Gangs in the Virginia Suburbs

It was one of those slow nights in Arlington when nothing but little not-squat stuff happens, so slow and boring that I figured John Ritter must be on duty. John is this Arlington cop who is trying to destroy my career. Nothing happens when he’s around. He could make a honeymoon boring. Anyhow, I was getting desperate for something to write about, imagining the empty white spot under my name in the paper, the Dear Fred letter from the editor, getting fired, my children starving, all because of this Ritter guy.

OK, we’d had a tiny bit of action-we being yours truly and Curtis Blake, a dark-haired white cop whose wife is about to have their first baby. (See? Cops have babies too.) Some gangbangers had a fight, or tried to, in an apartment complex. They were MS, Mara Salvatrucha, what Arlington thinks of as a serious gang. Chicago wouldn’t even notice them. After that, nothing. The shift was about to end. I figured I’d tell Blake just to drop me off at the homeless shelter.

Then the radio said something about a fleeing car. Well, that was something at least. It wasn’t too far from us. Blake is like every cop who ever lived: If there’s somebody interesting to catch, he wants to catch him. From years of experience on this beat, I knew we’d never make the stop. Things that good don’t happen.

More gangbangers, it sounded like. Mob assault.

The radio garbled the description of the car. Blake tried to get through the radio traffic for info. What’s this machine look like? Come on, come on, tell us. Not the weather, not sports results, not the Dow. The car. What is it?

It was the car in front of us. A black something or other, full of guys. This was just into Alexandria, West Glebe and Valley Drive. Blake pulled it.

Now, Arlington’s gangs may not be up their with the Vice Lords or the Rolling Eighties Crips, but they’ll kill you. More accurately, they’ll kill each other. They probably won’t shoot at a cop, but “probably” isn’t good enough if you have five of them stopped. Especially if you’re the cop. Blake was beside the cruiser with his gun leveled and hollering for them to keep their hands in sight. Fact is, if they had been coked up and armed, we could have been in a world of hurt.

Another car showed up, then two more. I glanced left and saw an officer with a twelve-gauge leveled. All I could think was, maybe I’m not going to the homeless shelter after all. Another cop was using my door as a brace and covering the bad guys with his gun too. By now close to a dozen cars had showed up, all the bar lights in the world flashing. It was like being on maneuvers with a Central American army.

Great stuff, I thought. I mean, I was parked two feet off the bad guy’s bumper in a comfortable heated car. Is that class, or what? Arlington does good work. I was happily taking notes while focusing on the bangers, because if a gun appeared I was going down on the floor boards behind the engine block.

The cops were extracting the bangers from the car. This is a slow, careful business. “Driver! Get out! Keep your hands where I can see them! Walk backward towards me!” And so on. Trouble was, the driver didn’t understand English. He knew he was supposed to do something. He just didn’t know what. “Walk” he knew, “backwards” he didn’t. He tried walking forward. Wrong.

I’m not a very Nineties guy-little sensitivity, don’t do therapy, not in touch with my inner hysteric, so I figured, pack of dirtballs in a car. A story. Still, one of the cops hustled me behind the cruiser, so I could get rained on. (OK, really it was a safety thing.) Fact was, at this point the bangers were completely intimidated.

So they were cuffed and searched and a bilingual cop was there to talk to them. Five guys with the biggest trunkload of beer I’ve ever seen. Nobody was sure yet, but they seemed to be Mara Li, the Locos Intocables or, in English, Crazy Untouchables.

Gang fight, apparently. Two other cars had escaped, someone said, but nobody was sure yet. Maybe connected to the Mara Salvatruchas we’d run into earlier. But nobody was sure yet.

John Ritter was there. Maybe he’s lost his power to stop crime. I hope so.

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