“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
What scares cops? I mean what really scares cops?
I guess a good general answer is: Not much.
If we want to be more specific, the answer becomes murky, more complicated. In reviewing this story in my mind before setting this account to the printed page, I think a good answer that most police officers would agree with is “the unknown.” Tactics can be taught in the academy and honed on the street with years of experience, but no matter the breadth of training and experience there come the incidents that have no safe, tactically defined approach. You master your fear, tough it out and do what you have to do.
It was a late summer evening, cool enough for a light jacket, especially after the sun had set. Mike and I were working homicide, driving west on Madison Street in the 3800 block. About 25 yards ahead of us a young man came darting out of a gangway, looking over his shoulder, running from right to left into traffic. He reached the traffic lane directly in front of us when a very loud shot rang out from the gangway. He went face down, rolled onto his back, staring at the gangway as he tried to use his legs to push himself further away to no avail. He lost consciousness almost immediately.
Mike picked up the microphone and shouted.
“Seventy-four–o-seven. Emergency! We have an on view shots fired, man shot on the street at 3830 West Madison.”
I eased our car closer to the victim but remained about 10 yards back from the gangway. I put the car in park, positioning it to shield the victim from traffic. We paused for a moment to hear if our dispatcher had read our message. He did.
“Attention cars on City-Wide, we have a homicide unit with shots fired on the street and a man shot at 3830 West Madison.”
This was the 011th District and we knew that in a matter of seconds City-Wide units would be on the scene with District units close behind, delayed only by the time it took their dispatcher to relay the call. We approached the victim slowly with our revolvers drawn, all the while glancing warily at the dark gangway to our right. The victim appeared to be unarmed and unconscious. A Task Force unit arrived with siren wailing from the opposite direction and positioned their car to shelter the victim from the west.
“Call an ambulance,” we shouted as we headed to the gangway.
“You guys got a description?” they called to us.
“Negative—the shot came from the gangway.”
We got to the mouth of a narrow gangway, not more than four feet wide, lined with solid brick walls on both sides for the entire length. No cover, no concealment. The smell of gunpowder hung in the air as we peered down the dim length of the now empty passageway. Mike and I slowly crept towards the rear, revolvers drawn, sitting ducks for anyone who might suddenly reappear at the far end. It seemed a hundred yards long when in reality it was probably no more than a hundred feet. These are the moments when cops hear their own heartbeat. After an eternity the rear opened onto a narrow lot occupied by a small construction office trailer. The lights were on and the door was ajar. We approached, again very slowly, remaining on the ground level as we gently pushed the door at the top of two stairs. An older black gentleman had his back to us as he carefully hung a shotgun on the far wall. We waited until he turned towards us, empty handed.
“Police! Keep your hands where we can see them.”
“I’m okay, I ain’t did nothin’.” He looked harmless… even kindly as he responded. Maybe he was threatened by the gunman also.
Mike spoke first.
“Did you shoot that boy?”
“Yassuh, I capped that niggah’s ass. He kept messing with me. I tole him not to mess with me no mo.”
Moments later we exited the gangway onto the sidewalk. Mike had his hand on the handcuff chain as he walked the prisoner out. I carried the shotgun.
“That was fast!” commented the Task Force unit.
“Ya, we don’t fuck around,” I answered with a smart ass air of confidence and just a bit of swagger.
The scene out front had changed dramatically since we had entered the gangway. Marked squads were curb to curb. Paramedics had cut away the teenager’s pant leg and were applying a dressing to the worst area of a buckshot wound. The boy was awake and alert now laying in a puddle of urine. Perhaps he had just fainted from fright.
The distinctive wail of a lone Chicago Police siren heralded the arrival of still another unit. A homicide car pulled into the center of the milieu.
“Didn’t you get the disregard?” I asked as our cohorts from Area Four rolled down their windows.
“Yeah, we were on the south side, but we kept coming because you sounded scared.”
I looked them straight in the eye, searching for a hint of insult or sarcasm but found none. I saw instead an expression of genuine concern that cops will seldom admit to. I diverted my eyes to the pavement before I replied.
…maybe that’s ’cause we were scared.”