“I can’t breathe, motherfucker! I can’t breathe!”
The drunk had only his voice left, but he was determined to fight. A neighbor and I called from the window. We begged the police not to harm the man, to give him oxygen, and the fuzz knew they were being watched. So they didn’t beat him. The drunk had only blurred stamina and a voice that alerted every adjacent domicile that there was a skirmish in the premises. His limbs were pinned down by seven of San Francisco’s finest in the alley adjacent to my apartment. I had to wonder just what the hell it was he did exactly. Had he spurned chase? Had he assaulted an officer? Was he simply belligerent? There was a savage determination in the man’s voice to beat the odds. It took seven police officers to hold him down. Seven.
The liquor had fueled him. It had told him that he was immortal, whatever his problems, whatever his affliction. It had worked the same way that PCP might in another: the abject faith that he was above the law, that he would win in the end, that vengeance of an altogether irrational sort would be his. But the addiction, apparently, was too much for him to operate in society. Tonight, anyway.
Of the seven cops, one was a woman. The drunk, singular in his rebellion, had bitten her hand while they pinioned his limbs down. He called her a dyke. he egged them on. Aside from a feral “fucker” from the lady (an understandable impulse from anyone who had blood drawn from their hand), the SFPD did their job containing him without beating the man down. This was no Fajitagate. They only wanted to get him into the wagon. And the wagon arrived, backing into the alley and colliding into a few trash cans. There was a mesh grille behind the double doors, and I wondered if anyone else was there.
The drunk had been in the Marines at one point. He had been stationed on Treasure Island. So he said. You meet a lot of homeless people in this city, many of them claiming some military stint, some pledge unfulfilled. And he was determined to “fuck your fascist shit up,” thank you very much.
Me? I felt like one of Kitty Genovese’s watchers. Who the hell was I to cast judgment? But if the police clubbed this guy to death, I was determined to run into the alley and stop the violence. Fortunately, they didn’t.
But I sympathized with him. I wondered if he had been left behind at some point. I wondered about his military experience. I wondered what had caused him to become so blotto and so enraged. Had he been abandoned? Had he served in the Gulf War? Or was his life a grand lie?
One police officer for every limb. They threw him into the van and laughed a bit afterward. But I pondered the man’s fate. What would our current local services do to help him? What would our social programs do to reach him? Would he be released to the streets, only to unleash violence again? Or would he somehow find himself? Was this a drunk left to drink himself to death? Another high-maintenance person abandoned to the fateful gods of the streets?
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