Screwed-Up Kids in a Rental

Friday night in Arlington, riding with officer S. M. Carrig, a tall white guy I’ve worked with before. Nothing much was happening. For a while we did little stuff. A call came, a Latino woman and her new boyfriend being hassled by her old boyfriend, who was apparently banging on doors and being generally disagreeable. These calls are common as potatoes.

We got there. The guy old boyfriend was gone. The new boyfriend, who spoke English, explained while interpreting for the girlfriend, who didn’t. Carrig told them that if they got a warrant, he could arrest the guy, but otherwise he couldn’t. They seemed happy with that, and said they would do it. Not real exciting, but it’s what police do.

A while later Carrig stopped to help another cop who had pulled over a car full of Latino kids. Four guys and a girl, all underage. They had been driving sloppily, and a number of open Heinekens suggested that they might have been drinking. The police got them out of the car and patted them down, except the girl.

The patdown is not a search, but a check for weapons. The boys were wearing ghetto bag clothes in which you could have hidden a family of four. She was wearing snug jeans and blouse in which there was clearly no room for anything but her, so weapons weren’t a concern. All five were clean. All spoke English.

Not all of them were strangers to the police. Some were in gangs or known to have connections to gangs. Cops on a beat get to know who is out there. One of the five had been stabbed seriously a while back in a gang dispute. Apparently he learned nothing from it. One was the brother of the girlfriend of a homicide victim, or some such relation.

It turned out that the car was a rental, apparently in the name of the girl’s mother, and the girl was supposed to be driving it. Instead, one of the guys had been at the wheel. He didn’t have a license. He hadn’t had a license the other two times he had been caught driving. He didn’t much care.

Officer Rick Rodriguez of the gang unit showed up in an unmarked car. I’d ridden with him in the past. He’s natively fluent in Spanish and English, and works with Latino parents to try to get kids out of gangs. Lots of parents don’t recognize the signs of membership.

He knew some of the kids and chatted with them. They were what police usually call “knuckleheads,” just being stupid and misbehaving but not hardened criminals. They can get there, though, which the gang unit would like to prevent.

The kids weren’t overtly hostile, but there was a quiet arrogance to some of them. They weren’t being lippy, but they weren’t taking the stop seriously. One of the cops explained it: “They know there aren’t any consequences. He (the kid driving without a license) knows the judge won’t do anything to him. We’re teaching these kids that nothing happens to you when you break the law.”

Then one day they won’t be juveniles, and they’ll do something more serious, and Virginia will slam them. Surprise, surprise.

One of the group was different. He was a bit loopy, marched to a different drummer. A couple of officers commented, “He’s going to kill somebody some day.” Maybe not, of course, but some kids are more obviously likely to do something nutty than are others.

Carrig and I left to save other princesses. I presume the kids were put back in the car with a licensed driver at the wheel and sent on their way, but I don’t know.

You can get a sense of futility from stops like those. The kids have been seventeen once, and haven’t even finished a year of it. The cops, some of them, have watched twenty years of identical kids coming up. These teenagers are all smug, know everything, think they’re invincible. They’ve gotten away with enough that they think they can get away with anything. Then one day they don’t.

But what do you do about it? So many of them have one parent, and she can’t handle them. Mama works all day. If they have fathers, both parents work long hours at maybe two jobs. The kids have to adapt to a country to which, culturally, they don’t quite belong yet. Heavy drinking is a problem among Latino immigrants. Nobody is really raising them.

It doesn’t work.

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