Saturday, May 12, 2007

Observe the Footwear

A crime has no soundtrack. There is no crescendo of strings to announce the bad guy, no blare of horns as the strike comes. It happens much slower than expected. Time becomes viscous. But so do our reactions.

I boarded the Brooklyn-bound L train and sat next to the perpetrator, although at the time he had not yet become one. (At least in my frame of reference.) At one point, he eyed me intently, as I sat in a headphone bubble. I was being careless with my bag, letting it sit next to me, instead of around my neck like usual, and I got a little paranoid. But my liberal gut-reaction told me: Don't judge a book by its cover. Be tolerant, and all that.

Still, when he stood up at the Grand Ave. stop, and lingered by the doors, I took notice. But mine is a self-centered paranoia (as, I imagine, most are): I fleetingly worried that he would re-board, wait to observe my stop, mug or beat me on a darkened street.

Momentary pause for a description, as I later told the police: light-skinned black or Hispanic, older, in his forties, with a gut, maybe 200 pounds, and beady eyes overshadowed by a thick brow. A mouth full of jagged, askew teeth, although that came later. A bum or user, I figured. Brown striped shirt, jeans, some sort of cap on.

Now this is where time slows down, and where the menacing string section would usually make its debut. The doors are about to close. He grabs the purse of the Asian girl next to the exit. He pauses, because the doors are taking longer to close than expected. She starts to get up, to scream and cry out, and he bats at her once with the purse. This is when the reality of what's happening hits you. Before that, it could have been an exchange, a transaction - the ease with which he lifted her purse, her languid reaction, the mind's reluctance to believe in extraordinary events - all that makes a fog of confusion. But when he bats her, and slips through the doors, then it's real.

But not over. The doors shudder for a second, pause, and in that instance the girl grasps for her purse, from the inside of the train. With a flat palm, he strikes her in her face, and she falls back in the train. The doors close and he's on the platform, safe.

I hit the intercom, talked to the conductor for her, because her English was splotchy, and the train's only other passengers spoke mostly Spanish. At DeKalb, we exited, gave a report to the police. They drove us back to Grand, and we canvased the projects for a while, looking for the perp.

At the detectives' station in Crown Heights, which, remarkably, is responsible for all of Brooklyn, I looked through suspects in a computer program, re-told the story. It took hours. The detectives were amazingly nice, fetched me water, treated me with respect. Not that I didn't appreciate big-city police before, but I certainly do now.

After we finished up, two detectives drove me back. "Next time," - God forbid - "always look at the shoes. He'll change his upper wear, cut his hair, but nine times out of ten, he'll be wearing the same shoes."

No comments: