Saturday, 26th September 2020

Paul Spencer Sochaczewski

The Detective, the Suburbanites, and the Kid who Failed Mugging 101

Posted on 30. Aug, 2006 by in Personal essays


I almost got mugged the other night.

After dinner with a friend in the Washington, D.C. area, I took the Metro to Friendship Heights.  It was about midnight and I decided to walk back to the house where I was staying.  I strolled through one of the better neighborhoods of the well-heeled Northwest section of the capital.

“Sir,” a voice called as I turned the corner to my friends’ placid, tree-lined suburban street.  “Don’t move.”

I turned around.  Sure I was afraid.

About twenty feet away I saw a black guy, maybe 25, a bit bigger than me, in a white sweatshirt.  He held a pistol and cocked it.

“Don’t move sir.”

My life didn’t exactly flash before my eyes, but I did have several thoughts in quick succession.  I didn’t want to get shot.  I also didn’t want to give this jerk my wallet and have to cancel all my credit cards.

The guy spoke articulately.  He sounded well educated.  He sounded frightened.

What kind of mugger calls the intended victim “sir”?

I had just renewed that night, after 15 years, a friendship with a dear old friend.  I felt protected.

I shouted as loud as I could:  “YOU MOTHERFUCKER!”.

And then I took off, crouching and juking the first few steps in case he shot, listening for his footsteps coming after me.  I’m not Emmitt Smith, the Dallas Cowboys star halfback, but I’ve still got some moves.

I glanced over my shoulder.  I saw the would-be mugger taking off in the other direction.  He rounded the corner and was gone.

Back in my friends’ house I called 911.  The cops got there in four minutes.  They said they drove from the Connecticut Avenue bridge, a distance of several miles.  Obviously they hauled ass.

One cop was black, one Hispanic.  Ethnically correct.  They took my story and put out an alert.  My friends’ kids slept through the police radios blaring in the living room.

A few minutes later a detective shows up.

We talked for a while about crime in Washington, and survival strategies, the likelihood of finding the perp, and the life of a detective.  My friend, a journalist, pumped him for information.  “What are you, a lawyer?” the detective joked.

“I’ll show you what kind of lawyer I am,” my friend replied.  He produced a photo of himself taken when he lived in New Zealand, wearing a formal robe and a white barrister’s wig.

“You didn’t see anyone else on the street?” the detective asked.


“I would have thought someone would have phoned in a complaint about public profanity.”

“How come there aren’t more crimes in this neighborhood?” my friend asked.  “This is where the money is.  And most people up here would be sitting ducks.”

“That surprised me too, for a long time,” the detective said.  “Finally I asked one of the guys we arrested one night why he kept on robbing poor people.  Know what he told me?”

We had no idea.

This kid told me that “All those white guys in Northwest have guns.  We’re afraid to go up there.”  Kid had been hearing so much about George Bush and Bob Dole and Newt and the National Rifle Association that he figured this was as dangerous as Fort Apache.”

We agreed that you could search all the houses in a five-square-mile area and probably find nothing more sinister than a few duck hunting rifles and antique blunderbusses.

“Can you describe the guy?” the black cop asked me.

“He looked a little like Marion Berry,” I said, trying to brighten up the evening.

We all laughed.  Black cop.  Hispanic cop.  White detective.  White friend and his black wife.  White would-be-mugee.  Marion Berry was the mayor of Washington, D.C. until he got busted for crack cocaine a few years back.  After spending a while in jail he went on to be re-elected mayor, just one of the now not-so-startling turnarounds by a convincted felon in contemporary America.

“Anything else about the guy?”

I explained that I thought he was a college kid.  Something about his speech.  “But he can’t be that smart,” I added.  “He failed Mugging 101.”

We commented on the speed by which the cops arrived, and told the detective that we were surprised that he bothered to come.  We asked whether he always responds to unfulfilled crimes.

Without saying it in as many words, it became clear.  This privileged corner of the nation’s capital houses a large chunk of the people who pay most of the District of Columbia’s taxes.  These few streets along the Maryland border are home to the men and women who work on the Hill, and, perhaps more importantly, who write editorials in the Washington Post.

“If we find him are you willing to testify?” one of the cops asked me.

“Sure, if you fly me back from Switzerland.”