Friday, February 3, 2012

How We Roll

We roll hard in the Fifth District.

When I roared in on my first raid, an Old Crows arsenal on Abundance Street, I came with seven unmarked sedans.

We don’t roll with SWAT action heroes like in South Central LA. We don’t get choppers like Dallas. We don’t even have machineguns like the Eighth District.

The Eighth District covers the French Quarter. Tourist central. 6 square miles.

It gets $6.4 million a year.

The Fifth covers the entire Ninth Ward and Bywater. Murder capitol of the USA. 37 square miles.

We get $4.6 million a year.

You do the math: We don’t even patrol.

The folks on Abundance stared at our decade-old sedans shuddering up to the raid house like we were an alien invasion. As well they should.

The only time we roll in the Fifth, we roll in force.

We only roll to raid.

We don’t have much, but we give it all we have.

I had every patrol officer available to control that street, but I hit my first door without a vest on my chest or a partner at my back.


Today’s target: Dudley Dunne. “Double-D.” Rap sheet a collection of tabloid headlines—beat up a car, bit a dog, broke into a church just to say he did.

Some pimps used coat hangers to keep their girls in line. Double-D used a charcoal grill.

All that charm, plus my warrant said he squatted on the Old Crows’ stash of Mexican freebase and Soviet rifles.

Was I scared?

An AK-47 puts out 600 rounds a minute at a trigger pull. Its cartridges can carve through a V-8 engine block. Fists fit in their exit wounds.

Scared doesn’t cover the kind of fear I felt.


“Police! We have a warrant to serve the premises.”

We have to say it. Even though it turns my sweat into crushed ice.

“You have fifteen seconds to open this door!”

Even though you know they won’t.

And the ram got in place. And the adrenaline started pissing blue frost through every vein. And I felt it snaking between bone and skin, running a fuse from head to boots.

Then we broke the door.

Then the fuse turned to flashbulbs: Heart banging. Bones brittle. Eyes seeing dozens of threats in every empty space inside.

Then I had to lead the way.

I went in before I could wonder why, how or whether I’d ever get out.

I saw mold-puckered walls, saw cigarette ash and hair on the carpet, saw old magazines and 70s furniture and nails sticking up pimples of rust.

I saw everything and wondered at how this could be where I died.

Then I saw our man dash out the back.

All that fear went up like rocket fuel and all I knew was momentum.


In other districts, they post someone out back.

In the Fifth, out back is usually a collision of man-tall bushes, knitted trees and weeds thick as the cracked concrete they fountain from. There might be a strip of alley that’s solid as a skin disease. There might be heaps of chain link, piles of brick, disemboweled furniture.

Days like that raid, there are all those things.

I leapt from the back, wheeled after the running man, did my best to both sprint and stutter-step around rubble.

I didn’t look for backup. I could have lost him—all for a waste of time.

1,500 cops served in New Orleans that year. 200 served in the Fifth. One fourth of that worked the streets. One third of those were on duty. One half at the raid.

You do the fucking math.

I was alone.

I still lost him.

I didn’t stop running—right through the green and rust and splintered rails of cement.

He did stop running. I wheeled around a mound of kudzu and banged into where he was doubled over, gasping.

Our scrapes and sweat piled. I found a neck to choke. I reared him back and went for my cuffs.

The face I saw wasn’t familiar.


He shook his head. “Antone Wilson, miss. Dudley’s my neighbor.”


As the patrols cleaned up, I rested on Wilson’s porch. My porch. The one I’d conquered, all for nothing.

Dudley had cleared out next door the moment he saw all those white sedans flooding in.

Sipping coffee hit my adrenaline rush like a laxative. Consciousness dumped into my boots. I couldn’t lift my head enough to look Wilson straight on.

He still couldn’t meet my stare.

“Mr. Wilson,” I said. “Got a question.”

“Yeah, ma’am?”

“You didn’t have a thing to hide. Why did you run from us?”

He shuffled. He sighed. It took awhile, but he coughed it up behind his fist.

“You’re the police. Innocent or guilty, it don’t matter.” Wilson shrugged. “When you come around, folks better be scared.”