lundi 19 janvier 2009

No victim no crime

In addition to sheltering people actually waiting for the bus, the covered stop at California and Admiral, in front of Circa restaurant, has long been a youth hangout. A frequent diner at Circa, I have seen countless mini-dramas staged at that bus shelter. Some kids sit there for hours on end. Young love comes together and flies apart; young boys scuffle and talk loud; young girls chomp on gum, whisper and giggle. Sometimes people sit there and cry.

Often, things get out of control. Shoving, littering, spitting, passing beers back and forth. Sharing smokes. One thing leads to another. Last night, my husband and I were sitting at the window table just in front of the bus stop. Our car was parked on the street, and our dog was sleeping inside. We wanted to keep an eye on her. The bus stop was particularly agitated last night. Kids were drinking beer, throwing litter on the ground (instead of using the garbage can provided, less than a foot away), leaving in packs and then coming back.

Suddenly, a fight broke out. I had my back to the scene, but my husband and everyone sitting at the bar heard the commotion, saw the abrupt movement of bodies and immediately understood what was going on. It was a really violent and viscious fight. My husband and two other men ran outside to separate the boys while someone from Circa called the cops. I ran outside to check on my dog and instead found myself looking at a smallish blond kid and his two female friends. Blood was coming out of his mouth. He looked scared and not in the mood to pursue the fight.

The men tried to subdue his sparring partner with words, but suddenly the young man jumped on the smaller bleeding boy again, ferociously. He was pulled away by my husband, who put him face down on the ground to restrain him when it became clear he was anything but ready to stop fighting. He resisted and my husband put his knee in the kid’s back and got his hands and arms immobilized. We told the kid the cops were on the way and he went ballistic. No cops, he said, I'm on probation; no cops, I'll lose my job. He continued to wiggle around on the ground, but my husband held him down until the police came.

There were four officers in two patrol cars. My husband came back into the restaurant after giving them the basic information. After about ten minutes, the police cars started to pull away. We were astonished to see the kid – who was presumably the aggressor in the fight we had just broken up – standing in front of the resaurant looking in at us. Everyone was astonished. One of the cop cars was turning around, so we went out to find out why the violent kid my husband had just wrestled to the ground was now standing on the sidewalk glaring in at us. He said there could be no arrest because there was no victim. And it was true. While the aggressor was being wrestled to the ground, the blond kid spitting blood and his two female friends had slipped away into the night. They were probably afraid of getting in trouble for underage consumption of alcohol.

It is a pity that this bus stop is not frequently patrolled, so that diners at Circa can enjoy a meal without having to watch people litter, spit, shove and get into fights. A more visible presence – even just a police car cruising the area – would work wonders, I think.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, remember to nab the presumed perpetrator and the presumed victim. That’s just common sense, in retrospect. We didn’t really know who started it and should not have focused solely on the agitated and apparently aggressive kid. We shouldn’t have let the others slip away, including two witnesses. At the same time, the bus driver who had pulled up saw it all and could have filled the cops in.

If I fault the police for anything in this incident, it is that they would have just driven away without filling us in and without making sure the kid was at least headed home had we not forced them to stop and tell us why no arrest was made.

No victim, no crime, the cop said.

This makes perfect sense. But my husband and a couple of other guys risked their lives (we didn’t know if anyone was armed) to break up a serious fight. Had the fight broken out elsewhere, in a back alley for example, someone could have ended up dead or seriously injured. It was that kind of fight. A few brave citizens performed their civic duty and put themselves at risk doing so. They should have been thanked or at least offered an explanation of what went down, to be filed away for future use.

I have a great deal of respect for law enforcement officers. But I think these officers did not show respect for us in return. It would have taken two minutes of their time. They could have thanked my husband – everyone in the bar certainly did. And they could have made sure that the kid left the premises. Who knows? He could have been waiting to see what car we were driving. I just hope I don’t read about him beating the shit out of the other guy, whose escape may have been a temporary reprieve.

I loathe violence.