Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lucky break

Yesterday we were leaving Lucky (a supermarket) in downtown Hayward. Ahead in the parking lot, right next to our car, a delivery truck began backing out while a group of teenagers was walking behind it. They started waving their hands, slamming on the sides of the truck to get the driver to stop but he kept backing out. The running board hit one of the boys in the shin and he fell over. The driver continued backing up as the fallen boy scrambled away, and the others ran around to the front of the the truck trying to get him to stop.

The driver finally stopped, sticking partway out into the lot and blocking our car in. At least four other people watched it happen, and they just went to their cars or into the stores and didn't want to get involved. We stood by to make sure the boys had support from witnesses.

At first the scene was just commotion; the boys understandably were riled up, yelling threats of lawsuits and arrest, filming with their cell phones, taking the license plate number etc.

Then the driver started to back out again!

This guy hit a minor pedestrian with a commercial truck and was going to leave the scene before any officials arrived. He backed all the way out to the point where he could start driving forward. I stepped in front of the truck and put my body against it as he inched forward. He stopped when I looked in his eyes and pulled out my phone to call 911. The boys started swarming the truck, some joining me in front or going to the back to block his exit, some climbing on the cab roof, etc.

I told the dispatcher that I was witnessing a hit-and-run in progress, and that we were preventing him from leaving. I gave her my details, the location, etc. and said she was sending some officers.

The driver sat there with the engine running, blocking the main lane of traffic in the lot. A woman leaving the store complained about her car being blocked in. By this time some of the angst had died down, and my wife suggested we get him to pull back into his original spot.

We all started to gesture as such, asking him to park again, backing off the front of the truck to give him some room. My wife went up to the driver's window and asked him directly a few times. Eventually we saw him put the truck into gear and he parked, though he left the engine running. The boys sat down on the back of the truck, and a minute or two later the Lucky manager came out.

He started asking us the usual from those of us at the back of the truck: contact info, what happened, whether we had already called the police. While we were talking with the manager, the driver finally turned off the engine and stepped out.

When the manager talked to the driver, things turned towards the surreal. We overheard the driver saying something like "they got hit on purpose to get money," blaming them even though he tried to flee the scene. The manager came back and started asking once more about whether we had called the police, and said that he had as well, but that since it was private property they might not come. He asked if the boys were injured, and said that it would be really bad for the driver if the police came.

In near unison, the teenagers, my wife, and I screamed "WHAAT?!!" followed by individual variations of "Are you fucking kidding me? It's going to be bad for HIM? What about the fact that he just hit a pedestrian and tried to leave the scene? He should be arrested!"

By this point it had been about 10 minutes since I called 911, and with the manager seeming to advocate for the driver, I called the non-emergency police number to check on the status of our call. She asked "aren't they on scene already?" I said no, but started looking around and saw a police car at the corner waiting to turn right.

Two cars showed up at first. The officers took down my info and account, then one talked to the boys and the other went around to talk to the driver. As another police car arrived, I overheard the officer say to the driver something like "this wouldn't be so bad for you if you had a license."

In the hopes of planting as few assumptions as possible, I have intentionally omitted any mention of race. But at this point, I can't just say "Everything calmed down for no apparent reason when the third officer arrived." The manager was latino, as was the driver of the truck. The first two officers were white, as were we. The third officer was black, as were the kids.

Most of the people on the scene noticeably relaxed when he arrived, and various mental circuits that had been shut down in preparation for fight/flight started to fire back up again.

With our accounts provided to the police and no longer feeling like we were the only ones around who could offer these boys any hope, I realized we were all standing outside in the acrid smoke funneling down from the fires up north. My wife and I had just bought some breathing masks from the hardware store nearby, and figuring that the police would be taking statements for a bit, I went back to buy a few packs for everyone. As I was leaving the store, the boys were walking away from the scene, so I handed them the masks and wished them a good one.

When I got back to the car, my wife was there holding our dog as the police dispersed and the driver started to leave. Since there were no serious injuries, the police made him report the incident to his company and let him leave without arrest. At one point while I was gone, my wife said one of the white officers asked something like "Well who do you think will win you or the truck?" mirroring the victim blaming of the manager. This just added further insult to injury.

We sat there for a while reflecting on what happened. There is a lot to feel ambivalent over. When the incident first occurred, the truck was moving slowly enough that the kids might have been able to avoid being hit, but that's a matter for the police/insurance to sort out. When the driver tried to flee there was no doubt that we needed to stay to support the kids.

When I left to buy the masks, my wife felt helpless in the face of the victim blaming attitude of the cops, but I could see the boys appreciated the gesture. In addition to the victim blaming, the police also treated her with less credibility than me or than when I was around.

Earlier we were gung ho! "He should be arrested for hit and run." But at the end of the day, I'm glad he wasn't. When I looked into his eyes I saw no malice, only fear.

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