The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


It was a wonderful crisp day in early October, 1985.  A glorious day.

After struggling through the Recession of 1982 I had finally made the last payment to the bank on our line of credit.  It took three years but finally that $250,000 Sword of Damocles had gone away.   Of course, this was back when banks leant money – if you could make a good case for why you needed it.  In our situation, that reason was that we needed it to survive.

With the loan came an obligation.  Of course, repaying the money to the bank was their primary concern and my primary obligation.   But to make them feel more secure, they requested that we prepare a monthly financial statement so that they could see how things were going.  In 1982 things weren’t going at all well.

The bank handed me a packet of forms on which my accountant would prepare the monthly statements.  I took one look at them and realized that the bank with which I had an account for six years didn’t have a clue about my business.  I was in executive search, a service business and these forms were appropriate for a manufacturing company.

Not to bore you with accounting but the first item on the form read, “Cost of Raw Material.”  I remembered reading somewhere that if you took apart a human being you would wind up with approximately ninety-eight cents worth of chemicals.  So I thought I would count the number of applicants we had and multiply this number by ninety-eight cents and use that as a starting point.  And then I decided I would let my accountant figure the whole thing out.

Well, that was all in the past.  Three years later was my day of emancipation and as it happened it was Friday, I was going up to the Gold Coast to have a celebratory dinner with a few friends.  We planned to eat later as I had first to get home and walk and feed the puppies and change out of my business attire into something more casual.

I had taken care of business at home and was driving north on State Street, just past the Chicago River.  Traffic was surprisingly light for a Friday night.  Perhaps all those who ate dinner earlier had already settled into their favorite restaurants.

But as I was enjoying the cool air flowing over me from the open driver’s side window I was shocked to see that the Cadillac in front of me suddenly rolled down the passenger’s rear window and a huge bag of KFC debris was hurled out onto the middle of the street.  On impact it spilled all over State Street that Great Street.

I knew there was a Police Station a few blocks north so I duly noted the car’s license plate, repeating it to myself over and over as I didn’t have anything on which to write – and I noted that the tags had expired one and one half years earlier.  I was determined to provide this information to the police and would be willing to testify if they needed me to do so.

The Cadillac continued north on State Street when I arrived at the Police Station.  There was no parking to be found on that block so I turned the corner, repeating the license plate to myself.  Nothing there either – or the next block or the next.  So I went back to the station hoping something had opened up while I was cruising the neighborhood.

There were seven spots in front of the station marked “Police Cars Only” but four of them were vacant.  So I pulled into one and turned on my flashers hoping to explain my infraction once I had spoken with someone inside.  This was my first and only time in a Police Station and I didn’t know what to expect other than what I had seen on sitcoms on television.

The sitcoms were pretty accurate.   I saw two policemen, one the Desk Sergeant who was entering the name of the individual who had been handcuffed by the apprehending Officer.

The Officer proceeded to explain that he was bringing in this person on a – then he gave a number which was police lingo for trying to steal a car – but I shut it out because I didn’t want to confuse myself with the number of the license plate on the car which I had come to report.

I repeated the license plate number again.

I thought they would never finish with this guy and I glanced at my watch to see how late it was getting.  I didn’t want to keep my friends waiting – but this was important.  As I looked at my watch there were more numbers.   I turned away from my watch and kept repeating the license plate to myself.

When I was done with my report I would find a pay phone and call the restaurant to let them know I was on my way.

Well, the alleged car thief finally got booked.  The Desk Sergeant let me know how important he was by keeping me waiting another five minutes and after he had finished writing all that he needed to conclude his previous work he turned to me and invitingly said, “Well?”

I explained to him why I was there and before I forgot it asked him to write down the number of the license plate on to which I was holding with only the tiniest thread.  There had been so many numbers since I first saw it.

I went on to explain that I didn’t know if what I had come in to do was make a “citizen’s arrest” or whether the CPD would merely need my testimony when they apprehended this individual and he or she went to trial.

The good Sergeant put his right hand under his chin, emulating Rodin’s “The Thinker” and after he had thought for a moment said , “So let me get this straight.  You’re here to report a case of littering.”

Well, I thought to myself there’s “littering” and – well, isn’t their some category for really, really “flagrant littering.”  Surely this case deserved to be classified in the most extreme manner.

I started to respond when he stopped me.

“Let me explain something to you.  We’ve got car thefts – as you just saw while you were standing there.  We’ve got home invasions; we’ve got domestic violence; we’ve got rapes; we’ve got homicides; are you getting the point?  What we don’t have is time to arrest people for littering.  Have a good evening.”

And he put his head down and I knew that I had been dismissed.

Well, it might not have been important to the Sergeant but it was important to me.  As I walked toward the door of the station I was determined to get this story out to the world.  I was going to write a letter to “The Chicago Tribune”.

But as I reached my car I found a new venue for my grievance.  Sitting on the windshield of my car was a parking ticket for “Unauthorized Parking in a Police Parking Space.”  The citation carried a one hundred dollar fine.  Okay.  I would have my day in court and tell my story to the judge and to the world.

Four weeks later I appeared in the Chicago Traffic Court building, room 102 as instructed on the ticket.  This was my first time in Traffic Court and I didn’t quite know what to expect.  But I soon discovered that the CPD’s Traffic Officers were on the job writing tickets galore for moving violations.  Those were the cases that were heard first by the judge.

The court time on my ticket was for 10:00 a.m.  I sat in the room wondering when we would be done with moving violations and get on to the business for which I had come.  I had replayed the events from the month before so many times in my mind that I was sure when I had my chance to address the court I would give a speech worthy of Clarence Darrow.

It was now noon.  All of the moving violations had been adjudicated – finally.  The judge looked up from his bench and said, “All of you who are here about parking violations, rise.”  All fifteen of us who were still in the courtroom rose.

“There are reasons that the City has rules regarding parking.  Those rules are designed to protect and provide access for all motorists.  Ladies and gentlemen, please keep that in mind in the future.  But since it’s lunchtime I’m going to give you a break.  All your tickets are dismissed.”

Fourteen people gleefully left the courtroom.  I thought about going up to the bench and venting my frustration but the judge apparently had a luncheon date as no sooner had he pronounced our dismissal, he disappeared through a door into his chambers.

That was the first, last and only time I ever tried to make a citizen’s arrest.


Comments on: "THE CITIZEN’S ARREST" (6)

  1. Chicago screwed up with you. That’s the city that invented “No good deed goes unpunished.” Good story, it can be so fustrating to do the right thing, especially when it seems no one else cares but, it does matter. It’s who we are (or should be). Thanks.

    • I agree with you that it matters. My father taught me an important lesson as a child. Occasionally I would come in and watch him shave. I loved seeing the foam on his face disappear. He looked at me one day and said, “You know the reason that you should always do the right thing? You may hide bad things from others. But when you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror in the morning, you have to be happy about the person you see there.”

  2. Oh the joys of trying to deal with a government department. Our taxes pay them, but they think we are their servants.

    • I’ve often wondered, would we get better results from our law enforcement officers (many of whom are dedicated and do a great job) if we paid them on commission?

  3. Now, we merely put it on the internet and see it go viral…ah, the wonders of technology.

    People in Singapore are doing it all the time – keeping the civil service and politicians on their toes. It is called citizens news portal.

  4. Given the stringent rules in Singapore about littering, I can only imagine that if one of your fellow citizens read this story, they would think that it was a work of fiction – and would find it unbelievable.

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