Thursday, January 31, 2008


A few weeks ago, during my winter break, I woke up to Bella barking like crazy at something in our neighboring alley. I assumed she was just barking at our neighbor, Patrice, and her dog, Max, going for their daily morning walk, so I ignored it. Still, after about 5 minutes or so, she continued to bark. By this time I was in the kitchen starting a pot of coffee. I peeked my head out our kitchen door to shut Bella up, but as I looked out into the alley I saw three teenage kids in bulky hooded jackets. They were hanging out around a car in the parking spaces across the alley. I saw one of them lean into the car and pull out what looked like a yellow walkie talkie while two others looked up and down the alley giggling mischievously. I clearly saw one of them was a girl, the other two were boys, all were dressed in the usual "gang" like attire. My teacher instincts almost kicked in as I nearly yelled out to them "What are you guys doing?" or something to that effect. But I quickly caught myself and just quietly closed the door and called the police non-emergency number.

The kids walked down the alley and up my street while I walked down to the sidewalk with Joaquin in one arm and the phone in my other hand with the police on the line. I described them as best as I could as they quickly started to fall out of sight. They had no idea I had seen them or was still watching.

Patrice and Max soon came out and I told her what I had seen. She went to the car across the alley and sure enough the window was broken. I relayed the information to the dispatcher and they said they would send a car to the area. She took my name and number and I thought I was done with my good deed for the day.

Not quite.

Patrice then got the neighbors who owned the car. She kept asking me what to do next, but I really didn't have much of an idea. I suggested she call the police and file a formal report. If they catch the kids, I'm sure they would contact her. I really had no idea if the police would even bother to try and find the kids, but at least she could file a report and it would be on file just in case.

I went back inside and started some breakfast for me and Joaquin, but after only a few minutes I noticed a police car in the alley outside my side door. The officer was talking to the neighbors and they were pointing at my house, so I went outside to see if I could help with a description or something. As it turned, out they had three kids in custody and they needed me to confirm it was in fact the right kids. I explained I was a High School teacher in the same area and that most likely those kids go to my school. I did not want them knowing what I looked like, where I lived and where I worked in case of retaliation. He explained that they would not be able to see my face or be able to identify me in any way. He also said that the kids had had quite a busy morning, and that they caused some considerable damage all over the neighborhood.

So Joaquin and I, both still in our PJ's, were loaded into the back of the police car off to identify these young criminals. I never knew how uncomfortable the back of a police car was. There is literally no room for your legs. I had to sit with my lets crossed "indian" style and Joaquin sat in my lap. I guess if you're in a cop car, it's OK to not have a car seat? We were only going a few blocks and he drove like five miles an hour, so don't yell at me. This whole thing happened so fast, I didn't really have time to think about the car seat.

As we were driving there, we drove past a couple walking their dog. They both just stared at me and Joaquin as we drove by. That's when I realized what I looked like. My hair was a mess, I didn't wash my face the night before, so I had that ever so lovely look of "the morning after eye make-up". I was only wearing a thin t-shirt. No bra. To top it off, I was in my PJ pants with only socks. No shoes (not that they could see my feet, but still). I'm sure I looked like a star quality witness.

We pulled into an elementary school parking lot and parked. Across the lot were three other squad cars. The officer driving my car radioed to someone that we were ready. One by one, the other officers pulled out the kids from their cars. One kid from each car. One by one I confirmed that yes, they were in fact the ones I saw breaking into the car.

We finished quickly and he drove us home. On the way home I couldn't help but feel sad and guilty for reporting these kids. I know they had to pay the consequences for their actions, but, I felt like I ratted them out or something.

In my job, I work with kids like them all the time. You know those big bad lookin' mo fo's on the street or in the mall that make you hold on to your purse a little tighter? I know those kids. I talk to them. I laugh with them. I support them and put them in their place when they need it. They tell me stories about their lives, about how they feel, about their families. They don't look big and bad then. Then, when they let their guard down, they just look like kids.

So today when I got home I found a subpoena folded into my front door. I am commanded to appear in the Criminal Department of Juvenile Superior Court as a witness in a criminal action prosecuted by the People of the State of California against a kid I don't even know.

This whole thing just bums me out. Like I said, I know these kids have to pay for their actions. And I know I did the right thing by calling the police. But why did it have to be me? Why couldn't it have been someone else. Someone who doesn't work with these kind of kids. Who doesn't care about them? Who just thinks they're all a bunch of delinquents and belong in jail?

Why didn't I just look the other way?

1 comment:

Elaine said...

I sat on a jury once where the defendant was an 18 year kid who clearly never learned how to deal with disappointment in a healthy way. It broke my heart to say "guilty" when I knew that while he was guilty, he could have so easily taken another path. The system was writing him off and he was so young... it was just so sad.

And it was you because you could handle it with compassion. It was you because you didn't make it worse. It was you because there's something for you to learn and grow from here. Have faith that you were in the right place at the right time. And your voice in this is valuable. Pinky swear.