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— Tori Malcangio


Colorful El Cajon Police Stories

Shade of Orange

I scurried through dancing shadows to reach my carpool pick-up spot at the swimming pool-mailboxes annex within the condo complex. I glanced at my watch. It was 6:07 a.m. All was quiet except for nearby baby whimpers. My stomach growled at a cooked-bacon smell as bright headlights appeared at the corner. The car stopped halfway down the block for a few minutes and then began a slow approach in my direction. It wasn't my friend Judy but a squad car. Fear gripped my African-American heart along with all sorts of crazy thoughts.

"You know how these cops are when faced with weirdness!"

"You are in a heap of trouble, girl!"

"Quick, look for witnesses or, better yet, someone with a video camera!"

I perused the area, looking for somebody, anybody, but saw nobody. I ordered myself, "Girl, don't you move a muscle!" But my feet backed me up ever so slowly. El Cajon's finest, though barely moving, stopped abruptly. So I stopped. The car lurched forward and moved again in my direction. I continued backing up until I heard my full name called very clearly.

"You're scaring me!"

"Yes, I know this, ma'am."

He told me how Judy had sent him to inform me about her car troubles a few blocks away. He was trying to approach this woman of color so that I would not be afraid. I asked how we had moved away from a citizen's feeling of comfort at the sight of a policeman to such a public-relations nightmare. He didn't know but reported that El Cajon was putting measures in place to correct such a mistrusting state of affairs. He offered me a ride to the trolley station, for which I thanked him but declined.

For a long time after this incident, I trembled each time I caught sight of a squad car.

Shade of Yellow

In April 2006, I was scheduled to drive to Tucson, Arizona, for a family rendezvous. The day before, I'd left work early with a migraine. The migraine woke me the next morning, and I decided to cancel my trip. As I couldn't find my phone, I headed out to find a working pay phone. A police officer had ahold of my car door, and he was in a "business stance." He asked me who I was and where I lived. I told him my name and pointed to my second-floor apartment. He repeated his question, holding eye contact. He wanted me to recite my full name and full address! (At that moment, a squad car pulled up behind my car but kept the motor running.)

"Whatever has happened, Officer, I didn't do it!"

"That's what they all say, ma'am! You're supposed to be in Arizona and you left your phone at work."

"Is that now a crime?"

He smiled widely this time and explained that my cousin had called to request that they check on me since I was a "no-show" and had been ill. My coworkers called my sister in Oceanside to report my lost-cell-phone/migraine status. My sister called the cousins to give the cell phone update and was told that I had not yet arrived. The cousins called the police, who snapped into action to check up on me. Apparently, they'd knocked on my door with no answer and were minutes away from entering my home with the manager's key. I gave my heartfelt thanks for their prompt attention and cheerfully headed to collect my phone and call my troubled relatives.

I repeated this heartwarming story to my friends' surprise and relief many times in the next few months.

Shade of Blue

In 2006, I returned home to find my screen door locked from the inside. For the first time, I was afraid to enter my home. Who could I call at 10:30 p.m. at night? I called 9-1-1. A female dispatcher answered.

"Ma'am," I said, "this is probably not an emergency."

"Let me be the judge of that. What is the issue?"

"My screen door is locked from the inside, and I'm afraid to go into my house. I feel so-o-o stupid to call but don't know what else to do. My house is unkempt. This is embarrassing."

"That's the least of our worries. An officer is on the way. Describe yourself."

"I am a fluffy, slightly hysterical woman of color."

"I'll stay on the phone with you until the officer arrives. Try to calm yourself."

"The officer is here!"

"Good luck."

I cut through the screen door with a fingernail file, opened the door with my key, and the baby-faced officer courageously entered the dark residence alone. (I stayed outside, where a small group of onlookers had gathered.) He methodically went through the place, returned, dismissed spectators, and told me that my place was safe to enter. (Those doors can lock if shut forcefully.) I apologized again and again for the imposition, but he simply answered, "This is just one of the reasons that we exist, ma'am."

I slept like a baby that night.

Shade of Green

Recently, I saw two squad cars parked in my complex, near the pool-mailbox annex. (I needed to check my mailbox.)

"Good evening, Officers. Should I approach or not?"

"There's no need to worry, ma'am. If there's ever any trouble, we will warn you. We are simply here to help one of your neighbors."

"Have a good evening."

"You do the same, ma'am."

I don't know when it happened, but now, whenever I see El Cajon's finest, I no longer feel fear. (I feel something more akin to comfort.)

Forty years ago, my mother told me: "If one desires trust, one must be trustworthy; if courage would be fostered, one must be courageous; and, if someone exemplifies respect for all, that someone will most often receive respect in kind!"

— Ms. Linda Ridge Johnson


Scripps Ranch Daddy Dreams of Kensington

Didn't want to be here. Liked the old place better, in the city. A housekeeper's flat in the back of a Craftsman-riche palazzo in Kensington. We grew baby raccoons in winter, big shimmery spiderwebs in summer. Out back, a pot-bellied stove to burn persimmon leaves. Crazy Mike and his girlfriend Sheila, across the alley. Friday-night fights by the garbage cans, followed by the Saturday-morning truck. In the back alley, of course.

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