This was quite a week. My friend, Clemetin, was picked up by the police not once, but twice. Why? For shoplifting!
Now you might think as I did, “What’s that matter with Clemetin that he would shoplift anything even once, let alone twice!” And I’ll get to that in a later post. But for now, put that question aside and read this most unlikely story about cops being nice.
Altruistic Police Officers
My phone rang on Wednesday afternoon. It was Clemetin, calling from the 49th Precinct, several miles from where I live.
He had been arrested for walking out of a store with some laundry detergent he hadn’t paid for. The police were about to take him to Central Booking (yup…almost like Central Casting) where he would wait to see a judge, and he wanted me to come to the precinct to pick up his phone and keys and identification.
I was busy and not happy to take the time to help him out, but I knew that if they logged in his things, he wouldn’t be able to get them back for a day or two. And without his keys, he’d wind up on the street for a long, cold night and who knows what sort of trouble would find him then.
So, I took a deep breath, cancelled a conference call, and my husband and I headed to the precinct.
After a bit of waiting, we collected his goods and came back home. That night, the judge turned Clemetin loose with a warning. The police gave him a subway card with one ride on it, and around midnight he showed up here to get his keys and borrow some money so he could get home.
I was still irritated that Clemetin had stolen something, when two days later, the entire episode happened again. This time, he had gone into a big drug store and grabbed a container of Pantene shampoo. The store security chased him… right into the path of a pair of cops.
Once again, my phone rang. Once again, he asked me to pick up his things. But this time, I said “no.”
I don’t believe in shoplifting. Period. And while I don’t want Clemetin on the street, I don’t want to support his shoplifting habit, even if he learned it as a kid.
I figured he’d simply have to live with the consequences. But an hour later, I got a call from Officer Raul.
“Ms Andrea,” he said, “we’re driving Clemetin down to Central Booking, and on our way back to the precinct, we’d like to drop his things off at your place. It’s not far out of our way.”
For a moment, I thought it was a joke. Since when do urban police in a high crime neighborhood go out of their way to do a favor for a guy they’ve just arrested! It seemed unlikely. But I told Officer Raul our address and he said he’d call when he got close so I could meet him out front. He reassured me by saying that he was driving a police car.
Now, by chance, when this happened, I was baking chocolate chip cookies. So when I went down to meet Offer Raul and he gave me Clemetin’s things, I gave him a bag of still-warm cookies.
Norman Rockwell Visits the South Bronx
This scene had a sort of 1950’s white picket fence feel. Imagine a Norman Rockwell painting of a white suburban woman smiling at the policeman handing him cookies. Now, imagine that scene in the South Bronx where I live. Make the policeman’s skin brown. Add some trash on the ground, and an abandoned house or two near by, a couple of curious characters walking by, and you’ve got the real picture.
But though the image was different, the exchange was the same. Officer Raul was just trying to help Clemetin. He didn’t want Clemetin on the street at night any more than I did. And in this time when people have reason to question the intentions and actions of police, I wanted to let Officer Raul know that I appreciated his kindness.
As unlikely as the scene seemed, we were all just people trying to do one another a good turn. It made us all feel good.
What Happened to Clemetin?
He showed up the next afternoon, having spent the night and day in “The Bull Pen” where they hold people until they see the judge. (Yes, they really call it the Bull Pen at Central Booking!) The judge had assigned him a day of community service, which Clemetin is happy to do.
More on why Clemetin shoplifts in another post soon.
In case you wonder, I have no worries at all about having Clemetin in our home. While he steals from stores, he doesn’t steal from us or any of the people we know who give him occasional work. He has some sort of complicated double standard I’m still trying to understand.
Try to Understand rather than Judge
I learn many things from living in the South Bronx that it would be easy to dismiss with quick negative judgement. But the more I work at understanding rather than judging, the richer my experience becomes. I imagine the officers who helped Clemetin have learned this lesson, too.
The next time you are tempted to simply condemn what someone else has done, try to understand it first. A bit of compassion softens even the harshest judgement.
Have you ever condemned someone without first understanding? Please share your story below.