““THE STREET TAX”
Sometimes you can’t help it. Your perspective shifts, a single person or incident penetrates the game face you’ve taken years to perfect and - Christ, you can feel them, almost get inside their heads. Understand
for that one moment what it’s like to be them, how it tastes and feels. For that brief moment, you’re not a cop, just another citizen of the planet, another traveler on Life’s unholy path. A sensation so
startling you roll with it, just to prove you’re still human, still capable of feeling such things. Most times that moment is fleeting, gone as quickly as it came. Out here that’s the best you can hope for:
humanity in micro-servings.
The call that night was nothing unusual. “Domestic Disturbance” - the usual Saturday night whiskey-talkin’ ass-kickin’ lament that means love’s flown out the window when pain swaggers
through the door. The usual he-said/ she-said drama seen in every variation of every kind of relationship. This time, it was just past midnight - the witching hour for most domestic battles.
It was the wife who called, frantic and screaming that she’d been beaten, she couldn’t take it anymore, send the cops immediately to lock her worthless husband up. No weapons on the scene, she reported,
unless you counted his fists, her frying pan and several shattered beer bottles.
Officers Norcross and Lange were dispatched to answer the call. Upon arrival, they observed the woman’s blackened eyes, her swollen face, and the trashed apartment. One screaming baby was in her
arms while a dirty-faced toddler clung to her leg. Beyond them, the husband slumped in a kitchen chair, not quite sober enough to manage a convincing snarl.
“This is my house, dammit! You got no business coming in here. I pay the rent, I got my rights.”
His voice was more exhausted than menacing, the sound of a man who’d clearly
had enough. It wasn’t just the booze, Lange observed. The grim tableau of their tiny apartment told
the story. This building was steps away from the wrecking ball, another of the urban slums where the hopeless and defeated cling to life. No heat circulated through the drafty rooms in spite of the frigid
night. There was a newspaper on the table - the classified section with prospective jobs carefully circled....and then crossed out. Judging by the family’s shabby outfits, the starvelings hollows in the
children’s faces, food and clothing were a luxury beyond their reach.
The man watched them with eyes dulled by despair.
“So I had a couple drinks. So what? Why she gotta start screaming every time I walk through the door? She thinks it’s so easy out there, let her go get a damn job!”
“So you waste our money getting drunk instead? What about us? What about the baby’s medicine?” The woman’s screams scaled up to banshee shrieks.
Norcross and Lange had heard it all before a hundred times, maybe a thousand. Nothing unusual about it, not in this neighborhood. People without jobs had a tough life. Whether economics or cut-backs or
lay-offs - the name didn’t matter when the result was the same. Nobody bothered to pretend the system was fair. How can you survive without a job? A question with no answer that elicited one
typical response: get mad, get drunk, get nasty. Next stop was usually jail, if she wanted to sign complaints. Otherwise, they’d leave with a warning, and possibly, show up an hour later when the
battle was really over, to transport one or both to the hospital ....or the morgue.
But there was something about this scene that affected the cops. The baby’s cheeks were red with fever, and each sob came out in a congested hiccup. The toddler in her sodden diaper simply trembled,
watching the grim scenario. In a world gone crazy with terrorism, panic and fear, here was a home-front situation that begged for resolution. They understood the woman’s panicked pleas, saw
beyond the man’s desperate bravado. These were two people losing the battle, losing each other, losing their family in the relentless undertow that claimed so many.
Norcross eyed his partner. They could lock the guy up for domestic battery. She’d be placated, but it wouldn’t change the problem or the circumstances -especially after he got back home. The cycle of
violence would continue, and those frightened babies might be the next victims.
Lange shook his head. In his experience, there was nothing about this situation that made it special. In this couple’s defeated eyes, there was everything that demanded another solution. He could feel his
game face slipping, the one he’d spent years perfecting. Cops weren’t supposed to show emotions. Street survival dictated that, but dammit, he was human. There had to be some times when you could
lay down the shield and open your heart.
Later, Norcross would describe how Lange’s voice took on a soothing tone, how he turned to the man and told him he understood exactly what the problem was. And that he and his partner were there to
help them work it out and help their family. Statements that sparked a glimmer of hope in the man’s eyes, and a muzzle flash of blue death from the woman’s gun. The one she’d concealed behind her
baby....and now aimed at Lange’s head.
Her subsequent statement to the Homicide dicks was a simple one. She was tired of lies, tired of living in fear, tired of expecting help that never came. Cops who swore to serve and protect? A joke, as far as
she was concerned. Everybody knows cops don’t feel a thing, and that sometimes, you have to take matters into your own hands.
Copyright 2001 by Gina Gallo
Gina Gallo is a duty disabled Chicago Police Officer. After a 16 year career on Chicago’s inner-city
streets, she now writes professionally, and is currently completing her fourth book. Her memoir, ARMED AND DANGEROUS, has been optioned for a CBS-TV series.
Gina may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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