Forced to Shoot
In the fall of 1992, I was in college finishing up my degree in Criminal Justice and working part-time as a private investigator. Late one Saturday night, I was on a date with a girl from college who I had gone out with several times before. She lived in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood, a sketchy area just west of downtown Chicago. It bordered Humboldt Park, a gang-infested neighborhood to the south, and the notoriously violent, drug-ridden neighborhoods of Chicago’s West Side. Celina lived in a three flat building that had a dimly lit parking lot on one side, and butted up to a brick wall with no windows. I pulled into the parking lot and parked the car facing the wall. The radio was playing softly while we talked for a while. As the conversation lulled, I began to tell her how I enjoyed the conversation and her company. She told me that she had better go, because she lived with her Italian uncle who was very traditional. She didn’t want him to see her in the car with me for too long, lest he think I was up to something. I agreed, and told her that we should go out again sometime. I leaned over to give her a hug. As I leaned in, she turned her face towards mine and gave me a soft kiss on the lips. It was our first kiss and I didn’t want it to end, so I went in for a second one. She was receptive, and we started kissing. She closed her eyes, so I did the same.
At that moment I heard the driver’s side door of my car open. As I turned around to look and see who it was, I felt two impacts, one after another, hit the side of my face. I felt my head being jarred and saw stars. As I regained my bearings, I saw a Hispanic male in his early 20s standing between me and the open car door. Could this be her uncle? He seems too young, I thought. I then heard another man trying to open the passenger side door, which was locked. Celina was smarter than I and had locked her door. The man who had just punched me in the face twice was now grabbing me by my jacket lapels and was trying to pull me out of the car. I was frozen like a deer in the headlights. I had no idea what was going on, who these people were or what they wanted. After seeing me get hit twice in the face, Celina yelled at him. “Who are you guys?!!” The guy responded “Latin Kings motherf**ker!” At that point I realized that this was definitely not her uncle. As I started to come out of my frozen stupor, I remembered that I had large, metal flashlight from work- the type that can be used as an impact weapon. In what felt like a slow-motion movie, I grabbed the flashlight, lifted it up and struck the man who was trying to extract me from the car in the forearm. I heard the clang of the flashlight when I hit him, and became aware of how lightweight the flashlight seemed. I realized that there were no batteries in it. Not good. I just hit my attacker with an empty aluminum tube. Instead of chancing another forearm blow, the man started kicking me in my thigh. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to accomplish at this point, other than to continue his attack.
The second man started making his way across the front of the car towards my side, most likely in an effort to help his accomplice. As I observed him walking across the front of the car, I noticed in my field of view a can of pepper spray in a holster that I had clipped onto the sun visor. I usually kept it there so I wouldn’t forget to bring it to work. A light bulb in my head went off, and I formulated a plan. I pulled the pepper spray canister off of the visor and positioned it in my hand so that my thumb was on the actuator. I waited until the second guy came up to my side and was positioned in the open space between the side of the windshield and the driver’s side door frame. I raised the canister and sprayed my attacker in the face, then over to his accomplice and sprayed him in the face. My attacker started screaming, and ran away with his hands covering his face. The second man ran after him with squinty eyes. Celina and I got out of the car and watched as they ran away and got into a car. They were clearly having a hard time seeing, because as they tried to drive away they coasted for some time, sideswiping a parked car. Celina ran after them cursing. I yelled for her to come back, but her anger had taken over and there was no stopping all 95 lbs. of her. The rear driver’s side window on the perpetrator’s car was missing and had been taped up with a piece of plastic. As they coasted towards the main drag, Celina punched a hole through the plastic window, grabbed onto the car door with her other hand, and started punching the driver in the back of the head while the car was coasting forward! I couldn’t believe the what I was seeing. The driver then gunned it as he turned onto the main drag, and she was thrown from the vehicle and left spinning on her backside in the middle of the street. Despite her unwise and dangerous fit of anger she was unhurt, and I ended up dating her for several more years, fiery temper and all.
I called 911, and half an hour later a 50-something Chicago cop showed up to take the report. Expecting him to be sympathetic, I told him I was a private investigator and carried a gun at work. I then expressed that if I had had my gun with me, I would have shot the punk who attacked me. To my surprise and dismay, the old-timer responded by saying that had I shot him, he would have locked me up. “For what?” I snapped. “Carjacking is a forcible felony! It’s just like a home invasion! Why would you lock ME up?” I asked. “You said he didn’t have a weapon that you could see, right?” the cop asked. I nodded in agreement. “So, it’s your opinion that he was trying to carjack you, but he didn’t get your car. You can’t shoot someone just because they punched you in the face.” I was horrified by the cop’s response. His explanation contradicted everything my boss had taught me about using deadly force while armed. I knew in my gut that had I been armed that night, I would have shot my attacker. Being faced with the reality that had I done so, I could have been arrested and charged with a felony was shockingly disturbing to me.
That is when I realized that there was a gap in my knowledge that needed to be shored up. What I had been taught by my boss seemed to be completely contradictory to what this seasoned, veteran street cop was telling me. I needed to know who was right and who was wrong. I set out on a mission to set the record straight.
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