So I think I got off to a pretty miserable start as San Francisco's premier real-life superheroine. For one thing I don't have my costume done yet, and I haven't learned kung fu.
So I was in my civvies when heading down Sutter, about nine o'clock, and I noticed that there was a lot of yelling happening on the other side of the street. Also there were two gawkers standing on the sidewalk ahead of me. They were saying things like "Call the police dude! You should call the police!"
"What's going on?" I asked.
"That guy just came out of his house and beat up that homeless guy."
Sure enough, across the street, an elderly guy with white-brown hair and shabby-looking clothing was wandering around in a sort of dazed fashion. He had blood all over the left side of his face and he was holding his teeth in his hand. The yelling was coming from a young, tall white guy, a little farther up the street. The perp, as I'll call him from now on, was shouting things like "You got a problem? You got a problem, huh? How would you like it if someone peed on your doorstep every fucking day?"
The perp started swaggering towards us. "Oh shit, he's coming back," said the gawkers, and quickly walked away.
I didn't want to escalate the situation, but I certainly wasn't walking away. I didn't know what to do. I stood still and fumbled for my cellphone.
Having driven off the other two gawkers, the perp seemed satisfied. He turned around.
I crossed the street to the victim. "Did that guy hit you?" I asked.
"He lives there," he said, "he just came out and hit me as I was taking a leak. Call the police, I want you to call the police."
"Come with me," I told him, "I'll take you home and I'll call the police." I didn't want to stand there with my cellphone in my hand as the perp was still in plain sight, and I thought it would be a bad idea to make myself into a target. I wasn't equipped for a fight.
But the victim was leery of that plan. "I'm not coming home with you," he said.
So I dialed 911. When I looked back for the perp I could no longer see him. I talked to the dispatcher, giving my address and as many details as I could remember of the perp. When she started asking me about the victim, however, the homeless man became more and more nervous. "This was a bad idea," he said, and started walking away.
"Wait!" I told him. "You need someone to look at that cut!"
"Thank you young lady, thank you for your concern," he said, and quickened his pace.
I followed him at a distance for half a block, asking him to reconsider—"Don't let him get away with this!" I urged, "you've got to talk to the police or he'll get away"—but the victim would not be dissuaded. I don't blame him. He probably would have been opening himself up to vagrancy charges or something.
The dispatcher asked me if I was willing to talk to the police when they got there. I said I was. She asked if I could be reached at the number I called from. I said yes.
A little while later, two police cars cruised down the street. They did not stop, and they did not return. I never got a call back.
All I knew was that the perp must live on the 1100 block of Sutter, and there aren't many residences on the side of the street that the attack occurred on. Most of the block is taken up with a mortuary, which happened to be open and hosting some sort of function. Throughout the incident I'd noticed the doorman hovering about the entrance way, ducking inside whenever the action seemed to be getting a little too close. I lit up a cigarette and waited for him to come back out.
Eventually he did, and I was able to chat with him a little: "Gee, did you see all that?"
He hadn't, but he had heard it. "Was that guy loaded?" he asked. I thought he meant the perp at first, but it became clear that he was more worried about the victim. He hadn't wanted a bloody homeless man coming into the mortuary and disturbing the function. He seemed to become a little bit ashamed of himself then—even though I hadn't said anything—and he said a little defensively that he thought it was terrible the old man had been attacked but after all it was his job to keep the lobby quiet for the mourners.
I nodded. I do understand; he had a job to do and he was doing it. I said I thought the perp had to live near here though. He asked what the perp looked like; I described him. Oh yes, the doorman said, that's the fellow who lives in the doggie day care. Him and his girlfriend. They take care of dogs but they live there too, and they have a big dog of their own; they're out in the mortuary parking lot playing with it almost every night. Strange people, he said, shaking his head.
So I had a probable I.D. and no idea of what to do with it. Should I call the police back and tell them I was pretty sure I knew where the perp lived? Without the victim's testimony, would it even matter?
I called up Fog Lad and told him what had happened. I told him the police cars hadn't stopped; they'd barely even slowed down. I told him nobody had called me back. "They don't care," he said. "Nobody cares except you."
In the end I wrote a letter and I taped it to the door of the doggie day care. The envelope read: TO THE YOUNG GENTLEMAN WHO BEAT UP A TOOTHLESS OLD HOMELESS MAN EARLIER TONIGHT.
Let me introduce myself. I'm Mistra, San Francisco's first real-life superheroine. I'm here to protect the people of this city.
I believe that you know in your heart that what you did tonight was wrong. It's never okay to beat up toothless old homeless men, even when they are peeing on your doorway.
You're young and strong. You should use that strength to defend those weaker than yourself. In the end, we all depend on each other.
I'm watching you, and I'm not alone. Please be kinder to your fellow San Franciscans.
Overall, I give myself low marks for tonight's work. I didn't apprehend the perp, and I didn't offer aid to the victim. Lessons learned: I need to carry both pepper spray and a first aid kit in my civilian identity as well as in my Mistra costume.
The only thing I feel good about is that I was apparently the only person in the whole scene who was even willing to get involved. I didn't make anything worse, and I might have done a tiny amount of good just by demonstrating concern both to the victim and to the perp.
We'll have to see if patrolling in costume is a help or a hindrance in these sorts of encounters.
Tonight was a D+ night. I'll learn how to do better.