New Heathens
24Jul/09Off

Rough Night At The Office, Good Party

(Real live bleeding fingers...)

Looking forward to my fourth Banjo Jim's Happy Hour tonight. If my guitar playing is a little rustier than usual, at least I have a dramatic excuse.

I got my beat up pretty good and had my left hand chomped by a police dog in Jersey City early Wednesday morning.

I was out at Shayni Rae's Electric Truckstop Tuesday night when I got the call. Jersey City police shot and killed a woman who stabbed one officer in the head and another in the arm. It's been a real rough week for Jersey City police. Days earlier five officers were shot by a shotgun-wielding criminal. One died.

I went first to he hospital and then to the scene of the incident, a four-story brick apartment building on a block that the police spokesman had warned me moments earlier was "bad." The crime scene was still active, and a cop with a canine guarded the buildings' front door.

I talked to around a dozen people and then a stocky man in his 20's wearing basketball shorts, a basketball jersey and a ballcap walked out of the building and past the officer. I walked up to him, apologized for bothering him, and explained that I was a reporter helping out with a story about the shooting. I asked if he'd seen or heard anything.

The man stared at me for a few moments. Then he lunged at me and knocked me to the ground with a haymaker. I hit the cement and the guy pummeled me with punches and kicks, bashing big lumps onto the back and sides of my skull.

I'd love to tell you that I fought back with kung-fu moves, but in that fight my move was to curl into the fetal position and protect my front and face. I also knew my only way out was to get that cop's attention, so I hollered at him.

The cop came over with the dog and pulled the guy off me. The excited German Shepherd's jaws snapped around. The guy was still trying to hit me, and I was still trying to fend him off. Somewhere in this melee the dog bit my left ring and middle fingers. Blood dripped down my hand.

Another cop came over to restrain the guy and when the guy tussled with him, the cop hosed his face down with mace. As the man went down the dog bit his shorts and pulled them down to his ankles. The man lay in handcuffs on the pavement naked from the waist down.

(Grainy cell phone pic of cops looking down at the guy. Note to readers: don't want your bare ass shown on my blog? Please refrain from kicking the holy living shit out of me.)

More cops flooded the scene and, not knowing my story, threw me up against the wall ("Get your fucking hands in the air! Who the fuck are you?"). When they saw my press badge one said, "His story checks out."

They put me in an ambulance and took me back to the hospital. Doctors cleaned my wounds, x-rayed my hand and gave me a tetanus shot and an antibiotics prescription.

My attacker came in a separate ambulance. They wheeled him right past me in the emergency room.
We meet again, Jersey City Medical Center.

Later, a cop came up to me and said, "Do you know who that guy is?" I told him that the man never said a word to me, even as he beat me. "That's the son of the lady who was killed," he said.

Some people hate journalists for exactly that reason, that we dare to talk to people who have just gone through tragedy. I can see the point, but I still think it's the right thing to do. Talking to witnesses, often family and friends, keeps police and public officials honest. It also helps show the world what goes on in inner cities.

I'm very conscious of the fact that in my job I talk to a lot of people on the worst day of their lives: the day their son was murdered, or the day their mom died. I try to approach everyone on the street as sensitively as I can, fully aware that anyone I meet might have just lost someone they cared for. I'm not new and I'm not a fool. If somebody tells me to fuck off, especially if I know they're victim's family, I do. I'm polite on the streets, not pushy.

I also give people carte blanche to react any way they want. Heaven forbid if it was me in their shoes, I don't know what I'd do. I've been punched in the eye and cursed out. I've also had families bring me into their homes and show me photo albums and home videos. For everyone who gets angry at a reporter for asking them about someone they lost, another appreciates it.

When the cop told me this guy was the son of the woman the cops shot, it made me feel low. That guy had a bad night, and then he got maced, stripped and hauled to jail. I had no way of knowing that's who he was, and I had no intention of making his night worse (conversely, I had no intention of getting stomped either).

The whole incident just made me feel bad.

Until the next night when I went out and partied with Tony Bennett.

Dude, Tony Bennett, Brandy Wood & Me. "Hey Tony, next time you're on stage, why not try making a face like this one?")

Thanks Tony.

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  1. I like Tony.


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