Both Mrs. Wallyhood and I work at home, so I was in my living room this morning when she called down to me “someone’s on the porch.”
“How exciting,” I thought. “A package has arrived. I love packages!”
When I opened the door, though, and looked left and right, there was no package, just a young man walking down the steps away from the house. I called to him, and when he turned around, I saw he was holding a basketball that bore a striking resemblance to one that I keep in a bucket on our front porch for our son (who, incidentally, never plays basketball).
“Hey,” I said firmly. “Give me back my basketball.”
I opened my hands for the catch and he tossed it to me. Then, he held out his hand to show a pile of change, and mumbled a question, which I took as an inquiry as to whether I would supplement his stockpile. I told him forcefully to get out of here.
I was a bit stunned, but I went back in the house and told my wife what happened, grabbed my phone, called the police, and went up the block where I’d seen him go.
What followed was a surreal 15 minutes. First, the police ordered me to return to my house and not to follow the thief. I refused and told them I was going to stay with him until a squad car arrived. (About 3 seconds after my mother reads the previous sentence, my phone will be ringing.) We argued about this for a minute or two, but in the end, they accepted that I wasn’t going anywhere.
So, there I was, in my pajamas, on the phone with the 911 operator for about 15 minutes, about 20 feet from the guy who just robbed me, while he waited for the bus and I waited for the police. He would look over at me occasionally, with my ear to the phone, obviously talking to the police, but he made no move to run. He counted his change, he walked up the block to see if the bus was on its way, he pulled some papers from his bag and he read.
Finally, the police arrived and arrested him, gently. As they did, a car pulled over to me, rolled down the window and told me to record everything, everything the police did. They can’t be trusted.
Eventually the policeman walked over to me, let me know that our conversation was being audio recorded, and asked if I wanted to press charges. I said yes, of course. It wasn’t about the basketball, but with the rash of porch thefts around the neighborhood, I was going to just let him go.
A second squad car came, and both officers talked to him some more and eventually came back to check in with me again: would I be willing to testify? The kid was 18 years old, should have been in school, no priors. He also mentioned how he was glad that the guy was cooperating, because if he ran, what were they going to do? Tackle him? Imagine if the kid got hurt while they were arresting him, and then the press asked “what was he charged with” and it turned out to be for stealing an old basketball. How would that look?
And the kid was cooperating. I’m trying to find the right word to describe his attitude. It wasn’t quite bored, nor dismissive, but more apathetic. He was waiting for the bus. The police came and asked him what had happened. He told them that he had been walking by, had gone up on my porch and taken a basketball. I had told him to return it, and he had. He seemed kind of tired, but not impatient.
Honestly, I had a flood of conflicting thoughts. The idea of some kid getting a criminal record that might interfere with his ability to get a job, a kid without obvious advantages heading into the system for some minor, random crime, seemed wrong. That’s not the part in his life story that I want to play: the white guy who called the cops and busted him for ball theft, just another brick in the wall.
But I really, really don’t want people walking up on porch and taking things. I think I’ve got the right to ask that.
In the end, I said I didn’t want to press charges, but did want them to write up a report for his record. Officer Stevenson offered to give him a talking to, based on his 35 years’ experience, to explain to him the paths available to him and encourage him to make good choices. Officer Stevenson’s 35 years’ experience didn’t sound like it made him too hopeful he’d make an impact, but he seemed genuinely willing to give it a go.
Best of luck to him.