Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Informal Justice in Chicago

This incident occurred about twenty-five years ago and I still don't know where I stand on it. That is, I do know but I stand all over the place.

Members in a backgammon club I frequented included men and women who might be anywhere from their twenties to their sixties or seventies. One winter night a fiftyish woman left the club and returned a minute or two later, visibly upset.

"Those damn kids!"

One of the members then present was a city policeman, Ron, thirtyish, tall and muscular. He asked her, "What's wrong?"

"Oh, my driver's side window is smashed." Pointing toward the front plate glass window, she continued, "That bunch of teenagers has started hanging around outside the pizza place across the street, and since they arrived there have been two or three broken car windows every night."

This was the first I'd heard of it but there were affirmations from several members. The police had been called, but there were no witnesses and nothing could be done.

Ron's whole demeanor changed. He stood up, said "I'll take care of it," and walked across the street to the kids, several men following.

There were four teenage boys, all smirking as if they were certain they were immune to the consequences of anything they might say or do, and somehow Ron picked out the leader. Flashing his badge, Ron confronted him and told him, "You and your boys go somewhere else. I don't want to see you hanging around here again."

The boy, perhaps sixteen, smiled and said, "Fuck you. We don't have to do that."

Ron picked him up by his jacket front, slammed him against an aluminum lamp post, and released him. The boy collapsed to the sidewalk. Ron turned to the other three and said, "When he gets up, get him out of here. And tell him I meant what I said."

That was the end of that problem. The boys never came back and no more car windows were broken.

But doesn't it raise another problem?

I shouldn't have to say that that isn't how it's supposed to work. What if it hadn't been those kids who broke the windows? What if Ron had seriously injured the boy?

But that time Ron's instincts were one hundred percent correct regarding who broke the windows, which one of the four was the alpha punk, and how much force to use to fix the problem.

And the thing is that I know and you know too - yes you do, don't deny it - that acting within the law the police could not have solved this problem and there would have been weeks, perhaps months, of additional window breaking.

I can't find firm ground on one side or the other of this incident. All I know is that Ron "shouldn't" have done it and that I'm glad he did it.

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