrongful shooting kabuki leads without fail to shifting emphasis. From error committed to circumstances creating the error.

    The police will remind the public that they’re all which stands between order and mayhem. At best that’s clever exaggeration. At worst it’s a dodge designed to make fearful people reflexively gulp.

    Just think, absent police Vandals and Visigoths raid our homes and snatch our widescreens. Or more horrifying, use our phones to run up bills on porn chat lines.

    However this case ends, a sincere police voice will ladle the standard guilt-inducing bromide about policing. That the job is capricious. That it is high risk. Daily. Hourly. Minute by minute.

    Know what other professions deal out high risks? Military and mining. When was the last time a service member or miner harped upon public perception by mentioning dangers inherent in their tasks?

    That November night, instead of seeing an obviously frightened and confused 68-year-old man reacting sensibly to threat, the dozen Quarropas policemen crowding his vision must’ve seen Bruce Lee reincarnated. How else could it have been? Each officer had youth, adrenalin and training on his side, therefore the victim must’ve become a kung-fu dynamo before their very eyes. Otherwise why tase him at all? Then when that and another deterrent failed, shoot him?

    By the way what sort of taser did police discharge? Aren’t those zappers strong enough to halt raging bulls on steroids? How was theirs so ineffective against a sleepy senior citizen?

    First bolts from the quiver duds, a policeman anted up and fired his sidearm. At intimate range, given the target’s age, the result was fatal. One can imagine the hush which ought have settled inside that apartment. Perhaps it brought on a moment of clarifying shock.

    Quarropas police have had months to investigate, assemble a report and issue it publicly. Instead, progress has paused. Questions remained unanswered. Unanswered? Inquiries are yet to have been made.

    With mild winter turning into spring outrage has thawed. Outrage had been glacial. It befits our city that reaction has been tempered. So far.

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