Point Blank

When Is It Okay To Fight Back? When Is It Okay Not To?

I’ve me your motherfuckin’ money.” I was getting gas at Fairfax and Washington. It was eight at night, and I was heading home to Long Beach after a long day at work. “I don’t have any money,” I said automatically, like he was a panhandler. The guy—he was wearing a white stocking over his face, but he sounded young— waved his gun at me. “Givemeyourmotherfuckinmoney

I glanced around the gas station. It was empty. Cars were zooming down Fairfax. Didn’t anyone see?

I reached into my pocket and handed him my wallet. As he ran down the street, my fear turned to anger. I got in my car. I was going to chase the bastard. Speeding down the block, I dialed 911, but a recording said all operators were busy. I called my wife, but she was bathing our kids and couldn’t hear the phone. I yelled into the answering machine, “I’ve just been robbed. Cancel the credit cards immediately,” but I knew she wouldn’t check the message for another half hour. Turning onto La Cienega, I dialed 911 again. My call would be taken in the order it was received.

I didn’t know what I’d do if I caught the guy, but he was gone, anyway. Operators were still helping other callers, the voice told me as I turned out of an alley back onto Fairfax. Was I actually chasing someone who had just pointed a gun at me?

Another ten minutes would pass before I spoke to a 911 operator. I didn’t get a police officer on the line until I hit Rosecrans, in Hawthorne, at which point I pulled off the freeway into a parking lot to give a report:

I saw the guy when I’d driven into the station— a short African American male talking on the pay phone. I filled my tank, opened the hatch of my car to look for something, and when I shut the hatch, there he was, standing right in front of me in his baggy pants and baggy jacket, with a baseball cap on his head and a white stocking pulled down to his upper lip, which made him talk kind of funny.

“He had a gun,” I told the cop. “At least I think it was a gun.” I stared across the parking lot. “All I could see was a narrow barrel poking out of the sleeve of his jacket.” I even tried to get a better look at the thing— to make sure it was real—but he held it so low and moved his hands so fast. I couldn’t take the chance. I had my doubts, but what if I was wrong? I thought of my kids.

The cop told me I did the right thing, but I didn’t believe him. What kind of family protector gets jacked by some punk waving a cap gun?

I didn’t mention that I chased the guy. Was I thinking of my kids then, too? It wasn’t like I’d lost a mint. I had only about $40 in my wallet, along with a gift card and my credit cards, one of which the guy promptly ran up at another gas station down the street.

I’ve had to confront crime before. My mom’s house in Scottsdale was burglarized when I was a kid—lost a pellet gun and a gocart. I lost most of my clothes when my Westwood apartment was ransacked. My pickup was stolen when I lived in Palms. And three guys more or less jumped me when I was walking through London with my wife. Each time it was the same thing afterward—the sadness and rage and sense of helplessness. I’m normally not all that focused on being “macho.” I can ask for directions. So why look for a fight? Maybe this time around I simply wanted to feel better than helpless. I wanted to reclaim what was taken from me.

The next day at the office I called the phone company. I hoped to get the number being called from the gas station pay phone when I’d pulled in at 8 p.m. The police might be able to use it to track down the guy who robbed me. But humans no longer work at the phone company. I spent an hour being routed from one automated directory to the next before I was connected to someone in the Midwest, who told me that she couldn’t give me the information I wanted. “Have the police call,” she said.

“But how will they find you? It took me an hour.”

“Oh, they have a number to call.” I phoned Visa to find out the name of the gas station where the guy charged $50 on my card. Maybe it had a security camera that filmed the transaction. But the service representative told me that they didn’t have the specific name of the business in their records. You know, because Visa doesn’t keep track of that sort of stuff.

I checked Information to get the name of the gas station where I’d been. I wanted to make things as easy as possible for the LAPD, which I know has too few cops to waste time on situations like mine. I received a notice in the mail a few days later from the police saying, “If you have additional information which will assist in the investigation of the incident you reported to this department please contact the above investigator.” His name was Detective

Carreon. I called the number and spoke with him. He told me I could come in and look at mug shots if I wanted. I’d like to, I said, but the guy wore a sock over his head. Carreon didn’t sound hopeful. He asked me again where the incident took place. When I told him, he said, “That’s not even our jurisdiction. That’s Culver City.”

I was puzzled—why’d the LAPD even take the report, then? He put me on hold to consult with someone. “I guess it is ours. I’m not familiar with the area around there,” he explained.

I mentioned that the guy who robbed me was on the pay phone at exactly 8 p.m., so the LAPD could obtain the records to track down whoever he was talking to. The cop said, “We’d need a subpoena for that.” He didn’t need to say the rest—that my case didn’t rate a subpoena. So what if my life might have been in jeopardy.

I suggested that there might be a security camera at the gas station. He said he’d check into it and that I could call him back in a day or two. I did. And then three and five and seven days later. I must have called the detective half a dozen times but never got beyond voice mail.

The part that probably says a little too much about me is sometimes I think that maybe my case wasn’t good enough. Maybe the problem was that I gave the guy my wallet. After all, his gun might have been fake. Is it really stealing if you give it away to someone who’s only pretending? Wouldn’t that make me more of a dupe than a victim? Sometimes I think I would have felt better about the whole thing if the guy had aimed a howitzer at my head.

The easy analysis is that my male pride was wounded: He bullied me, and I was bested by the guy. Maybe. Can’t it be more than that, though? Someone did something bad to me. Even worse, when I tried to right the wrong, I was blocked at every turn. I didn’t talk much about the robbery or my futile attempts at seeking justice; the whole thing made me mad, even a little ashamed. But after a month or so I consulted a colleague who’s been around his share of tough guys covering gangs for a newspaper. I admitted that I regretted giving the guy my wallet, because if I had any doubts about the gun, it must have been a fake, right? “Even if the gun was fake, it’s still armed robbery,” he told me. “Of course you should have given him your wallet. You don’t want to wind up rolling around the gas station, fighting the guy.” I tell myself he’s right.