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Street Smart

Personal accountability


Looking back, I’m often amazed at where and when I’ve learned some of my most valuable lessons in my life. In early 1981, I was working south Los Angeles in 77th Division. My partner and I handled a call that, although pretty routine, taught me something important. I’d like to share an abbreviated and, somewhat sanitized, story of that experience.

We received a call to, “See the man. Family dispute at (can’t remember the address).” In the early 80’s, what is now called a domestic violence incident, was simply called a family dispute. Law enforcement at the time looked at these situations as civil in nature, and something that wasn’t really any of our business. We had to respond to keep the peace, but the law was different then.

We responded and were met in front of the location by an older Black man who was holding a bloody towel against the right side of his head at the temple. He was bleeding quite a bit, but was completely coherent. I asked him what had happened. He explained that he had been sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper, when his wife walked up behind him and hit him in the head with a big frying pan. He said he grabbed a towel and stumbled to his neighbor’s house to call the police. I asked him why his wife hit him. He got a really sheepish look on his face, but said he didn’t know, she had done it for no reason. I could tell he was being evasive and we hadn’t heard his wife’s story yet. My partner spoke with her while I dealt with the husband. After speaking with the wife, my partner came back, took me aside, and told me her version of the story. The wife told my partner that she had found out that her husband was having an affair and had a girlfriend for quite some time. She admitted that she struck him with the frying pan because she was angry. As I said, the laws at the time were different. We didn’t have the “shall arrest” laws that we have today. My job was only to determine as best I could what had happened and then explain the arrest/investigative process if the injured party wanted to pursue a prosecution.

So I explained it all to the husband. I told him that his wife claimed he had been cheating on her. She got mad and hit him in the head with the pan. I explained that she admitted the act and that we could arrest her if he wanted to pursue a prosecution. I’ll never forget our conversation. He was sitting on his front porch, staring at the sidewalk, holding the bloody towel against his head as he thought for a few minutes about all I’d explained to him. Finally, he came to a conclusion. He sighed heavily, looked up at me and said, “No officer…that’s an a-- whoopin’ I’m just gonna have to take!” He got up and shuffled back into the house. My partner and I got in our car and drove away.

I got two things out of that radio call. First, I got a funny saying that I’ve been using for nearly 40 years when I mess up (my, wife, kids and grandkids will confirm that). Second, I got a lesson in personal accountability. I remember leaving the location admiring the guy in a weird sort of way. He could have handled his domestic situation by having his wife arrested for hitting him with a frying pan and blaming it all on her. Instead, he walked into the house and faced the consequences of his actions. He had the personal integrity to own his mistake and face the music.

There is a segment of our society that is much too quick to blame everything bad that happens to them on anyone, or anything, other than themselves. Some people absolutely refuse to own their actions the way the guy in my story did. These people believe that everything bad that happens to them is always someone else’s fault. There is absolutely no denying that bad circumstances can be defining moments in a person’s life. I get that. However, I believe that, overall, each of us is a product of the decisions we make (good and bad) and how we respond to the adversity that is an unavoidable part of all our lives. Bad things are going to happen, that’s just the way life works. How an individual responds to the bad things is what will, in the end, define them.

I got bucked off my horse Boss today and that’s what got me thinking about all of this. I’m sitting in a hot tub full of epsom salt and trying to figure out what the heck happened. First I thought, stupid horse! It must be his fault. Well I know that’s not true. Boss is a really smart and usually calm horse. That argument won’t work. Okay… must be the ground in the round pen! Well, that didn’t work either. Turns out I built the round pen and put down the footing. Maybe the equipment I was using? I used the saddle I always use and a bridle/bit combination he is totally comfortable with, but as I think along these lines, maybe I’m onto something. I used spurs for the first time on this horse today. When I think honestly, I was trying to rush things. Although I use spurs quite judiciously, he wasn’t quite ready, and neither was I. When things went bad, I gouged him when I shouldn’t have and just made a minor problem much worse. Dang…turns out it was my fault I got bucked off! My ribs are aching but, “I guess that’s an a-- whoopin’ I’m just gonna have to take!”

Blaine Blackstone is a retired Los Angeles Police Sergeant who enjoys the simpler life in Thompson Falls. He can be reached by email at [email protected]


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