Sunday, February 21, 2010

Julius, o Julius...

I looked over at the first chair saxophonist in envy. The man could play some sweet, sweet sounds and I knew that I would never challenge him for the chair. I had no discipline and I liked sports too much to devote much time to the band. But I could still appreciate what he could do with that sax in 9th grade.

Four years later I sat, engine rumbling, at a light on Telegraph, the main drag through our town of Dearborn, Michigan, the home of the Ford Motor Company. GM and Chrysler were not far away and it was the day of the muscle car. I was driving a 1968 Dodge Dart GTS that was damn fast and, had I kept it and in good condition, would have been worth $300,000 today. Suddenly, to my left, I watched as a dark green fastback Barracuda pulled up to the light. I could see the numbers 383 on the hood and thought, 'I can take this guy.' The driver looked over at me and I could see that it was first chair sax. I smiled to myself.

The light cycled green and we jumped across the intersection, tires squealing and two Mopar engines building to a roar. No one had ever beat me off the line and I found myself a car length ahead. I kept that car length up through fifty, sixty and on into seventy. By seventy five he began to creep up on me. At eighty, his big 383 pulled past my 340 and by ninety it was all over. I just didn't have the stuff to take it to the finish. I broke it down and turned off Telegraph to the side streets just in case the cops had seen us. If they had, I wasn't the one they would go after, anyway. They always tagged the winner in these things unless both cars got caught at a light. I had been nailed once that way.

I traded in the Dodge for a jeep and spent a year tooling along in front of big convoys. My first year and a half had been spent in southern Georgia patrolling the streets and ranges of Ft. Stewart. I found my way to Vietnam by way of wearing out my welcome at Stewart. It was okay because that was what I wanted. My friends were dying over there and I felt impotent not fighting along with them.

I did other things that run convoys during that year; I pulled gate and law enforcement duties in Cam Rahn Bay. As a new guy, I burned shit from the latrines with kerosene and pushed the ashes around for twelve hour days. To say I was happy to leave the Orient was not saying much. I was overjoyed and unable to contain myself. My parents met me with wide smiles on their faces and my old friends seemed like children to me. All in all it was pretty strange coming home.

Nine months later I found myself walking into the lunchroom at the Detroit Police Academy. Everybody was dressed in light khaki uniforms and wearing short hair. As I turned to the vending machine, a face caught my attention. It was first chair, last seen pulling away from me in victory. I'll tell you it's a strange feeling seeing someone you know in that kind of situation, almost surreal. I felt myself time-shift for a second and then he turned to see me.

Like long lost friends, which we were, we greeted each other with handshakes and laughs. The "what the hell are you doing here" conversation lasted for several minutes and we promised to catch up with each other but I never saw him again in the Academy. After twelve weeks of intense training, I spent some time with the Tactical Mobile Unit, sort of our SWAT of the day. This was considered on-the-job training with the elite of the police force. From there I was assigned to walk a beat in downtown Detroit for several months and finally assigned to the thirteenth precinct.

I walked into the precinct on my first day, full of trepidation. This was it, the place where I would lose my law enforcement virginity, even though I had three years of previous experience in the field. This was the fertile ground where cops were being killed at a rate unheard of and the precinct right in the middle of it all. But this is where I wanted to be. Right in the center of the action where adrenaline is a daily disease and quick thinking was a prescription for survival.

I had no sooner walked in the door when I saw first chair. Carrying a clipboard and ticket book and heading out to the garage. Our eyes widened in surprise and grins filled our faces. What were the odds? Almost five thousand cops on the force, sixteen precincts and here we were again. After hand shaking and back slapping, he went his way and I went mine. I looked up a sergeant and reported in.

After walking a beat for a month, I was assigned to a shift; there were three of them. Would you believe it if I said I was assigned to first chair's shift? His name was Mike Cardinal and, because he had started the academy before being drafted, his seniority went back three years. It was enough for him to have his own scout car unit, even though he had no experience at being a cop. I was assigned as third man on another scout car with veterans and began my real career as a cop.

Our shift lieutenant was a great guy who recognized talent and desire. Both Mike and I showed a generous helping of each. Mike had a veteran assigned as second man on his car so he didn't hit the streets without some backup. We saw each other every day and spent a lot of time rehashing the past and becoming close friends. Mike had opted for warrant officer training - helicopters - and was first in his class until his wife had a falling out with the commander's wife. He was booted out of training and assigned to a signals battalion. He was brokenhearted; flying was his main desire. Of course, the average life span of helicopter pilots in Vietnam was pretty short, so maybe serendipity had played a part in this drama.

After only a month and a half, we convinced our lieutenant to put us together on Mike's car. After that it was Starsky and Hutch, Batman and Robin. We quickly began to pile up statistics. Most felony arrests, most misdemeanor arrests and most tickets written. Accurate, well written reports and professional court testimony. Most of the veterans on the shift disdained us, saying that we were hot-shot rookies who didn't have a clue. Maybe we didn't but we learned fast.

Because there was no veteran on our scout car, we did things the way we thought they should be done. We volunteered for radio runs when no other cars piped up. We took the dispatchers pizza whenever we could, making friends there and enjoyed great latitude in the type of runs we got. We never "hit the hole" on the midnight shift, hiding somewhere and sleeping, because we didn't want our obits to read that way. We worked hard for the full eight hours. This ticked off the desk crew who also wanted to crash from about four a.m. till seven. We wouldn't let them and got disgusted groans whenever we would bring in an arrest in those wee hours.

