The only good Samaritan acts I’d ever done was hold the door for someone or give compliments to a person feeling down. That changed last October 29.
I was walking to a gym class in Inwood. It was cloudy and windy with a chance of rain, so I wore a sweatshirt, shorts, and of course my mask. I was walking through Fort Tryon Park, listening to a playlist filled with jazz songs to calm myself before working out. As I turned to go down the hill toward Dyckman, I heard someone screaming and crying for help.
I stopped the music and saw a bloodied White man about 10 feet away. Then, two men of color ran past me and I thought I heard one of them say that the man tried to jump them. They were gone by the time I called 911.
“911, what’s your emergency?” asked the operator.
“Hi, I’m in Fort Tryon Park by the Cloisters Museum with a man bleeding from the back of his head after being beaten up.” I stuttered, a bit freaked out.
The operator said to stay on the phone while I went to go look for officers on Broadway. I raced down the hill and got to the park exit. “I don’t see any,” I told the operator.
“The officers are saying they are with a bloody victim at a viewpoint. Is that where you were?”
“Yes. I can go back up there now.” The so-called “viewpoint” was a spot where you could look out and see all of Dyckman and Broadway. It’s normally a peaceful spot.
An Uncomfortable Interrogation
When I met up with the two officers, I was asked to describe the suspects in as much detail as possible, but all I could do was stare at the victim. The blood had run over his face and hands. He looked like he was in his early to mid-20s. He told the officers, one of whom was White, that his phone had been stolen. I could still hear the fear in his voice. He whimpered like an abandoned dog.
“You’re the kid who saw it happen, right?” one of the officers asked. “Where were you? What happened? Did you see the whole thing?”
“No. Just the end. Two guys ran away in the direction I was coming from.” I was talking so fast I was basically rapping, choking up on my own words as I tried to speak and catch my breath.
I always thought calling the police when witnessing a crime was the right thing to do, but soon, the officers’ line of questioning made me feel uncomfortable.
“What did they look like? What race were they? White?”
“Not White or Asian. They were darker skinned, but not Black.”
“Yeah.” By now, I’d caught my breath, but I felt uneasy. They kept repeating questions about their appearance.
Over the past year, I’ve learned and read about White people using their privilege to lie about crimes or have the police on their side due to racism. The suspects weren’t White but the victim was. Every time the police asked me about their races, I didn’t want to say something that could be considered offensive, or have my words misconstrued. I didn’t necessarily feel guilty about calling the cops, but I began to wonder: What would they do if they apprehended them? Would they get due process?
What if the guy really had tried to jump them and they were defending themselves? Would it be different if I wasn’t White and had called the cops?
A Reassuring Moment
Later, once the paramedics arrived and were tending to the victim’s wounds, the officers asked me for my contact information in case anything came up. Then they asked me to take a short ride with them to try and find the perpetrators.
I had never sat in the backseat of a cop car. It was cramped back there. There was barely any leg room, and as big as the car looked from the outside, it felt like a coffin on the inside. I’m 5’9” and my legs are disproportionately long compared to the rest of my body. I had to shift my legs to the side, butting my knees up against the rock-hard back of the seat of the officer sitting in front of me. Briefly, I imagined this must be similar to what it’s like being arrested.
We drove up and through the paths in the park, even in places I didn’t think you were allowed to go. We passed by several groups of people and none were the guys I saw ran by me. I began to doubt myself. Had I correctly witnessed what I told the cops?
Then, a woman walking who appeared to be of mixed-race waved her hands, flagging the car to stop. While I’d been on the phone with the 911 operator, I remembered I turned and saw her by the lookout where the man was sitting, also on the phone. She had looked concerned, like a mother who lost sight of her child in a large shopping mall.
As the cruiser stopped next to her, she peered into the car and saw me, and ecstatically waved. I grinned and waved back. She told the officers what she heard and saw. It was much of the description of what I had told them. In that moment, I felt relieved that my recollection of the attack wasn’t the only one.
The police dropped me back off at the driveway outside the museum and waited while my dad walked through the park to meet up with me. When he arrived, they told him that I’m a “good kid.”
The police called me right after I got home, once again asking me what the attackers looked like for a final confirmation. They also said the victim had been safely transported to a hospital nearby and was in a stable condition.
I don’t know if the other two men were caught, but I still think about that day a lot. It was weird to interact with police, even though in this case it seemed justified.
Maybe it was important the police asked so many questions about race, to get a proper description of the attackers. They did, after all, ask the same questions of the woman in the park.
But I think it’s also OK to still be skeptical of police, considering all the news we still hear about excessive force by authorities and cops abusing their power. This experience taught me we can be good Samaritans and do what’s right, even when it involves the police, while also being critical of police actions that are biased or abusive.
- Race & Ethnicity