Current occupation: police officer
Former occupation: Caterer
Contact Information: Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Eugene Durante is an NYPD patrol officer and front row observer of the offbeat. City University of New York educated, Durante received his B.A. degree in Criminology and his Master's in Public Administration. A brutally honest person, "Gino" is well-known for not stroking others and not getting stroked in the process.
A Tale of Stop (And Not) Frisk
I'm on a Manhattan-bound train staring out the window as it leaves Brighton Beach. The train is nearly empty after midnight, and I'm positioned by the door in what would, over years, become my "patrol stance"- standing sideways, facing the length of the car, right elbow resting on my firearm, and left boot heel wedged into the door partition.
I'm on the left side of the train as it lurches northbound picking up passengers either en route to a night shift, or a New York night out. The crisp air rushes in the door at every stop as I embrace the silent effect of the late night/cold weather radio. With exactly one year on the job I haven't yet learned how the best crime fighting efforts are not attributed to police brass or politicians, but rather the cold and rainy tendencies of mother nature.
My assignment to late night train patrol was precipitated earlier that winter by a 'lushworker.' He was cutting open the pockets of sleeping passengers to remove personal items while they slept. The crime was not atypical for the hour or area, and the perpetrator's description from eyewitness accounts was a male black, 18-30 years old, wearing a black jacket, black pants, and armed with a box cutter. My platoon had been briefed numerous times about the robbery pattern, and with rookie ambition we certainly contributed our share of the stop and frisk reports generated that year by the NYPD.
As the train pulled into the Neck Road station I noticed an unusual figure across the way. He furtively moved on the Coney Island platform. His back was towards me, but in just a few seconds I had him locked in my vision. He was a tall black male with braided hair. He wore a full length black jacket and black pants. His hands were in front of him and he was awkwardly walking left to right while facing the wall. I could not tell if he was kicking the wall, marking it with paint, or moving back and forth while urinating. I quickly sprung from my leaning position, and off the train.
Utilizing the advice of veteran train patrol officers, I tactically stepped out of view down a few exit stairs and surveyed the cloaked figure. Fortunately his train had also just left and I knew I had plenty of observation time before I would move in. His behavior persisted, so I crossed over for a closer look. While sneaking up the far staircase on his side, I made a common rookie mistake.
My radio had come screeching alive and I quickly muffled it with my hands. The male froze, then looked around. I was surprised he picked up the noise from the distance, but Neck Road is an eerily silent and creepy place late at night. Prior to renovation the station was a spawning ground for rats and pigeons. Even today there isn't enough revenue to justify staffing the token booth after sunset.
Broad shouldered, the curious figure turned my way and stood silent as I slowly approached. His hands were at his sides and his fingers were spread apart. He looked about 40 years old from the sporadic gray hair at the base of his braids. I sensed he was no stranger to being stopped by the police.
"How you doing," I casually stated, utilizing a common New York greeting.
"I'm lost," he said, "I fell asleep on the train."
Getting closer, I noticed his black dress shoes and black suit beneath the trench coat, and I let my guard down a bit
"Must have been a good sleep," I said, "You’ve drooled on yourself."
He started wiping is outer coat with a handkerchief as he awkwardly looked away and not at the stain as most people would. Then I noticed his walking stick and backpack on the floor next to the garbage pail.
"I know my home station perfectly," he said, gathering his articles, "but I have no idea where I am now. Thank you very much for being here."
"Just check your belongings, Sir. Unattended items grow legs quickly in Brooklyn. These scummers will steal your walking stick if you didn't pay attention."
He smiled, and with that we broke the ice.
Escorting the gentleman to the other platform, he quickly reminded me of a forgotten lesson from the police academy, let the blind person grab your arm for better guidance. We exchanged names as I led him back to a bench and awaited the next train.
He asked how long I was on the job. I replied, and I then inquired if he was born blind or lost his vision over time.
“I lost my sight in the last decade, but I can still see silhouettes,” he said,
“That’s very fortunate,” I encouraged.
“Sometimes I wish I never had vision though,” He said while adjusting his long coat in the seat. “I think I’d have less anxiety overall.”
Not understanding his point, he went on to explain…
“Instead of becoming a man and earning my independence in the world, I have to live with my mother and sister for support. I’m blessed that I still have family, but I always dreamed of moving out of the ghetto after college. It’s sad enough that I’ve changed, but I have witnessed myself become a different person to others. To the outside world I’ve become a “He,” as in, would “He” like a chair or a booth, or would “He” like another cup of coffee… as if I never existed.”
His voice cracked a bit now, “You have no idea what it feels like when I go shopping and I ask the salesman if a shirt is a light or darker tone of black, and he answers me, “Does it really matter?”
“You know, I used to always date hot women, and now I’m alone. Heck, I don’t even know what the Spice Girls look like!”
Becoming reflective for a moment, the blind man stared toward the darkness saying nothing. Then the rattle of a train in the distance started vibrating the tracks. We boarded the next train together arm in arm to his home station. On our way we discussed our experiences growing up in Brooklyn and how the city was changing. Stepping off the train he softly pushed my arm away. “I got this,” he said, and he breezed up the stairs and out to street level in no time. I offered to walk him home, but he insisted I should not.
“I understand. We both have reputations to protect in these parts.” I joked. We extended a meaningful hand shake and that half-a-hug gesture that men do so well.
“Hey, Durante” he said, ”Thanks again for being there, and more importantly, thank you for treating me like a regular guy.”
I watched him walk away as my rookie radio reverberated off the walk-up buildings along Marlborough Road.
Looking back, I recognize how poignant the compliment was. Although I do not remember his name, a heartfelt compliment was rare experience prior to September 11th. As police officers, we’re conditioned to think our careers are defined by newsworthy events, but too often we overlook the touching moments that help us become better cops and better human beings.