Rasta, Mon

The Rastafarian

It was the 4:00 to 12:00pm shift and my first time riding with him. I saw him during roll call but had never said more than a few words. He had a calm and quiet about him that seemed to suggest he was no stranger to the precinct. I would have just bet he knew who was dirty, like an eagle looking for a meal. But what did I know, fresh out of the Academy? The one thing I did know, however, was the only way to survive was to listen and learn and not be creative in your interpretation.

It was standard procedure for every tour to check the RMP (radio motor patrol car) before the start of each day to insure there were no items like drugs or weapons that a perp might have left during the previous tour. Once that was finished, we set out for the coffee spot on 144th Street and Broadway. It was a slow night in Harlem and cold enough to keep the streets free from any crowds. Cold weather cuts crime practically in half on some nights. It gave us a chance to cruise around the sector and search for anything suspicious. We weren't really looking for anything though. Not that night. It was too cold. So we just kept out of trouble.

"No callers tonight," I said. "I got a babe to meet after the tour and I am definitely getting laid."

I was into dating as many girls as I could. I had just gotten my own apartment and wanted to be a stud when I grew up. So I started as soon as I got a mattress. It was confidence I needed and being on the job helped me get it. I was a college kid who took the test, passed it, and decided last minute right after graduation that the PD paid the most and had the best benefits. I just didn't feel so hot about carrying a gun. On the street there's always a chance you're going to be pushed to the point where you'll have to use it. Guns were always trouble and now I had been given a license to carry one.

We had a couple of jobs that night, despite the freezing weather. The typical stuff: domestic disputes, kids hanging out with their boom boxes on some old lady's stoop, and that damned warehouse alarm that kept going off on Amsterdam Avenue. We had already responded three times, and then just filled out the proper paperwork so that we didn't have to go out on it again.

The 30th Precinct covers West 155th to West 133rd Street, from the Hudson River to Edgecombe Avenue. We took a ride outside our sector, towards Riverside Drive. There, we switched drivers. It was his turn to drive. We had just finished a meal, I was relaxed now. We went east on 145th Street and took a right down St. Nicholas Avenue going south. Just as we hit the park below City College my partner spotted a Rastafarian man walking north towards us. We stopped short and my partner stepped out and told me to stay in the car. The Rasta had a large green duffel bag and a square, narrow brown leather bag. They spoke for a while and even as I tried not to, I could hear loud words passing between them.

"I haven't seen you in a while. I'm pissed at you, man. I hope this is for me or you know where you are going -- so don't mess with me because we aren't making any collars tonight, okay?"

My partner then took the two bags and we headed back towards the precinct. Just before we got to the "house" he stopped the car where he had his own car parked and threw the two bags in his trunk. I wasn't sure what to say or ask him so I didn't say anything. I did not want to act surprised, nervous, or scared. If I did, I would be viewed as a "rat." Starting out and being a rat in my first command was a dangerous thing. I could imagine a deaf ear or a malfunctioning radio or even an overzealous boss. You read about it and could have watched Serpico six times but when it happens to you for the first time, you're devastated.

I thought maybe this was a test by the Department. Yeah, that might be it. He's gotta be I.A.D. (Internal Affairs Department), I said to myself. This is a test, this must be a test! I started bugging out. "Why am I riding with this guy? He's dirty."

In most set up cases, it's a money count in an anonymous apartment, or a situation where money or drugs are very accessible and there are no witnesses and it's very easy to pocket a couple of bucks. That's a set up. Not this. You don't get set up like this. He took the guy's stash and lets him go home -- without making a collar. It probably was an illegal search so if we would've taken him in, we would've have spent the night vouchering the money and drugs. The Rasta would have been out of jail before we got out of court. The money and drugs would have been sitting in a security locker at the Property Clerks Office. Eventually the drugs would be burned in a bonfire, so it would have been a waste of time, energy, and probably some really good Jamaican weed.

After taking a "personal" at the house, we headed back out to our sector. I guess my quiet got to him and he started talking. He told me that his parents were living in Poland and very poor. Poverty in his home country, he said, was twice as bad as some parts of the worst sections in the precinct. He sent money to his parents to survive; his only objective in life was to make sure they were comfortable. To get enough money to buy them a house here in New York and send for them. Nothing else was important. Not even the job and the reputation of the precinct.

That night I didn't sleep until 5 minutes before I had to wake up. When I got to work the next day he gave me an envelope and said, "This is your share." I quickly put it in my jacket pocket. I opened it later that evening in the bathroom.

We never rode together again and I promised myself that I'd take a footpost in a heartbeat first. I felt dirty and thought that at any minute I'd be questioned. I envisioned the Rasta pointing his finger at me and saying, "That's the guy who took my money and my Ganga! He was there I remember him!" -- thus ending a short career in the PD, being arrested and having to see my parents faces when I was behind bars. That would have hurt the most. Jail is not a good place for a dirty cop.


Footnote: One afternoon a few years later I was working the Polanski Day Parade (one of my many footposts that followed), and saw "the Pole." I guess retirement was agreeing with him because he looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself. As long with his wife and what looked like three or four kids. As I started to walk over to him to maybe say hello, I noticed an elderly couple and heard him call them, "Mom and Dad." Standing close enough to overhear them all talking, I decided not to make my presence known. I was glad I didn't because I soon realized as the parade was passing by, and the kids were clapping and waving, and shouting to the other family members to "Look! Look!" -- that not only had he brought mom and dad to America but two uncles and an aunt as well.

Stone Taylor