CSI Brighton

Taking local law enforcement into our own hands


By Dan Forward


he 911 operator answered my call quickly. In a strange coincidence, all my calls to my friends usually go straight to voicemail and are not returned, so the immediate, “Hello, this is 911, what is your emergency?” was appreciated on more levels than that woman knew.

I told her there was a fight going on outside my building. First question: “Are there any weapons?” Answer: “I don’t think so. I don’t see any. Just fists.” Second question: “Are any of them black?” Answer: “Whoa!”

I am not a statistician by training. Or by anything, come to think of it. So when I say that Baltimore is a more badass city than Boston, I’m not looking at crime rates, or academic papers, or a single testimonial of any resident of either city. Netflix is really my go-to source here. I am, of course, speaking of The Wire and The Departed, the two seminal pieces of modern crime fiction, according to me. I’m not going to say that The Departed, Boston’s most successful son, isn’t badass. I’m not going to somehow convince you that I didn’t spend my sophomore year of college walking around with a black zip-up hoodie with a leather jacket over it and a $25 black Red Sox hat on my head because I thought it made me look like Leo. And I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I haven’t been telling everyone I’ve ever met since that movie came out that my grandfather’s from South Boston. (Side note: Don’t call it “Southie” if you don’t live there and haven’t watched at least one man die. It’s as embarrassing as someone from New Hampshire saying he’s going to “Cali” to get a tan and write for television.)

What I am going to tell you is that if The Wire’s Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, or Marlo Stanfield walked into Jack Nicholson’s Winter Hill, they’d be running the place in an episode and a half. (Note to any movie producers reading this: Make that crossover happen! My screenwriting fees are reasonable.) These guys are cunning, ruthless, in far better shape than their Boston counterparts, and, as far as I care to check, totally faithful facsimiles of real Baltimore criminals.

All this reassures me that it was a brilliant choice full of foresight to never move more than 20 miles from my family home on the North Shore. When a real-live fight broke out right underneath my window this winter, though, I started to doubt myself. Brighton is the little land the plows forgot, so my very narrow one-way street was made almost impassable by the piles of snow on each side. When that night a car came down the wrong way just as another was going up the right way, there was no room to turn around. The offending car’s driver’s solution? Park right there in the way of everybody, get out, and try to enter an apartment. The other car emptied, and a screaming match ensued. The right-way guy kept screaming, “Don’t touch me!” and the wrong-way guy, with his hands clearly on right-way guy’s chest, responded, repeatedly, “I’m not touching you!”

After a minute or so of healthy debate, wrong-way guy (a Russian dude straight out of Eastern Promises) wound up and slammed right-way guy in the side of the head, which is when I, observing with wide, nosy eyes through a crack in my blinds, found my phone and dialed 911. By the time I got back to the window, right- and wrong-way guys were slipping and sliding around in the street on the ice in what might under different circumstances have been a sort of beautiful modern dance number, and two other guys were on the sidewalk. One was sitting on the other’s chest and smashing him in the face.

Following the operator’s second question, I forgot about the fight and started imagining the 11 o’clock news reporter speaking next to a picture of me taken from Facebook that depicts me doing fake karate with my college roommates while my voice is played on loop without the operator’s question: “They’re not black, but hurry anyway!” And then some stupid video editor would probably create an effect that looked like a rubber stamp slamming down to leave the word “RACIST” in big red letters on my picture. So I stopped for a second, the only sounds the low static hum of my connection to the emergency line and the terrible beatings occurring outside, and considered what I should say next. “I do not believe there are any African Americans engaged in the melee, but the light is dim and I could be mistaken,” I eventually declared in an even-toned voice.

“We’re sending over a squad car,” she said, and hung up. As opposed to the artillery, if I had answered differently? Tear gas? McNulty and Bunk? Right after the call ended it was time for me to intrude on a gathering of friends I’d caught wind of at John Harvard’s, so I didn’t stay to see the climactic resolution from the safety of my window perch. And anyway, by the time I stepped off the bus from Brighton to Cambridge, I had already forgotten about crime movies and had set out to pick a fight with someone Harvard jerk about how I was as smart as Will Hunting even though I came from the mean streets of Boston College.

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