how to report a crime.

It is 3:30am in the morning and I awake from couch, after stirring earlier in the night. Outside window, a group of men push voices against each other like bowling bowls, trying to pin each other down. I watch, thinking of the power of sight and reaction.

Who to call when, so often, the ones who signify justice are the ones who misbehave the most.

My chest grows heavy, as though suddenly these men are on top of me or perhaps it is all the words drenched in fear, toppling over my bones.

My mate is asleep and I do not wake him; I must react quickly.

I walk away from sheer curtains and window to get my phone. I gasp at the sight of my partner who is reacting to the sounds as well. I tell him what I see; I ask him: what would you do?

9-1-1 is an uncomfortable combination of numbers to dial. There is panic in my fingerprints. I think about these men. I do not want to escalate their anger, but I do not want to wait for weapons to replace fists.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency,” speaks a female voice.

I explain the location and announce this group of men, around 5, who are fighting. There is heavy pushing. Moving into the street. Howls from their vocal chords.

She asks, “What do they look like?”

I answer, “They appear to be men. People of color.”

She asks, “Are they Black?”

And my heart sinks further into my body; I worry it has slid into my lungs or liver.

I tell her: I cannot say. It is dark and I don’t want to assume what race they are.

She persists, “Well, I have to write something down, otherwise the police won’t know. Are they Black?” she repeats.

I take a deep breath and think about my students, many of which are first generation college students. Some are immigrants. Most of which are people of color. Many who have shared stories of being perceived as one race, conflicting with their own. I think about all the Black men who are incarcerated for being Black. That society is jumbling up justice with guilty before innocent. I want to scream at this woman that she is doing the largest disservice by making assumptions and encouraging racism. I want to tell her that I am frightened of this 9-1-1 number combination, but don’t want to be complacent.

I tell her, “I will not and cannot answer that. They are men. And it is 3:30am in the morning. There is no one else out on this street corner, yelling and pushing. I do not believe the police will have any difficulty figuring out who I am referencing.”

Ten minutes pass by, upon which someone could have been shot or injured and I am breathing like a windstorm, staring out the window as my partner and I wait. And wait. For justice.

When the police arrive, they do not get out of their car; I appreciate this. They use their megaphone voices to encourage these men back into their cars. There is no aggressive force from police, only a prompting to leave.

My mate and I walk away from the window after watching the last man leave; I want to know they are gone; I want to hope that their anger has dissipated from the bright lights of the police car; I want to believe I did the right thing.