It’s another day on the south side. Busy. Lost of calls pending, most 911-high priority calls. A third of my officers are Army Reserve and in the Middle East serving in the Gulf War. We carry their names on the roster as if they are still present for roll call, ready to work their shift, hoping they will make it home safely.
I’m a veteran police officer in DeKalb County, Georgia. Shit. I’m a veteran road sergeant in bass-thumping, hell-raising, church-going south side. I know my community. I respect them, and they trust my white face.
Every beat officer has handled six to eight calls two hours into their evening watch shift.
I’m good at my job. I’m skilled at protecting my officers, and the people I serve. I am the officers’ backup when everyone else is tied up on a call. Sometimes, I am working a call, and supervising the other calls by emails and through radio traffic while keeping my third ear alert, sensing if an officer hasn’t called in the code 1025, all is well. By now, I know each officer well enough I can tell from their voices, not their words, if something is off. Trouble.
There are at least ten calls pending. Piece of cake. I triage the non-emergency calls from the accident with injury call and the domestic. I send my last available officer to the accident with injury, 41I, and I assign myself to the domestic. My bailiwick. There isn’t any backup possible. Everybody is slammed. Radio advises a domestic occurred at the same location yesterday. It’s a return call. Nothing unusual—family disputes run deep and fester.
When I arrive, the shotgun house is quiet. A woman’s shaky voice yells for me to come inside. As I open the door, I see a tall pre-teen holding a butcher knife in one hand and a woman, his mother, by her elbow. Several times, I order him to drop the knife and the woman to stand behind me. The woman is frozen in fear. She doesn’t move. The boy doesn’t move. I tell the blond-headed kid to put down the knife again and again as I angle my strong side away from him and slowly take out my duty weapon pointing it toward the linoleum floor. I’m less than ten feet away from the boy and his mother. I try the you-don’t–want-to-do-this approach. I am gesturing with my free hand while I talk. I know from training and in-service I can’t physically getaway fast enough or reach him to take the knife away before he can do bodily harm to me or his mother. It’s not like it is on television. Even if we were fifteen feet apart, we’d be in trouble. I repeat the same commands, but the mother stays put, and the boy lifts the knife and looks me straight in the eyes. I see an endless pool of darkness. He is drowning in it.
In that instant I realize he is even younger than I originally thought. He is a boy, not a teenager. If he lunges one of us will die.
I make the decision nobody wants to make, but I have chosen and sworn to uphold the law and be responsible for the safety of others. If the boy moves the knife toward his mother or me, I will shoot him. A shock wave moves through my body as adrenaline surges through me. My body is making my major muscles and organs to respond to danger, the fight or flight syndrome. Mentally, I am prepared for almost any eventuality, but not the “stopping” or killing of a child. Inwardly, I pray “for this cup to pass from me”.[i] Please. I try again to connect with someone wearing the blank stare of a person, who is totally disconnected from reality.
Again, I ask the mother to move behind me. She takes a couple steps toward me, but places herself midway between us giving her son more opportunity to see her. She knows.
The son looks at his target, his mother. Setting his aim.
I stop breathing, place both hands on my 9mm, and start to raise my weapon.
Another officer steps into the room, and the kid drops the knife.
The boy tells me later, his eyes now a deep blue, his mother beat him every day.
Some calls haunt you. Some calls live in your soul and eat at your guts.
[i] Matthew 26:39 (KJV)