In an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood in Los Angeles, Mr. Winston, 62, sat handcuffed in his wheelchair on the sidewalk in front of his home. It was 4 a.m. when he cracked out in a roar, “Ha HA! What you want me to do youngster, change?”
10 minutes before, Mr. Winston told me, “See the problem is the Mexicans don’t like the blacks, and the neighbors across the street are trying to put me in jail.” Mr. Winston had a lot of stories of people disrespecting him. His next door neighbor hit him with a chair, some teens threatened to jump him, his girl is having an affair, etc. etc.
Seemed everyone had it out for Mr. Winston. We were waiting for my partner to finish talking to Mr. Winston’s girlfriend of 25 years, he was trying to determine if Mr. Winston had actually threatened to shoot her with a gun, which we temporarily took into custody, or if she was just concerned because he was being rude and verbally abusive. I asked Mr. Winston, “You realize your own girlfriend called the police on you? It seems to me people don’t like you because you are rude, not because you are black!”
“Nah, you just don’t know how it is down here Officer,” replied Mr. Winston.
“Really? How about your girl? She also gets hated on for being black?” I don’t normally ask so many questions unrelated to crime, but I had to engage him since Mr. Winston would not drop the subject of neighborhood racism.
“Oh she loves the neighbors, she be kissing all their asses! Not me, I walk around here like I own this motherfucker, I ain’t playing with these punks. This is my hood!” Mr. Winston shook his head up and down the entire time he spoke as if his allegedly racist neighbors were standing all around us.
Unfortunately for Mr. Winston, his future lay in the statements of his girlfriend, speaking to my partner. Based on his behavior and demeanor, I believed he probably told her he was going to shoot her with the loaded gun we had in custody. If he was screaming and hollering with police officers, he was most likely screaming and hollering at his girlfriend. Mr. Winston was a few statements away from being arrested and taken to jail for the felony crime of “criminal threats.”
However, in police work, the only thing black and white is the car we drive.
Was Mr. Winston just venting some immaturely pieced sentences he didn’t mean? Did he need to see a psychiatrist? Was he acting rude simply because he was too proud to act any other way (meaning as soon as we leave he will act normal and quit fighting with his girl)? All these questions and more are what goes through your head when you are taking in statements and trying to piece together what occurred previous to police arrival. Additionally, there are certain things a police officer just can’t back away from due to departmental policies and state laws. A plethora of rules mashing with intuition and whatever tools life has given you up to this moment in time so that you can exercise what the police academy taught you.
And in the midst of this, Mr. Winston won’t shut up about racist neighbors that are only racist to him and not every other black person in his neighborhood and are somehow exceptionally nice to his girlfriend.
“Mr. Winston, the reason people are causing you harm, is because you are screaming at them telling them ‘I own this motherfucker’ and they are scared of you.” I finished that sentence with a smile, since Mr. Winston was making me laugh with his outrageous cynicism.
And that’s when he looked at me and laughed out loud enough to rouse the neighborhood dogs to emulate his hollering, “Ha HA! What you want me to do youngster, change?”
I laughed out just as much.
The whole scene was ridiculous. Mr. Winston, handcuffed, sitting in a wheelchair because he was pretending he couldn’t walk, a loaded revolver in our custody, and dogs barking while he laughed at my naivete, and I laughed at his arrogance… at 4 in the morning.
Mr. Winston was just a stubborn old man. He was no different than any other stubborn old men. Reminded me a lot of my own grandfather. The difference is, unlike my grandfather, he didn’t have a family to put up with his stubborn shenanigans. We were it. My partner and I were the only ones left on planet Earth that were willing to put up with Mr. Winston’s stubborn self.
We kept laughing for the next five minutes until my partner returned. Mr. Winston’s girlfriend just wanted us to talk to him and her statements didn’t incriminate Mr. Winston. As soon as the cuffs came off, Mr. Winston stood up from his wheel chair, walked 200 feet, and up 5 stairs to his reclining chair in the living room. He turned on the TV, blasted some classic Motown, stereo quality even from across the front lawn.
“Good bye Officer Meh-Raz!” from his recliner, Mr. Winston had remembered my name.
We returned the revolver to his girlfriend, as per the law, we had no legal standing to confiscate it as our investigation did not conclude a crime had been committed. She thanked us for getting Mr. Winston to calm down, she hadn’t seen him laugh in a long while.
What the hell was the point of this story? I don’t know. But despite the 10 vehicle pursuits I have been in (yes, as the primary unit), and all the other action packed arrests, this story stands out in my memory. And get used to it, in my rookie career I’ve learned police work is mostly keeping the peace. Every day, police officers put out more fires than the fire department itself. So the way I see it, you may as well share some laughs with the people you talk to.
Everyday, people send me messages stating they want to be a cop because they want to “help people.” I dare you to go tell Mr. Winston, with his loaded revolver and his indifference to the state penitentiary, you want to “help” him.