I apologize insomuch as this might read more like a detailed police report than a blog post.
I hope that it will serve as evidence against the robber who I helped to catch today and have therefore included much detail:

I left my church, the Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street, NW in Washington, DC) at 2:50 PM today. I helped a homeless lady friend lug her belongings to the bus stop a block away as we walked with yet another homeless woman. We saw the bus pass the stop when we were still a half block away. I decided to walk the 2 blocks up to Franklin Park; but, they hadn't felt like walking uphill even for that short distance. After speaking with them for a few minutes, I heard my church's bells ring out the 3:00 hour as I began to walk away.

I arrived in Franklin Park a few minutes after 3 PM, entering from the corner of 13th and I (eye) Streets. I spoke to another homeless lady friend who was sitting on a park bench and then turned my attention toward a group gathered on the far side of the park near K Street. I wanted to see if they were feeding. As I got closer, I recognized the man who was speaking as a member of Praise-N-Thunder (www.praisenthunder.org), a group that feeds the homeless in Franklin Park on the first Saturday of every month. He had come with his church (not with PNT this time) and was preaching to the others while doing a painting that accompanied his sermon (a rather neat thing to watch).

After observing the sermon and painting for a couple of minutes, I decided to walk to the west side of the park near 14th Street and see if either of the 2 groups that were over there had any food left. I walked by both and got the last sandwich from the latter of the 2 groups. I then returned to the artist/preacher whom I've known personally for a couple of years. All he had left were some Snickers minis and bottled water. Immediately after helping myself to a couple of pieces of candy and a bottle of water, I witnessed a robbery.

No sooner had I put the water bottle in one jacket pocket and the candy in the other when I heard about 5 very high-pitched screams. I looked at a scene which was about 60 or so feet from me and tried to interpret whether it was a playful scene or trouble was unfolding. I saw a red-headed woman with an orange jacket who was bent over and struggling with a man who was pulling a black strap over her head to get it off of her shoulder. I then saw her begin to chase him as she screamed that he had taken her camera.

I turned so as to give chase but then hesitated as i realized that my heavy backpack wouldn't enable me to catch him. I began to take it off and stopped. When my friend realized what I was contemplating, he offered to watch my backpack. I then put it down and gave chase.

I had seen the man run across K Street and go eastward to 13th Street. But when I got across the road after awaiting traffic, I couldn't see him. I asked people on the sidewalk which way he had gone. They pointed toward 13th Street, confirming my suspicions. I turned left onto 13th and headed north on the west shoulder, going past the firehouse which is located there. I still couldn't see him. I looked as far as the eye could see and couldn't locate him.

A man came driving out of the alley next to the firehouse and I asked him if he had seen anyone run back into the alley. He said "No". With no more than 30 seconds having elapsed from the time that I'd lost sight of him until the time that I first reached the firehouse, I figured he couldn't have run far enough to get out of sight and must have ducked and hidden somewhere. I turned back toward the firehouse and began to slowly and cautiously peek inside. That's when I found him standing with his back against the narrow sliver of wall that is between 2 garage doors. When he saw me he exited the firehouse and continued up 13th Street.

I chased him as he turned right and headed east on L Street. At that point I pulled my cell phone out of the holster and called 911 to ask for the police. He told me to stop following him and then turned around to chase me. I hung up and ran back toward 13th. he turned to run back toward 12th. I followed. This time he turned and chased me back toward 13th, turned right and ran north on 13th again. I had crossed to the south shoulder of L Street to put some distance between us (not quite at the intersection). I crossed back over to the north shoulder of L Street, went to the intersection with 13th and asked a Hispanic woman which way he had gone. She pointed northward and I spotted him walking. When I saw him going north on 13th, I called 911 again and began to follow at a distance once again.

He turned east by northeast on Massachusetts Avenue, ran toward 12th Street, found a limb that appeared to be approximately 3 feet long and 4 inches in diameter and ran toward me while threatening to kill me. I ran back toward 13th and stopped to see if he was behind me. I saw that he wasn't. However, there was a lot of traffic on Mass Ave at this point and I decided to see if he was hiding between vehicles or if he had, in fact, crossed the street. I couldn't find him and gave up.

A Caucasian man with blonde hair approached me and asked where the man I'd been chasing had gone. I told him I didn't know. He explained that he'd overheard me calling the cops as I ran and that he drove ahead of me to try and find the perpetrator but couldn't. He and I walked toward 12th Street as we spoke. Just then, several police vehicles pulled up and he walked ahead of me to speak to the cops. He then motioned back toward me and walked away.

I was out of breath and breathing heavily as I began to speak to the cops. One of them offered to call an ambulance, but I declined. There was a slight misunderstanding and a cop thought that I was claiming to be the victim. I explained that I was chasing the robber for the victim who was an Irish lady in Franklin Park. An officer explained that there were cops in the park and released me to return there and speak with them. I returned to the park at what would have to have been about 3:40 PM. (I'd chased the man from about 3:15 to 3:30, spoken to the cops for almost 5 minutes and then walked 2 blocks back to Franklin park.)

Upon re-entering the park, I spoke to the man who'd offered to watch my backpack. He told me who he'd passed it off to and i retrieved it. I saw that there were people giving out food that included fried chicken, but went instead to give the officers my account of events.

I spoke to several officers in the park, gave a written account on a note pad, and gave the victim my contact info. After giving the police all of the information that they needed, I walked away. Just then, the 2 ladies whom I'd left at the bus stop earlier called me over. I told them what had just transpired. After speaking with them for a few minutes, I left the park. It was 4:25. I went to the Chinatown Starbucks where I did a Facebook update about the robbery and began to write this.

Having missed several feedings during the afternoon, I had to stop typing this and go to Sunday Suppers, a feeding that occurs every Sunday at 6:30 PM in the parking lot of 4th and K Streets NW. I hung out with friends there for a while, but had to come back and finish this.


It is with great sadness that i say that the actions of the perpetrator are hurtful to the homeless in that it gives the police and the public a reason not to want the homeless in the park. Too many incidents like this could cause public officials to forbid anyone to feed the homeless in the park. As it turns out, there are some soup kitchens that only feed 5 days per week and the homeless are heavily dependent on the do-gooders who feed in the park. that is all the more reason for myself and others to do all we can to keep the park safe and to ensure that there is civil behavior there. People need to eat.

FINALLY, I saw indications that this could lead to some racial tensions in the future. As i returned to the park, I found out that another Afro-American had also attempted to chase the Hispanic robber. Then, during a short break in the investigation, I was approached by several Hispanic men who were unhappy about me having turned the robber in. They explained that he was upset about having his picture taken. I explained that you can't stop someone from taking your photo in a public space. The other Afro-American man made remarks about the Hispanics being responsible for all of the problems in the park and efforts that might be made to stop people from feeding the homeless. I saw a recipe for racial tensions there, but hope it doesn't come to that. One can only hope.


Anonymous said…
God Bless you Eric for your heroic effort! Your college interviewer. NH.

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