Sometimes you can love this town so much it hurts. The way it hurts to love an addict, a wayward child, a talented artist with self-destructive tendencies only he can fail to detect. The way you love a dog even after she tramples your garden. But, damn, don’t they make love hard sometimes. Sometimes you just want to scream so loud, the way this town has a talent for shooting itself in the foot.
I spent Saturday evening with Jeff Beck, the local musician who last year took a chance and bought into the dream of a revived arts district on the West Side. He spent $1 on a building that should have its picture next to the entry for “fixer-upper” in the dictionary. His house sits on Marcellus Street, a block from South Geddes, just behind the big brick Rockwest building on West Fayette. His two-story home was built in the 1870s, but a century and a half later it can barely be called a house, lacking such essentials as a kitchen and a bath. But it can certainly be called a home, because it contains love and, until very recently, a dog.
Tuesday afternoon a week ago, while Beck was at work, cops kicked in his door and searched the house, guns drawn, chasing the source of gunshots that probably were never fired. In their zeal they pushed open a door that let out Beck’s 4-year-old Pomeranian, Sadie. She made it only a few blocks before getting killed by a hit-and-run driver.
The police report says they feared that Sadie the poofie white dog was being used to guard drugs or guns. It’s hard to imagine mistaking the squeaky yap of a Pomeranian for the menacing growl of a Rottie or a pit bull, but then again it’s hard to figure out why anyone who had been paying attention would fail to notice all the new windows (29 of them) or the fresh coat of green paint on the front and side of the building.
“You ever see a drug dealer paint a house?’ asked a friend of Beck’s who stopped by to offer support.
Makes you wonder how cops assigned to a community police station just around the corner didn’t notice the man on the ladder all summer long painting that very house. Makes you wonder how a cop committed to protecting the neighborhood could fail to know the house was lived in when they had been called there twice by the owner in the past year. Police Chief Gary Miguel came by and apologized for the death of the dog, and offered compensation for the door. Incredibly, the chief indicated that the only problem was that the officers failed to leave the owner a note. Can we doubt that Beck is right when he says that this would not have happened in Sedgwick or Eastwood?
Fortunately for all of us, Jeff Beck is a tough cookie. He’s not going anywhere. It’s hard to say what recourse he will have. Politicians are more likely to diss their grandmothers than to criticize law enforcement. The Citizen Review Board is known as the place where complaints go to die. And the courts? Unless you have nothing but time and money to burn, don’t expect much.
Beck just wants things to change, so that nobody has to suffer what he has suffered. He and his tribe may be just what our police department needs.
Artists know that the trick to drawing with precision is ignoring what you think you see in order to see what is truly there. To do good police work, you have to be a trained observer. Fear or prejudice, testosterone or adrenaline, work against you when you’re trying to tell the difference between someone who’s simply poor and someone who’s a criminal, especially when they don’t look like you.
The musicians, too, have their role to play. As we stood on the sidewalk, Beck, who runs a recording studio in addition to singing in a band, demonstrated for me what happens when you clap your hands in front of his house. The report echoes off the three walls of the brick building, repeating and repeating, in crisp and distinct echoes. The clap echoes again and again. Gunshots? That may explain why no shell casings or bullets were found, and why, according to the police report, the case was closed without finding the source of the threat.
The officers involved should be sentenced to 20 hours of listening to the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, until they can distinguish the sound of the violin from the cello, better to assist them the next time in distinguishing the squeak of the Pomeranian from the menacing growl of the Rottie guarding the stash. They should be sentenced to endless sessions of listening to the Allman Brothers live at the Fillmore, to the opera, to Mamma Mia!, whatever it takes until they know by heart the sounds of the neighborhood they risk so much to protect. They should even be sent to the Landmark Theatre on Halloween to hear Beck and the rest of his band, Dracula Jones, tear the house down at midnight. We need our cops to be able to listen to us.
Postscript: You still gotta love this town. On Sunday I caught up with the Rev. Jim Mathews of St. Lucy’s, the Catholic Church just blocks away from where Beck lives. Father Jim couldn’t sleep the night before, thinking of how this could have happened to someone right in the neighborhood he loves. At 3 a.m. he had an epiphany, and decided that the next day he would go visit Beck right after Mass. He couldn’t make everything right, but he would do what he could. The people of St. Lucy’s, said the priest, would offer to buy their neighbor a new dog.