Saturday, February 25, 2017

Wherein I lose my faith in the media

Once upon a time, I was in college.  I believe the year was 1984 or 1985.  Three acquaintances and I were out late, up to mischief.  1 AM or so.  (N.B. Nothing good happens after midnight.)

Our residential college lay on one side of Main Street in Houston with the Medical Center and a large park across the street.  We heard screams coming from the park.  "Odd at this time of night," says we to ourselves.  "Let's investigate."

We followed the sounds and found an older African American gentleman on a young woman with a knife to her throat.  We enjoined him to cease disturbing her.  He stopped, rearranged his trousers, and ran.  The young woman told us he'd been raping her.  We pursued him.

He ran toward the east with us in pursuit.  One of us, an artistic type, began to sing "Time Is On My Side" as we ran.  Seems a bit odd now, but somehow it kept us going.

As the gentleman had retained his knife and occasionally stopped to take swipes at us, we kept some distance.  One of us got too close, and the gentleman managed to stab him in the arm.  He (the stabee, not the gentleman)* encouraged us to maintain pursuit, then he went to the emergency room at the Medical Center.

As we crossed Hermann Park Drive, a car with an African American couple stopped and shouted at us to leave the gentleman alone.  We shouted that he'd been raping a woman and asked them to call the police.  It was then I realized that a group of young white men chasing an older African American man late at night might be viewed in different ways.  Bad optics, they call it now, I think.

Eventually, several police cars arrived.  I never did find out whether the people in the car, our stabbed friend, or the emergency room had called them.

They surrounded the area of sparse trees the man was in.  We shouted that he had a knife and had already stabbed someone.  He threw his hands out to the side, throwing the knife at the same time.

They got him on the ground.  And beat the crap out of him.  That offended me quite a bit.  Had we caught him, we'd have beaten the crap out of him.  We'd seen both of his crimes.  But the police had the assertions of three white college students chasing an African American man.  They didn't know he'd actually done anything.  They didn't know we weren't the bad guys.  One cop even yelled at the man for bleeding on his pants.

A news crew showed up and interviewed us.  Here we were, three students from a pretty prestigious and selective university, two of whom were engineers being trained to observe and report those observations accurately, giving the news crews everything that had happened.  When we read the article in the newspaper, they got everything wrong.  All of it.  And there died my respect for the news media.

A few afterwords:

  • The man was not charged for the rape.  The woman had been homeless and had left.  He was charged and convicted for the assault.  We later found out from the prosecutor that the man was 60 and had 17 prior felony convictions.  Pretty spry for his age and a bit of an over-achiever.

  • Our stabbed friend was fine.  He came out of the episode a showy scar and a good story.

  • When going to court as a witness, you can fit more people in a Porsche 944 than I would have imagined possible.  One of us (sadly not me) was pretty well off, and that's what he drove.

  • The room where they stored the witnesses during a trial was on a high floor, had operable windows, and made a great perch for testing paper airplanes during hours of tedious waiting.  There were no cell phones in those days, so we were forced to improvise our own amusements.

  • The response time of the police and of the news crew surprised me.  I don't believe the pursuit was over a mile.  Granted that we were running slowly, and there were occasional stops to avoid being perforated, but still.  It must have been a slow night for them, and they must have been quite nearby. 
  • Bullet points are almost as fun as real bullets.  A bit quieter, though.

* All Antecedents Matter

1 comment:

  1. Yep, I've had a number of similar experiences. Once, I was interviewed for something job-related. When I read the story, I wondered why the reporter had bothered to call me at all since nothing she wrote resembled what I had said, including the spelling of my name.