Monday, November 26, 2012

Behind The Wheel

My hands cling and wrestle with the steering wheel, as my little white news car squeals and bends its way around a winding Pascagoula street, reaching speeds of up to 70 miles an hour, a police detective revs up beside me in his unmarked Crown Victoria, and warns me, "DO NOT get too close to this scene Jones, or I will arrest you!"

It is 1996, and both our cars are careening towards the arrest of a teenager who it is believed with another man, to have gunned down a convenience store clerk, just hours ago.

When I slide to a stop at the edge of a police barricade, I see half a dozen officers, guns drawn, their black boots slapping the pavement as they frantically converge on one of the suspected murderer.

No one is manning the perimeter, so I awkwardly snatch my camera from the trunk, as begin to gallop towards a mob of officers, screaming, wrestling and fighting with a wirey teenager as the officers collapse his body to the ground.  His face is planted in the well-manicured grass of a bewildered Mississippian who stands, jaw gaping as police grab violently for the man's flaying arms and wildly kicking legs.

Just as officers click their handcuffs tight around his wrists, their police radios squawk to life, "We're chasing the other, He's on Martin Street!"

One officer quickly gathers up the dirty, sweating teenager and stuffs him painfully into his squad car.   A dozen other officers disperse in all directions as if they've been warned that a hand grenade has been dropped in the middle of the frantic men.  I follow their lead.  I run at full speed towards my waiting car, and fishtail the small Mercury Topaz behind the cavalcade of police cars, lights as their lights dart into the daylight, sirens wailing and squawking through the streets.  As our chaotic, motorized wagon train fumbles dangerously and disjointedly towards a second pursuit, I snatch a cloths from my backseat and try in vain to sop up what seems to be gallons of sweat invading my eyes, filling my ears, and settling in my mouth.  My face is streaked as salty sweat spiderwebs across my body. In Mississippi in August, if you move, you sweat.  If you run, you are awash in moisture, under the oppressive sun, and all consuming humidity.

After driving wildly, and blindly for a few seconds, I spot an army of officers in blue, wrestling a second man to the ground, he screams obscenities  as officers force their jagged knees into his back, and plant their boots firmly on the scruff of his neck, as the alleged murderer fights, then wiggles, then finally relents into submission.  I roll my camera catching the entire melee on tape, as my head thumps with the beat of my heart.

Some time later that day, I can't recall exactly how, but I come across the father of one of the teens.  He slumps on the stoop of a lilting shack.  The white paint clinging loosely to aged slats of wood.

He smells of urine and liquor.  His greasy hair speckled with sprigs of grass, suggesting he may have spent the evening passed out in a pasture  "Well," he slurs carelessly, "if he did it, I guess he's gonna pay."  The man then takes a long drag off his self-rolled cigarette, as the cherry at the end blazes a brilliant red, he drags his palm across the top of his head, extinguishing an itch, then pulling a dead piece of brown grass from his hair, "Huh?" he ponders the sprig between his fingers, then tosses it to the ground.

As police fingerprint the two men, disturbing details are beginning to emerge about the two killers.  They shot the woman with a shot gun AFTER she gave them the money the violently demanded.  According to police she was reading her King James Bible, just moments before the two entered the store to steal her money and her life, and just hours later I would capture two murderers in a violent, mindless run from justice.

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