Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Every cop pulls out the stops when a child is injured. Nothing matters but saving that child, not race, religion, sexual orientation or political persuasion. Just saving a child.
It’s mid-October in Detroit. There’s a brisk breeze on my face as we cruise slowly down the street. My jacket is still open in the front. There’s no need yet for it to be zipped tight to my neck. And I’m no longer sweltering in my bulletproof vest under layers of police garb. I love this time year, regardless of all that goes on around me.
There is something about early fall that changes the mood on the streets. It seems there is less frenzy to cause harm. It isn’t the clear skies, beautiful fall colors, the fiery reds and oranges and bright yellows that calm the senses. And it isn’t yet the smell of leaves burning at the curb. It’s too early for that. Maybe it is the low angle of the sun in the sky. I don't know what it is, but there is something slightly quieting about this time of year. Even adults with anger management issues are calmer.
The police dispatcher isn’t relentlessly sending scout cars, one after another, to respond to the meanness and mayhem. At least not at the pace of July and August. There seems to be a more manageable tempo to the people who loot and burn, shoot and kill, and rape and rob their own kind in this city. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that all summer long, we have been locking them up in endless streams and they are sitting somewhere awaiting their trials, or are already doing their time.
It all still goes on, but more leisurely - if one can say that about anguish. I know the brutes take what they want from anyone they please. Yet that now enrages me less, even though I know they do it without regard for the pain and suffering they cause. Maybe I am just exhausted with hearing that it is someone else’s fault that they victimize each other. It’s your fault that I am vicious because you’re white, or you’re wealthy, or you’re privileged. I guess I don't care anymore to be personally involved. Thank god I love my job because I no longer feel I am helping. I go to work and put in an honest day and I still thrill to the excitement of it. But the reality is, death waits right around the corner and I am willing to face it each day for a community that just doesn’t care, and for many of whom just outright hate me.
So I drive, my eyes moving constantly. I look for the furtive gesture, the guilty eyes that glance away instead of meeting mine. For the guy that doesn’t fit behind the wheel of the car he is driving, or the bulge in a shirt that conceals a poorly hidden gun. I listen closely, mostly for the scream, the shout or the shot. And I tune out the rest.
For eight solid hours, I’m always looking, listening, waiting for the moment when we can snatch another piece of garbage off the sidewalk. My senses are totally engaged, making unending decisions about what to process and what to ignore. Much of it is now subconscious and subliminal - instinct driven by thousands of encounters. Most of them routine - people innocently landing on and then off my radar.
But some of the sightings sound the alarm. The pattern is familiar. The eyes, the hands, the posture, the turn of the hips.
So when the gaggle of dirty, disheveled “citizens” begins gesturing towards us as we approach, the hair goes up on the back of my neck. Dave and I have been through this before. We have both been ambushed and shot at. Just about every Detroit cop has and many haven't been as lucky. We have had friends shot and some killed. A seemingly needy citizen or small crowd waves the officers over, or calls in a phony crime in progress, then out come the weapons and it is a slaughter.
So we drive by at a distance, not approaching them at first. Taking the time to size them up. These are not the type of folks usually asking the police for help. Handguns? Rifles? No. It doesn’t seem like this small group is visibly armed. But they are crowding in the curb lane of traffic, forcing cars to go around them. They are now waving and shouting “PO lice, PO lice”. Each of us has a hand on our gun as Dave pulls up to them. They slowly give way to the nose of our car. As they yield completely, I see a small boy lying in the street.
He seems so tiny. Unconsciously writhing, maybe more twitching than writhing - short, brief spasms. I quickly exit my car and am told he was hit by a car that fled the scene. I can see an obvious broken leg, pointing at a frightening angle. His parents are nowhere around - he is only about five years old for God’s sake. Where are the parents? No one knows and no one knows who he is. At least they are not telling us.
Dave immediately calls for the fire department or a stretcher-car to respond. And we are told there are no units available. These are the only responders in an era that predates Emergency Medical Services. And there are none available.
The boy is barely breathing. He is covered in a sheen of sweat, but his skin feels cold. I am thinking shock has already set in on this poor kid. There is no doubt. He’s dying. I have seen death plenty of times already.
I have two young sons of my own. The oldest is five. And I am crushed with fear and helplessness for this poor child of the ghetto.
