Victim's pain is soothed by a caring police officer

December 14, 1993|By WILEY A. Hall

There are a bunch of city trucks parked in a lot at Colvin and Gay streets, and sometimes one or two of them are left unlocked. When you are homeless, things like that are important to know.

So Anthony Harper went to Colvin and Gay streets Wednesday, looking for an empty truck where he could spend the night.

"Usually, I try to stay over to the mission at Baltimore and Gay," says Mr. Harper. "But they close the doors at 8 p.m., so I couldn't make it."

"Why are you homeless?" I ask.

Mr. Harper shrugs. He is 40 years old and of medium build and he's dressed in the drab clothes -- faded and frayed -- that homeless people seem to wear. It is like a uniform, like urban camouflage. He says he's been living on the streets for a couple of weeks.

"That's, like, a very complicated thing," he says. "I used to be staying down by my sister's, but she just got married, and, well, you know. Like I say, it's awkward to go into."

Mr. Harper and I spoke Friday. He has a story he wants to share with the rest of us: Call it a "day-in-the-life" type story, a tale from this, the naked city.

Anyway, Wednesday Mr. Harper found an open truck and bedded down for the night in the cab. He had a blanket with him and a Walkman-style radio and a bag containing some extra clothes. The TV weatherman described Wednesday as "mild," but it felt bitterly cold. The stars were out.

Mr. Harper huddled under his blanket and went to sleep.

"OK, so it must have been around 11:30 and I heard this loud -- it sounded like an explosion. I looked up and what it was, was this guy breaking the window of the truck, trying to get at me."

The intruder dragged Mr. Harper out of the truck. They struggled. The man threw a punch and hit Mr. Harper in the head. He threw another punch and hit him in the chest. Mr. Harper staggered backward, then turned and ran, leaving his few possessions behind.

A couple of blocks away, at Fayette and Gay Streets, he came to a group of police officers: blue strobes from their patrol cars flashing, chatter from their radios piercing the night.

They had a man spread-eagled against a wall.

"Get out of here!" shouted an officer as Mr. Harper approached.

"Sir, I just got robbed!"

"Move along!" shouted another officer.

"Go to Central District, if you want help," ordered a third.

At Central, a guard in the lobby ordered Mr. Harper to return to the scene of the crime and call police using the 911 telephone number.

"But hey!" recalls Mr. Harper. "I had just gotten robbed there. I was afraid to go back there. What would I look like, going back there?"

So he walked a few blocks to near Fallsway and called 911. That's when the tenor of his story changed.

"A police officer arrived in a few seconds and he was very nice, very polite," says Mr. Harper.

"He seemed very concerned about me as a person -- not like those others who ran me away. He took me back to the scene and checked out the other trucks, to make sure that man wasn't there. . . . He asked me if I would be staying here on other nights and when I said I was, he said he'd come through every now and then to check on me."

Says Mr. Harper: "That officer made me feel like a human being. I wanted people to know. Not all the police officers are like those others. He touched me to my heart."

The officer took out a file card and wrote down his own name, the complaint number and the station telephone number. Then he handed the card to Mr. Harper.

Folded inside the card was a $10 bill.

"Man, he touched me to my heart," says Mr. Harper again. "I couldn't believe it. Then he just turned away, without saying anything -- like he didn't want me to thank him."

Instead, Mr. Harper called the Baltimore Sun.

"I think people ought to know what type of man he is, what type of officers are out there," says Mr. Harper. "All we hear about are the bad ones -- the ones that don't care, like the first ones I ran into."

The officer's name is Michael McGee from the Eastern District. Anthony Harper wanted us to know about him.

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