Posted on December 3, 2018
by Steve Janowick
It was a slow night.
An eerily slow night. The haze and the steam hovered heavy and kept a lot of the usual street dwellers inside. The west side of Baltimore’s central district in 1978 was like an open wound. Years of bleeding- heart policies by a bunch of self-serving politicians had stripped its citizens of their dignity and self-reliance and turned this once great city into a no-man’s land of hopelessness and moral decay.
The cop walking the beat that night could feel the desperation in the air. It was palpable. Tangible. He could touch it. After 20 years on the force he had developed a keen sense. He had melded into the concrete and flashing lights and honking horns. He had become close to the pushers, pimps and prostitutes. Too close. The city had swallowed him up long ago and now he lived in her bowels trying his best to wash away the shit and stench before going home every night.
But on many nights, there was still a residue.
The police force wasn’t some noble calling for this cop. He wasn’t compelled to join by the virtues of goodness and justice and order. He didn’t aspire for honor and glory. He signed on to the police department to get a steady, government paycheck to provide a living, and some security, for his family. It was a job. A thankless job whose employees back then knew a 60% divorce rate. A job whose employees died way before the national average. A job whose employees were regularly vilified and loathed by the very public they were serving.
And on this night, the cop had an unsettling feeling doing that job. Call it a premonition, but when he got the radio call that a hold-up was in progress at the sandwich shop a block away, he knew something wasn’t right. He felt it. 9 out of 10 times these things ended peacefully with an arrest or the suspect just getting away. But tonight, he was alone and closing in with no back-up. A million scenarios played out in his head as he approached the entrance. He was a good cop and his experience was kicking in, but it could have never prepared him for what happened next.
Before he could peek inside the establishment to assess the situation, the robber kicked the door open. The cop was caught off guard. His weapon still in his holster, he was now helplessly looking down the barrel of .357 magnum at point blank range. The assailant and the cop five feet away from each other in a stare down.
At that moment, the cop had one of those out of body experiences. His mind’s eye saw bursts of his past like a flashing slide-show. He saw his Mom making Sunday spaghetti. He saw his bride on their wedding day. He saw the faces of his three kids.
He saw desperate eyes looking back at him. He saw the hole in that blue steel pointing at him. He saw the shaking, gloved hand holding that steel. And then he saw the index finger of that hand begin to pull the trigger. Time stopped for the cop. He closed his eyes and waited for the blast. He waited for his death.
Click again! And again…click! The cop opened his eyes to see the robber throw down his malfunctioned gun and take off running away along the sidewalk. Somehow the cop mustered enough composure, fortitude and reliance on his training to re-engage. He yelled “halt” and when the assailant didn’t, he pulled out his .38 and fired three shots. He saw the man’s arms flail and his spine violently arch as he crashed to the pavement.
The cop carefully approached the man’s heaving body. He rolled him over and looked into his eyes. They had another stare down. But this time, it wasn’t the cop with death in his eyes. The man took in and let out three quick gasps of air before grabbing the cop’s collar-and taking his last one.
The cop simply dropped to his knees.
In this crazy time today when the good guys and bad guys have become convoluted, I’ll never waver in my belief that 99% of law enforcement are good people just trying to get by in life-just like the rest of us. Underpaid and overworked, they want to provide for their families-just like the rest of us. But they also do it while sacrificing themselves daily through constant threats and under a cloud of hostility.
How many of us would really sign up for that?
For many years I had nightmares about that cop’s close call in 1978. I’m not an overly religious person but I’ve often questioned it in my head-was there a higher power in play? Because if that gun hadn’t jammed and dry fired that night…
than I would have surely lost my father.
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