We learned to talk to people instead of treating them like lower class citizens. If there was one phrase we heard all the time, it was "treat me like a man." And so we did. It didn't decrease our production one bit and it left people with a new appreciation of at least two cops. We were working the inner city, the toughest part of Detroit, where all we ever saw were black faces. Imagine two, wet behind the ears white kids from the bastion suburb of racial discrimination, Dearborn, Michigan. The most racial community north of the Mason/Dixon line, patrolling the depths of human depravity in the city of Detroit, Michigan. It was actually ludicrous if you stopped to think about it.

We didn't believe in anything more than necessary force in effecting arrests. While some cops - racial cops - liked to work people over whenever they got the chance, we did not. We believed in making friends out there, understanding that friends were much better than enemies in that environment. Who were they trying to kid? We were disgusted by the philosophies and actions of some of the cops on our shift, so we created our own. If we had to use force to arrest someone, we would take the time in lock-up to try to explain why. We never used blackjacks or sap gloves (gloves whose finger tops were filled with lead dust) or brass knuckles. I didn't even use a nightstick.

We went about our business as absolute professionals and went home after every shift to discuss what had happened that day and how we would handle it differently if it showed up again. We went to school with each other. By this time, Mike and I were closer than man and wife, and spent more time together, too. We became a self-contained unit, almost telepathic in our responses to each other. Well, not almost, we were telepathic. We never had to speak in response to each others actions, we just knew what to do.

It was early one evening that we were called to a domestic dispute. A man and his wife were fighting, very loudly and somewhat physically. These situations were the most dangerous runs we got; you never knew when a couple would stop fighting and turn their rage on you. The key was to separate the combatants and try to use reason to calm them down. Sometimes it didn't work and when one half of the couple saw the other being restrained, they suddenly fell in love again. That's when you had to watch your back and hope your partner was doing his job.

On this occasion, the man, named Julius, just absolutely refused to be restrained. He had hit his wife and caused her nose to bleed and therefore had to be taken in for assault. It wasn't that he was attacking us but more just being adamant about not going with us. He was short, built like a fireplug and strong as hell. By the time we got him outside there were six of us trying to get the handcuffs on. He would just shift his body forcefully and throw half of us off. It was impossible to get his arms behind him he was so strong.

When we finally managed to get his wrists behind him, we discovered that they were too large to get the cuffs around. Seeing this, we knew we were in trouble. He had to go and we were going to have to use necessary force to get him to do so. All of a sudden, Julius just relaxed and promised us he would go quietly. I took him at his word. Since we couldn't get the cuffs on him, one of us had to ride in the back with him. Mike and I thanked the Gods and headed in to the station.

We finally got Julius into the precinct lock-up and started taking his fingerprints. He was still dazed and compliant. As his head cleared, we began to talk to him, explaining what had happened and why it had to happen. It wasn't long before he started to listen, and by the time we were done, Julius was inviting Mike and I over to his apartment for wine. So, instead of a citizen complaint, we got wine which made our lieutenant very happy. This is why he loved us.

Life went on and Mike and I continued to work in our style. Soon it was July and the middle of a hot summer in Detroit. 1974 to be exact. Heat makes for increased activity and the action barometer went way up. On this day, we responded to a run to the Bamboo Bar at Pingree and 12th, the intersection where the riots started in 1967. The Bamboo was the last bastion of those horrible, violent days. It was where the hardcore hung out. We always liked to have backup whenever we went there but today the other cars were busy. The run was "Man with a gun" and we prepared ourselves for an interesting few minutes.

As we entered, we heard metal hit the floor and looked to see several guns and a some knives laying there. Since we couldn't determine who had dropped what, we put everybody up against the bar and started frisking them for more weapons. Actually I frisked while Mike watched my back. We soon realized that we were in trouble; there were way too many of them and too few of us. They began to get agitated and unruly.

Discretion being the better part of valor, we slowly backed toward the door, deciding to leave them all alone this time. As we backed into the sunshine, we realized that a crowd had gathered outside the bar. Mike and I looked at each other and thought, 'this is not good.' I reached for my radio to call it in, "Officer in Trouble" which would cause all the other scout cars - in our precinct and the adjoining ones - and the helicopters to drop whatever they were doing and respond to our call.

As we were slowly managing to get closer to our car, a roar went up from the crowd, "Let's get 'em!!" Oh, shit, we were in for it now, I thought, and we started to reach for our weapons. We didn't want to have to shoot anyone but when it comes down to your life or theirs, there's only one decision to be made. It was going to be a bloodbath. The crowd kept edging closer.

Just as we began to clear leather, a lone voice rose above all the rest. "Hey! Leave these guys alone, they're the good guys! Back off!!" The crowd stopped moving, became quiet and I looked over and was amazed to see Julius standing up on the fence. He must have held tremendous respect in the neighborhood because the crowd began to slowly disperse. Hands on our weapons, Mike and I looked at each other and the relief was evident. Thank the Gods for Julius!

He came over and said, "'bout time for that wine, y'all?" I said, "No shit, man, you lead the way! You da man, Julius, you da man!" The chickens had come home to roost and the truth became evident; it was so much better to make friends than enemies on the streets of Detroit."