This is Our Neighborhood

Dear CF,

Last night, around midnight, I was lying on my couch negotiating the line between wine-induced sleepiness and post-wine sobriety. I needed the latter to arrive, otherwise today I would be a motheaten bag of migraine instead of a fashion-forward sporter of Eskimo slippers.  I was both trying to go to sleep on the couch while watching a Marilyn Monroe movie on Netflix and also trying NOT to go to sleep, you understand, when I heard a siren. (Not unusual in Oakland.) Then another. Then another. Soon the entire street was screaming with sirens and gunshots. It lasted a good ten minutes. Then, just as suddenly, they stopped.

The thing about real emergencies, as you know when you’re in one, is that you don’t actually know what’s happening. They’re unnarratable. Peep Show encapsulated that well in Series 6, when Jez hit Gail with the car and Mark realizes he’ll probably be asked to testify in court and has already forgotten what happened.

(A guy once ran across six lanes of traffic and jumped on my car, then clung to it like a Garfield doll for several blocks. He kept screaming that the Mexicans were trying to kill him, and telling me to go faster (in LA traffic, mind you). It was an absurd situation, and the first time  I really understood that the police could be no help to me. I stared at him through the window until we’d established a sort of mutual respect. That eventually became one of my favorite stories, but it’s emphatically a STORY: even now, there’s no clear way to explain what the hell happened there.)

Last night, deafened by the unDopplerized sirens of every police car in the city, I put the Monroe movie on pause and decided it was time to figure out what was going on. I looked at various crowdsourcing and crimewatch websites that keep track of criminal events in the city. The one I chose had plenty of color-coded happenings from the week before, but July 17th was a blank. There were no Simple Assaults, no Vehicle Thefts, no Burglaries. There were certainly no Crazy Shootouts. My street was an unscored crimeless blank.

I moved here not too long ago, so I don’t have a good sense of the neighborhood where I live at night. I got curious. As the sirens wailed on, I slid the timer on Crimestopper back further and further to see how my street filled up with color-coded thumbtacks of past crime. The last week. The last month. The last year. And you know what? My street stayed blank.  The city blossomed with Narcotics, Robbery and Simple Assault, but my street, which blossoms with dumped mattresses, stayed strangely thumbtack-free. Either things don’t happen here, or they don’t get reported.

A clearer-minded neighbor whipped out his camera and took this footage of what happened last night, which has now been watched on Youtube over a thousand times. Here’s what happened: a man (apparently from Grovestone, California) was driving erratically on the freeway. When the cops pulled him over, they realized he was in heavy body-armor and a car full of assault weapons. The cops ran back to their car as the man opened fire on them, and the shootout followed.

Here’s what my neighbor filmed:

It’s long, and you don’t need to listen to it really, but hearing the video, what’s especially interesting is how my neighbor and his friend analyze what’s going on in the moment in a way I never could. They notice, for example, which side of the parked cars the cops hide behind, and deduce the direction the gunshots must be coming from. They’re figuring out whether the various parties are using sniper rifles or M-16s. But throughout it all, one of the two men keeps repeating the same thing in a tone of surprise and disbelief: “This is our neighborhood, man.”

The gunman was from Tuolumne County; he’s not part of the neighborhood, and that the shootout happened here was pure coincidence. Still, last night, another invisible thumbtack developed on my street, which still shows up on Crimestopper totally crime-free.




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