December 23, 1983.
It’s been a busy night for my training officer and me, what with the usual seasonal yuletide rob ‘h hides. But as the night rolls on, it gets one better: An assault with a deadly weapon call goes out.
We get to the location in time to see the victim taking his last breaths. I look down at the young man whose tattooed torso has been stripped bare of the wife-beater t-shirt that now lays torn and bloodied on the asphalt nearby.
Do you see what I see?
The significance of the ink is not lost on me, and I can see that he’s a "veterano" - a veteran Hispanic gang member. It’s also apparent that he’s fought the good fight, a fight borne of desperation, if not to save himself, then to at least wreak as much damage as he can in his dying. Even money says that his assailants did not go away unscathed. Bathed in the glow of flickering Christmas lights, the irony of such bloodletting at a time ostensibly filled with fraternity is also not lost on me. And when I check his California driver license to find he’s only a year older than my 22, I find myself depressed.
Good will to men…
What is it that makes men so readily kill one another, I wonder. Tonight, knives have been the weapon of choice; car theft, the apparent motive.
The young man’s barrel chest rises and falls once more and it’s lights out.
God rest ye merry gentlemen…
There’s the usual taping off of the crime scene, followed by the writing of homicide reports chronicling man’s latest travesty on man. Six a.m. the following morning finds me with a blow dryer, trying to rid the victim’s bloody t-shirt of as much of its dampness as I can before booking it into evidence. (It’s 1983, DNA recovery and matching are unknown).
This is my first murder, the first of many I will roll on throughout my career. Back at home, only exhaustion lets me get some sleep before reporting back to work later that day. The conscious moments that bracket my slumber are occupied with thoughts of the man who died before me, and I’m surprised at how much the loss of life has affected me. Why him, and not me?
Back at work, the first call out the gate is to an address that I recognize: The victim’s. We’re to contact his family and let them know that the victim’s car has been recovered.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin…
I knock on the front door, consciously ignoring the wreath adorning it. A woman opens the door. It’s the victim’s mother.
“What do you f*****’s want?” are the first words out of her mouth.
I advise her of the car’s recovery. From behind her, the victim’s brother chimes in.
“You a*******’s probably didn’t even find it, did you? Somebody found it for you, right?”
Soon, I’m surrounded by a cacophony of profanities and banalities by what I suspect are three generations of the victim’s relatives. The legitimacy of my birth is questioned, and I am alternately accused of having succumbed to Oedipal urges and having orally serviced my fellow man.
Toll the ancient yuletide carol…
Though I am a rookie, I know it’s not supposed to be this way. Indeed, at no point during my succeeding 24 years do I encounter such hostility from a “bereaved” family.
Having met his tribe and been bid adieu in so many words (“Get the f*** outta here!”), I take my leave and make my way back to my patrol car. As I do, I think of my victim and, armed with new insight, no longer ask, “Why him, and not me?” No, what I’m wondering now is: How did the SOB live this long?
It proves to be the first of many such juxtapositions of homeboys and homilies, homicides and holidays. And with each passing holiday season, I find myself becoming more and more accustomed to reserving my compassion for those deserving of it.
And it is in this spirit that I extend my most sincere seasonal wishes. That you and your family get through it safely, with mind, body, and soul intact.
And to all, a good night.