The last month I’ve been preoccupied with police abuse of power, and institutional racism and privilege and education and my startup. I wake up most mornings like my subconsious has been struggling towards epiphany all night. I hustle to capture my daily rationing of genius before kids and dogs and the day ahead tramples the fruit of my quiet contemplation. I woke up today thinking of my father - he had heart surgery last night. My mom called in the middle of the night to let me know that it went great and he was resting. This morning those thoughts intermingled with yesterday’s bombshell of Ray Rice’s release from the Ravens for abuse of his now wife.
Many may not know that my dad was a cop. NYPD. He retired after 28 years and worked transit, a beat in chinatown, undercover narcotics and then corrections. He’s also the one that taught me how abusive police can be and what never to do. Some highlights were - No toy guns ever, black boys with toy guns get killed 2) Never be “smart” to a police officer, especially if you are 3) Watch who you hang around and whose house you go in because when the raids happen everybody gets treated like a criminal 4) Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
My dad also taught as much by his actions as by his words. He taught me to smile and be friendly. He was never subservient but he showed me the power of establishing connections and parallels between you and the other person and watch doors open. If you’ve met him for a second you know my dad is the friendliest, most stranger-talking-to-person that has never been trained by the Jehovah’s witnesses.
When I was 14 my dad and I went to a Yankees game with my friend and his dad from up the street. The game was not memorable. Leaving the stadium it was a few blocks walk to where we’d parked. Amid the cacophony of horns blaring and post-game revelry that was a New York City late night, my Dad turned and started yelling down an alley. “Hey! Cut that out!”. I knew my Dad’s I’m-bout-to-whoop-that-a@$ voice but had never heard it directed at another adult. I peered curiously, squinting into the dark alley to see what had attracted my dad’s ire. Curiosity turned to fear when his arm stiffened and he pushed me behind him with the back of his forearm the way mom’s arm would shoot out when she slammed on the brakes (crazy how nobody wore seat belts then). The man stepped out of the shadows first, his left hand still tightly gripped around the woman’s upper arm - half to keep her from falling, half to keep her from running. The right hand he held up in the air showing an empty palm. “Ain’t no problem here. You can be on your way” he responded. My dad growled “Let her go!. The man replied “like I SAID… NO PROBLEM.. BE ON YOUR WAY”. Ten tense seconds ensued, the woman’s shadow tugged half-heartedly at the man’s grasp, seemingly trying as much to pull him back into the shadows as she was trying to get away. In that frozen moment, a throng of fans walked by oblivious or unwilling to notice the scene in front of them. They looked at us, looked at the man and woman and continued their conversation. Relenting, my Dad said “You put your hands on that woman, that’s a problem”. “Alright sheriff” the man retorted sarcastically, seemingly sensing that he’d won the standoff. My Dad turned and led our group briskly across the street. Almost immediately there was another high pitched yelp from the alley as the man resumed whatever business he was conducting with the unseen woman.
As soon as we reached the curb, my father asked our neighbor to watch me and turned and ran back across the street dodging traffic as he went. My father yelled “Muthaf@#$, I told you!”. I saw from across the street the man step out of the shadow again and saw the flash of light and heard a bottle break. Mid stride my dad took one exaggerated lunge and unholstered the .38 that was around his ankles. (Yes, it does seem strange in retrospect that he’d been able to enter the stadium armed - but the truth is that my father was a big fan of the “professional courtesy” that fellow police offered one another, and still do, to good and bad effect). I remember being so afraid that the man would have a gun too. I heard the scuffle. I remember the crowd forming and blocking my view from across the street.
Four hours later, it was 2 AM, my father had given his statement. The woman had run off during the altercation. The man’s shirt was peppered with blood. My dad explained he’d been forced to pistol whip the man because he came at him with a broken bottle. Dad didn’t see the man as a real threat so he left him with a busted nose versus bullet holes. The man lay on the curb handcuffed, feigning having fallen over on his side and being unable to right himself and screaming all manner of epitaphs. The police who were working the baseball game were upset at the paperwork they would now have to do. My mother was pissed when we got home at how late we were out and how my Dad had taken police action with me around. Our neighbor was very patient but from then on we drove separately. But on the way home my father told me how much he hated pimps because they preyed on the weak and exploited desperate women. I remember wondering what a pimp was. He said a man wasn’t a man if he had to put his hands on a woman to feel powerful. He also apologized later, after many a long night behind closed doors with my mother, for approaching that situation when I was there. He said it wasn’t safe for me (almost as if reading a prepared statement). But when I think back to my ideas about men and women, about how detestable it is to put your hands on a woman and about how no man would sit back and let that happen in his presence - I think about that night and the lesson my father taught me because he refused to look the other way.
This morning my son woke me at 6:30 AM to turn on sportscenter and pour him a bowl of honey bunches of oats - like every morning. At 8AM we walked to school and he said “Dad, I can’t believe they suspended Ray Rice forever”. I asked him if he knew why. He replied that “He hurt the woman who was going to marry?”. I told him that what Ray Rice did was terrible. That he is big and strong and people think he’s a hero and he has a responsibility to protect people, especially the ones he loves. I said, “Do you remember how mad I get when you hit your sister? How you’re not allowed to hit her no matter what? That you use your words, or you walk away and tell mommy or daddy if she’s trying to hit you but you NEVER hit her back? He nodded. Ray Rice did a terrible thing and now they took away what he loved to do most, play football. He’s also going to lose millions of dollars. Do you understand?” He nodded.