I was at my local market this evening when an “incident” occurred. Right by the checkout stand nearest the exit, about 15 feet away from the strawberries. A man and a woman began shoving each other around, quite roughly, and she yelled, “He’s after my purse!” This woman was 200 pounds if she was an ounce, and the man probably had 30 pounds on her. Within seconds, the off-duty Cleveland Heights cop who was the early evening security guard jumped in.
The cop was probably 5 foot 7- or 8-inches, and about 160 pounds. He was built – but he was small. He didn’t even flinch, he joined in the struggle between the other two. And this is when I froze. I couldn’t understand what was happening. At first glance, it seemed that a very large man was shoving a very large woman around, going for her purse. But the cop went for her bag, too, and seemed to be trying to hold both of them down, all 450 pounds of angry, shoving flesh. Looking at him I thought, “Just like the firemen charging into the Twin Towers. That’s real training.” Scared customers moved back, and I just stood by the lemons, wondering what I should do.
The big man did not say a word, he looked like he was trying to hold the woman, not hurt her. I used to do that. Hold. Not hurt. The woman kept yelling, “Let go of my purse!” She was trying to hit both men, and landed quite a few blows. She was not only big, but crazy. And crazy brings an incredible amount of adrenaline. She could have really hurt them.
The little guy? He was muscular. He also knew how to move. He dodged her punches much better than the big guy, who just huddled over during the pounding, grabbing for the huge purse. The woman tried to position the bag between her legs while pummeling the big guy; that’s when the cop got purchase on her bag. She tried to kick him, and this made her slip against the wall, both men still trying to hold her. All three wound up on the ground. The only voice coming out of the three of them was the woman. “Give me my bag, damnit!”
I just stood by the lemons, mesmerized. I couldn’t understand what was happening, and I was in that violence-driven slow motion world of “what should I do”. See, when you are within 20 feet of extreme violence, the important thing to do is figure out what to do. Running may be a very bad choice. I learned that at age 12. Jumping in may also be a bad choice. You need to assess before you act, especially if you can’t fight. This whole thing really took me back….I grew up with random violence, and this was my usual reaction. I froze. And thought in slow motion while watching the chaos…
The problem I had today was I couldn’t figure out which one needed to be held. At first it looked like a big man had attacked a big woman near the checkout stand by the strawberries. But then it seemed like she was the crazy one. And the cop didn’t even try to stop the man or the woman – he seemed to be going after the woman’s purse. Not even after her, but her purse. While I was wondering if I should call 911, I noticed I was the only woman near the action. A few men were watching, like me, and all the women had fled to the rear of the store, to the safety of the milk and yogurt. Again, I thought this was very interesting…
Then, two police in full uniform (with clubs drawn) came in, and seemed to get the situation under control. I finally moved from my protective perch by the lemons to the nearest checkout.
The young man running the register reflexively asked me how I was. “Better now” I joked. He glared. I don’t’ think he grew up with this kind of thing.
On my way out of the store I realized there were at least 6 cops near the exit. There was a tussle by the “valet door” (where they load your car if you tip them). A woman dressed in white was leaning against the wall, facing the valet exit. She had That Look.
The tussle continued, and I realized the big woman was in handcuffs, fighting the six cops. I asked the woman with the look if she knew what had happened. “That woman over there,” she said nodding to the struggle by the doors, “tried to steal something. She was here with her kids. I used to be a social worker and now I’m worried about the kids.” “Her kids still here?” I asked. “Yeah, over there” she nodded towards a spot by customer service where all I could see were 4 large cops. The kids were in there somewhere. 10 cops in all… plus that brave, strong little cop. Eleven cops. And one huge, crazy lady. They were just a match for her.
A well put-together man walked past us with his bags. “Do you two know what happened?” I didn’t look up. The woman in white didn’t respond. He didn’t have the look.
“The sad thing is, I don’t think this is the first time these kids have seen this,” the woman in white said. I nodded. Then, on the way out, I said, “The sadder thing is this won’t be the last time..” I glanced over at the six cops, and the woman in handcuffs. She was still trying to kick and fight. “She’s still fighting.” said the woman. I nodded. “She will be like that for a while”, I said. The woman in white said, “Yes.” in that tired, social worker voice.
We left the store.