Last week a young couple was arrested in my driveway. My wife and I interrupted our card game to watch it happen. What happened was this:
A red SUV was driving slowly back and forth along our street. This struck us as curious. Not long afterward a red SUV pulled into my driveway and between my house and my neighbor's house, effectively blocking us both from leaving. A woman neither of us knew hopped out of the red SUV and walked briskly up to our front door. I got up to answer the door as a police officer pulled into our driveway, effectively blocking the red SUV. The officer struck up a conversation with the woman and the man who had been driving the red SUV.
I will stop there for a moment because I find my reaction to this chain of events embarrassingly funny, in a sad sort of way. I live on a lightly trafficked, suburban residential street with lots of little kids from what my friend respectfully calls "lower middle class" families. We're a working-class suburban community in which the local paper's police blotter is generally a report of illegal parking and red-light running. Despite this atmosphere of utter normalcy, the sight of an unknown young woman pulling into my driveway and approaching my door filled me and my wife with a surprising burst of dread. What could she possibly want? What's going on? What kind of person so brazenly approaches the door of someone she doesn't even know?
I'm reminded of Bowling for Columbine, the documentary film that confronts the gun culture in America and suggests that it arises out of a vague but persistent fear of the Other. I liked the film because I don't like guns. But there I was, fighting bravely my vague but persistent fear of the Other. I would have answered the door, had the office not intervened, but my guard was way up.
Back to the story. The police officer chatted very calmly with the young couple for some time, occasionally reporting something into his two-way radio. Soon enough a second and then a third police car arrived on the scene. The couple was split up for separate interviews, the young man with the male officer, the young woman with the female officer, while the third officer pulled out what turned out to be an evidence kit. Not long afterward, first the young man and then the young women were searched and found to be in possession of heroin. They were placed in handcuffs and tucked into the backs of separate police cars, and a search of their red SUV yielded more heroin.
At one point one of the officers came to our door to advise us of what was happening, confirming that we didn't know the young couple and assuring us that the red SUV would be towed off our property very soon. We speculated that their red SUV was the same red SUV that had been driving slowly back and forth through our neighborhood, although after the police left one of my neighbors said it was definitely not the same red SUV.
Once the police had left the men of the neighborhood had an impromptu meeting in front of my house. There was no beer involved. I learned more about the history of the block in that fifteen minutes than I'd learned in seven years, including the tale of Jimmy Williams (not his real name), who had sold drugs for years two doors down from me in the house now owned by the Stoners (their real name, I swear). All the men laughed about the evening's events, and the two men who work from home reassured us (and, I think, warned us) that they were keeping an eye on the neighborhood and were wise to anything fishy that went on. Then we all went home.
With time I started to think about another young couple I met this summer, these two on the far side of their arrest for drug possession. I met them the morning after their first night ever at a homeless shelter. They were obviously scared, bewildered, unschooled in the ways and means of the homeless. Their family had rejected them and they didn't know what to do with themselves. I thought about that couple and I wondered whether I would see this evening's couple at the shelter next, and how I would welcome them there after being so afraid to welcome them at my home, and what kind of mercy I would offer them there after witnessing them receiving justice at home. I wondered what she would have said as I opened the door of my home to her, and what she'll say when I hand her the day's breakfast before she hits the streets.
I don't know really how to end a post like this. I find myself praying for those two couples, who are too young to anticipate the outcome of their decisions. I find myself praying for police officers whose very ordinary, suburban patrols are occasionally interrupted by incidents that require great courage and even greater wisdom. I find myself praying, which I suppose is good.