I was out in DC with Sergeant Herbert Barnes of the MPD, Friday night a while back, and we got a call about a fight at a big-time hotel. It probably needed straightening out. Off we went.
For some time we’d been riding around, righting wrongs and, well, not actually saving princesses, but at least keeping an eye on things. We’d talked about this profiling business that has people upset. Barnes had noticed that a car passing us had a broken wind wing. So he’d stopped it.
Now, the thing about profiling is that it just means recognizing patterns and likelihoods. A wind wing can be broken for any number of reasons. A kid could have hit a baseball into it. A vandal might have thrown a rock. Fact is, though, that people who steal cars frequently break the wind wing to get into the car. Cops know this. So they check out cars with busted wings. Profiling.
This car turned out to belong to the driver, who was completely legal. Barnes told him why he’d stopped him, and the guy thought it made sense. If more cops told people why they did whatever they did, relations with the community would improve.
Then we went off to the hotel. It wasn’t the crime of the century. As the security guard of the hotel explained it, a couple staying there had asked for a cab. The doorman got them one. The driver, a black guy not of American birth, decided he didn’t want the fare.
Now, there are several reasons why cabbies might refuse a fare. Sometimes they are on the way home, and don’t want passengers who aren’t going in the same direction. Sometimes the passengers look dangerous, though not in the case of a couple staying at a first-line hotel. Sometimes the destination sounds shaky, or something just doesn’t small right: The white guy who wants to go to Anacostia late at night.
Thing is, it’s illegal not to accept a fare. After the couple had gotten in — according to the security guard anyway — the cabby backed out. An altercation followed. Apparently the cabby swung at the guard, who clocked him. When we arrived, the driver was bleeding, though not dramatically, from a pretty fair black eye.
Both the guard and the driver had partisan witnesses, each of whom supported a different story. Now, I can tell you that a security guard is unlikely to smack anyone in front of witnesses without good reason and, in all likelihood, lose his job. Nonetheless, I wasn’t there when it happened.
Barnes pretty much took a report and left it to the civil courts to sort out. He didn’t know for sure what had happened, though his guess was the same as mine. Spending three hours over a black eye wasn’t going to provide the citizens of the District with a lot of protection. This is a real concern for the police: If four cops are patrolling a district where things can happen, and two of them get wrapped up in not-squat cases, they won’t be there for more serious things.
Back on the road, talking about a bedraggled region inhabited by transvestites. I mentioned having been years before in Shaw, which had the world’s ugliest TVs. Barnes said, hey, yeah, they’re the same ones, got chased out and came here.
There’s nothing like a 240-pound guy who looks like a running back but dressed in a thong bikini and high heels. You can find stranger things in the city, but few uglier.
Like most cops, Barnes wasn’t interested in what they did, as long as they didn’t bother other citizens. I’ve heard stories about gay-bashing by cops in the past. Cops today mostly say homosexuality is weird and they don’t get it, but as long as gays are discreet, they don’t care. Mostly gays are quiet and law-abiding. The exception is the gay domestic dispute, which can get wild real fast.
That was about it for the night. We checked out a call that some despondent guy in the Old Post Office Building, closed, was about to commit suicide in the ticket booth. You need to take these calls seriously. If you pass on one you could find the guy the next day with his brains all over the wallpaper. Then you think, maybe I could have stopped it. Not a good feeling. Fact was, there was nobody in the booth, or the men’s room, or anywhere else. Oh well. Back on the street.