I Get Beat Up

 

Twenty-four hours ago I got the snot beat out of me on a Brooklyn street corner. Today I’m sore, physically and spiritually, but uncharacteristically full of wisdom. Here is what I learned.

 

A beautiful day, I was driving my car, windows open to the spring air, slowly through an intersection when a guy dashed through the crosswalk just ahead of me. I stopped, but—irate for reasons best known to him—he began to hit my car. He then chucked a plastic cup full of ice through my window, and our relationship entered a sharp decline from there. Irate now myself, I made the classic mistake. Lesson one, to paraphrase Apocalypse Now: never get out of the car.

 

There he was, my antagonist, rather ordinary looking for a sociopath, a white dude, not young, wearing a red polo shirt. And there I was, rather ordinary looking myself, a white dude, not young, wearing a black polo shirt. Evidently I had called black in our metaphorical checkers match, but he was about to jump me. I walked over and asked him, in colorful language, what his problem was. He didn’t elaborate. Evidently a man of action, he acted, clobbering me in the face with a shattering left hook. Or so I assume, since I didn’t even see it. I only knew I’d been hit because I was now on my back. Lesson two: never bring words, no matter how colorful, to a fistfight.

 

In my twenty years as a prosecutor and now criminal lawyer, I’ve interviewed or examined hundreds of assault victims, and one thing they always say is “It was over so quickly.” And I suppose this, too, was over quickly, but in those few seconds after I hit the blacktop, he got in enough licks to open up a pretty gash on my head, raise welts and bruises all over my torso, and change my urine to the color of a New England barn. Lesson three: an ordinary looking sociopath can throw you a pretty good beating in short order, so remember lessons one and two.

 

Game over, I stood and felt that peculiar elation of adrenalin. I didn’t hurt much, yet, though the blood was now weeping down the right side of my face and clouding my vision. Somehow I found my glasses on the street. Good citizens were staring at me, not precisely rushing to do more than stare, though one handed me a moist paper towel and some words of general encouragement. Another pointed out my attacker, who—as further proof that this was just another day in the life of a sociopath—was walking, not running, in the direction of the Gowanus canal. I followed on foot, matching his easy, untroubled gait for a few blocks, meanwhile talking enthusiastically to an unenthused 911 operator who kept saying help will be there shortly and hanging up. Lesson four: New Yorkers can be kind, but not surprisingly care less that you’re beat up than you do.

 

The cops came, eventually. By then my attacker had disappeared, swallowed up inside the cavernous confusion of Lowes, probably, just as the jungle hid the Viet Cong. (I’ve been lost myself in Lowes myself for hours.) The police did some solid police work for about five minutes, then left. It was a misdemeanor, they said, so why make a fuss? Case closed. Sorry you got tuned up, sir, but have a nice day. Lesson five: unless you’re stabbed or shot—and sometimes even then—cops will treat your attack as a big inconvenience. Which is sort of the biggest lesson of all.

 

I’ve prosecuted and defended some of the most serious crimes in Brooklyn, and I realize my little case is small potatoes—small, of course, to everyone except me. To me it is deeply personal, and the literal insult to my injury is not merely that my attacker went home that night and ate a TV dinner but that the cops lifted hardly a finger to find him. No one gave me a mugshot book to peruse. I pointed out a witness out to one cop, who didn’t step out of her car to take his name. On that busy street there were certainly surveillance cameras that went unwatched. When I showed a police lieutenant the plastic cup my attacker had thrown at me, presumably containing his DNA and fingerprints, he waved goodbye and drove off. “Misdemeanor assault,” he offered with a shrug.

 

And so, at a time in New York when major crime is on the wane, I am reminded that petty crime—a stolen bike, a punch in the face, a subway mugging—is not petty to those who fall victim to it. All crime large and small is a kind of theft, and whether the criminal steals our property, our life, our wellbeing, or simply our peace of mind, those in law enforcement should respect what we’ve lost by doing whatever they can to restore it.

 

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