It was light dusk as I left home to fetch my daughter from the movies in south Minneapolis. As I approached Broadway south, from Irving, I saw a guy, about 6 feet 2, peeing against a building. A second guy, about 5 feet 8, was waiting nearby. They were in a good mood.
I slowed next to them, lowered my passenger window and said: "Guys, peeing in public is illegal. You really shouldn't be doing that."
The big guy, the pee-er, bent at the waist and glared at me as he walked.
"What you say bitch? You talkin' to me?" he asked.
"Yes, I am talking to you and I'm saying that I saw you pissing on the wall, on busy West Broadway, and that is illegal. You shouldn't do that."
"M.F.," he said, "you got to be crazy. You can't be talking' to me. What you go'n do, M.F.?" His head was now inside the car. "Call 911?"
"Don't worry about 911. I'm talking to you right here and saying you can't do that in public."
"You can't be talking to us, B'. Get the f' outta here before you get your f'ing ass kicked, M.F."
Now this is where my street outrage and savvy kicked into overdrive. I bucked to a halt and jumped out of the car, but stayed in the relative safety between my door and the car.
"You're gonna do what?" I asked. "Did you say you were going to kick my a'? Well, here I am. Come on over here and show me how you're going to do this."
He moved around to my side of the car, but halted just in front of my left headlight. I could see his wheels turning, and I knew I had the upper hand.
"You got to have a piece. I just know you got to have a piece. You couldn't be that crazy, get'n outta that car, knowing you go'n get an ass whuppin,' if you didn't."
I have been at this point many times in urban confrontations and I knew I was in control. "Don't worry about a gun," I said. "You're there and I'm here -- now, what's your plan"?
Just then, I noticed a wry approving smile across his face. He was looking at the smaller man, who was at the passenger side of my car. I kept my focus on the big guy. But I knew something was getting out of control.
Quickly, the short man moved toward the big guy and they both ran forward, laughing, through the parking lot of KFC and into the night. Puzzled, I ducked into the car and followed for a few yards, but I stopped short and began to inspect the car. The window had been open from our initial exchange, and I figured he had spit into the seat. Cautiously I searched for the sight of foam and phlegm.
Then it dawned on me. My iPhone had been on the seat. It was gone. I'd been chumped. I had just recently lost my office phone, and now my personal phone was stolen. Frustration and embarrassment enveloped me.
I raced home and called the cops and returned to the scene, all the while using my wife's phone in a vain attempt to activate the "Find My IPhone" app. Thirty minutes later, officers Chris Smith and Jeff Sworski arrived. They took a statement and gave me a blue card. They promised to return if my "find" feature ever located the phone. I have no idea if they knew I was a City Council member.
I hurried to retrieve my daughter, and an hour later returned to the task of activating Find My iPhone. After another 30 minutes and finally getting the right password, the miracle began, and the night switched from a gritty urban tragedy to a story of tech magic and reclamation.
Right there on the screen of my wife's iPhone was the white graphic of my white iPhone floating at the curb of a precise home in the 1400 block of a North Side avenue, on a crystal-clear satellite picture. The foliage and roof configurations were plain to see.
I jumped in my car, hurried to the Fourth Precinct and asked for Smith and Sworski. They were notified, and I cruised back home to await their arrival. But I just had to drive by to see the house for myself. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I half expected to see a dozen tough dudes hanging out front, but the house was silent. I looked at my graphic again and discovered that the phone had moved into the house. Modern technology was magical.
Many minutes later, our doorbell rang. I excitedly showed the graphic to the two cops, and we counted off houses from the corner to positively identify the house. They would drive to the house and call me when they got there, then I would remotely activate the "find" alarm on the stolen phone.
Five minutes later, they called, and I activated the alarm repeatedly. It turns out this was a fourplex, so they had to go door to door. But within 10 minutes, right before my eyes, "find" indicated that my phone had moved from the house to the middle of the street.
I woke my wife excitedly, "Honey, I think the cops have the phone. It's now in the middle of the street."
Immediately, the phone rang, and the next six words sent chills down my spine. "Hello, sir. We have your phone."
It turns out that the thief (our short guy) had come to the door in his white T' and plaid shorts, just as I had described. Hearing the electronic and descriptive evidence against him, he'd quickly pulled the phone out of his pocket.
The cops assured me that he had been very cooperative, with no attitude or reluctance, but they said it was up to me to decide whether to press charges. I got the message; this was a soft recommendation to not press charges. I requested that they and the suspect meet me at the scene of the crime, where I would accept a heartfelt apology.
Five minutes later, we were all in the parking lot of Pizza Hut, and the thief had been extricated from the back seat of the squad. He had no cuffs on and was in stocking feet. I approached and stood three feet in front of him, with both cops flanking us.
"Okay," I said, "here's my plan. I will recount the incident and you tell me if my version is correct, then it's your turn to say your piece."
"Yes, sir," he said.
We went through the entire incident blow by blow, punctuated by "yes, sirs" after each sentence in a strange call-and-response sequence made all the more bizarre because I included every profanity in the very tone they were spat at me.
"Now," I said, "consider this. Here I am, a 63-year-old black male of this largely black community. I see two young black men breaking the law and pull over to caution them, and I am cussed out, threatened, intimidated and chumped. I did not call 911, I didn't have a gun, and I was simply interacting with you as an older man to younger men. Now, two hours later, here we are with you saying "yes, sir" to everything I say. But the reason I am earning your respect is not my age or the respect I gave you but the respect you have for two white cops with guns. What has become of our community?"
He paused, "Sir ... I didn't mean to intimidate..."
"Hold it right there," I said, "that is precisely the problem. You didn't mean to intimidate. Two young, fit 20-year-olds are telling a 63-year-old they are going to f' him up. But you didn't mean to intimidate? Do you have a girlfriend"?
"Well, you will, and I know what will happen. You will get angry and punch the wall or pick up a weapon. She will be smaller than you and will be scared to death, but you won't consider it intimidation. You will have a kid and get angry, kicking his toys and yelling curses. But you won't mean to intimidate anybody. You'll just go around leaving people traumatized and damaged. Well, let me tell you, you do intimidate. I was intimidated; you are going around the community scaring people. You are scary!"
He flinched. "I'm sorry, sir. You saved me from my first felony."
"Okay, so here we are, two white cops and an old dude, and there you are, the scary guy, and we all agree we are going to give you a break."
I went to my car and brought him back one of my special large business cards. "This is for you and one for your friend. There are resources here for school, housing, jobs and other supports. I made them up for guys who hang out on the corners and piss on buildings."
He smiled his first smile of the night and said thanks.
"Now look at the cover," I said. "Do you see that? Don Samuels, City Council Member. That's me. Here we are at the end of a long adventure, and this is the first time I have told you who I am. Do you see now who you were threatening on the street? You were punking the chair of the Public Safety Committee. The police department reports to me! You have no idea who you are abusing."
I gave him a hug and said, "Now, one more thing." I put my iPhone in camera mode and handed it to him. "Take a picture of your two heroes and me."
Don Samuels is a member of the Minneapolis City Council.