Carefully and quickly I bind his leg with splint board and fasten it with a length of tape from our kit of tactical “accessories” in the trunk. I can barely hear the whisper of his moan, but he doesn’t awaken. Blood begins to dribble from his tiny lips. Dave calls dispatch again, urgently reminding them that it is a child and we desperately need the fire department. And dispatch dispassionately tells us again, there is no one to respond.
Unless we are a stretcher-equipped police vehicle, we are prohibited from transporting injured citizens. That’s because of the myriad number of lawsuits that always follow such acts of charity.
I can barely hear him breathe. When I can, it is raspy and broken and I hear bubbles from deep inside him. It seems impossible that he is getting any real oxygen. The crowd is yelling for us to “do something”.
I decide. Screw it. We are taking the kid to the hospital. It is only about three miles away. I just can’t let him die here in the street.
As gently as I can, I lift him into my arms. Dave opens the rear door and I slide in, the little guy nestled in my arms. I cradle him in my lap and wrap my arms around him as Dave hits the siren, the lights and the gas. The Plymouth roars as it sucks oxygen into the carburetor and breathes life into the engine. Not so for my little guy. I can feel wetness in my lap and realize he is bleeding from somewhere that I can’t see. Dave is flying down the street, but the hospital seems so far away. He calls ahead to the dispatcher who notifies the hospital staff to stand by - a life threatening injury to a child brings the trauma team to the docks.
Then suddenly and without a sound, the little fella’s eyes spring open and he is looking up at me. In pain, terrified. I want to tell him he will be OK. I want to tell him I am going to take care of him and not to worry. But before I can say any words of comfort or do anything to calm him, he dies. The little guy just dies, looking into my eyes. Eyes that begged me to save him, to take the pain away.
I am overwhelmed with instant grief. He was just a child. I guess I knew there was nothing I could do, perhaps from the moment I first saw him. But I wanted to. I tried. I needed to save that boy who was my own son’s age. And I failed.
A sound escapes from deep within my soul. Something between a shout of rage, a moan, and a sob. It startles Dave who half-ducks and bends away before he realizes it is not a threat to him. He looks into the rear view mirror - sees my face and knows. No words. Dave knows. And he knows I am seeing this tragedy through the eyes of a father. A father with a living five-year-old boy. He slows, reaches over and turns off the lights and the siren. We don’t speak.
When we turn into the emergency entrance drive, and pull quietly to the stretcher ramp, the emergency trauma team explodes in a frenzy of energy anyway. He is lifted from my lap and gently placed on a gurney. They begin checking for vital signs, hoping we are wrong, hoping the looks on our faces are premature. But within moments, the looks on their faces confirm ours. He is truly dead. Five years old. What a terrible waste. I am devastated beyond words. I begin crying silently, my face in my hands. A doctor puts his arm around me and mentions something about “hopeless” and “internal injuries”. I barely hear him. It doesn’t matter.
I turn away. I have a report to write about the death of a child. It’s not my first one. Then I have to get into some clean clothes and get back on the street.
About ten minutes into my report our sergeants arrive. They want me to go home. “Dave can finish the report,” they say. The sergeants will drive me home. They think this is too close on the heels of me shooting a B&E man a few months before. They are good guys and want me to just take a day to get a handle on my emotions before I head back on the street. The shift will be over in a few hours anyway, they say. No, I tell them. I am fine. I have seen death before and I have had others die in my arms. They insist.
We pull into my drive. My wife is in the doorway, looking out - she knows. I am surprised, but I can tell she knows. Then my son bursts from the door and runs to the car. He loves police cars and he is crazy about our blue and white Tactical Mobile Unit cars. He doesn’t know. I can tell. I take him into my lap in the back seat. He doesn't notice my pants are wet where I washed out the blood. I tell him I love him. I hold him - tightly. He says, “I love you too daddy.” And I can't let go. I squeeze him to me. I don't want to let my little boy, who is just a child, to get away.
And I cry, silently, for the one who did.
Like this story? Visit my homepage on the link below to read more blog stories and thoughts. If you enjoy settling in with a good mystery, grab yourself a copy of A DAY LATE or A DOLLAR SHORT (or both). My first two five-star-reviewed books are available on Amazon. You can order your copies from my Homepage.