A really strange story that started with poop made me question my values

OPINION: An incident with an intruder made me realize that my political perspective was at odds with my personal, emotional feelings.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The story starts with poop. My son went down to the ground floor of our Brooklyn apartment building to get the mail and came back empty-handed because, he said, it smelled really bad in the hallway because there was poop on the front door of our building. I said, “What? What do you mean?” I went down with some products and some paper towels to find a huge mass of sloppy, wet, light-brown poop slowly sliding down our door. What is happening??? Who would do this? How do I clean it? 

The time was about 9:45 p.m., and I had to complete this disgusting task right away because the poop would only smell worse as time went on, and also, I had to leave soon. During the winter, I play tennis at night at an indoor spot about 15 minutes away by car. I had a court at 10:30 p.m., so I had to clean this up fast to avoid being late. I laugh now because I thought cleaning up poop would be the biggest problem I would have all night. It ended up being the least of my issues. 

I called my neighbor. She’s always so nice. She let me borrow her hose. With the help of hose water and Clorox, I got it cleaned up in a few minutes. The woman who lives in the apartment below us — let’s call her Sarah — had already watched the security footage showing some man pooping on our building and called the police. They arrived at 10:15 p.m. as I was running to my car. They took a report during which they struggled with how to spell defecate. (There are no i’s in that word, people.) The police left at about 10:20, and my wife went into Sarah’s apartment to talk for a moment. She did not have her phone. Then someone pressed the front door buzzer. Assuming it was the cops, someone let them in. It was not the cops.

A moment later, Sarah’s front door opened. Sarah, her husband Peter and my wife were face to face with the guy who had pooped on our door. The Poopatrator. He had opened their door and walked in. He was short with a messy beard and dark clothes. He was racially ambiguous — possibly Latino or Middle Eastern but possibly a white guy who hadn’t showered in a while. Peter yelled at him to leave. The Poopatrator smiled and said, “I live here.” At that point, they knew that they were dealing with someone who was mentally ill. Peter yelled at him again, and the man turned and walked out. Peter closed the door behind him and locked it. Everyone thought it was over, but it was not. 

My wife thought that he had left, but then she thought, wait, what if he didn’t? What if he went upstairs one floor where our children were sitting alone in our apartment? She wanted to run to them, but she was afraid that he was lingering in the hallway, and she might lead him to our kids. And she didn’t have her phone. And the kids weren’t answering their phones when she used Sarah’s phone. They weren’t answering because the guy was there.

He had done what she’d feared — he walked upstairs one flight, found our front door and walked in. Suddenly, my daughter, 13, and my son, 15, were alone in our living room with this mentally unstable person. He said, “I live here.” The kids were frozen with fear. Hearts racing. What do we do? They did nothing and didn’t move a muscle, which was probably the best thing to do. A moment later, he turned around and left. As that was happening, my wife was calling me. I was walking onto my court at exactly 10:30 p.m. when I got a call from Peter’s phone which I knew was strange. My wife was on Peter’s phone sounding frantic. “Call the kids and tell them to lock the door!” I hung up and called my son. He didn’t answer right away. I hung up and called my daughter. She answered. She calmly said, “The guy already left.” What do you mean the guy left? My wife had not told me anything. My daughter said, “He was in our place.” You mean he was in the lobby downstairs? “No, he was, like in our apartment.” I said I’ll be right there. I grabbed my stuff and ran to my car and raced home. 

It takes about 15 minutes to get from the tennis club to my house. I made it in eight. As I pulled up, four cops were looking for him. They found him a block away from our place. I finally came face to face with him as the four cops stood around him. He was in handcuffs, but he was smiling in a way that was incongruent with the moment. He was kind of waving his head the way Stevie Wonder does when he’s really feeling it. It was clear that he wasn’t well. He kept trying to talk to me, but I ignored him. He kept calling me the n-word — with an a — as part of trying to talk to me, but his sentences were nonsensical. Cops ran his name and found he’d been detained over eight times. They said he’s probably schizophrenic.

Still, I was angry. I thought about lunging at him, but I knew that wouldn’t make things better. I asked an officer what he was being charged with. He said nothing. What? He said, he’s an emotionally disturbed person, that’s the term he used, who’s had many interactions with the police. He’s in an agitated state. If we take him to the precinct he could be a danger to himself or to others in the cell. Couldn’t take him there. Also, he said, no district attorney would press charges on someone like him given that he hadn’t attempted to harm anyone or steal anything. 

At that point, I felt myself in a bit of a crisis. Intellectually, I strongly believe that the police should not be arresting mentally ill people as often as they do. Mayor Eric Adams has emboldened the police to be more aggressive toward mentally ill people with his policy of removing them from the streets involuntarily. I believe there should be a separate branch of the city that can dispatch medically trained people who don’t have guns and cell keys but are trained and compassionate. I believe we should have a more humane response to the mentally ill folks around us, most of whom are much more of a danger to themselves than to other people.

But the people who say “a Democrat is just a Republican who has yet to be mugged” are onto something because, in my heart, I was angry. I wanted justice. This man had come into my home and scared my children. I wanted vengeance. I wanted the authorities to punish him and make sure he’d never come back. So my political perspective was at odds with my personal, emotional feelings. I mean, I want the mentally ill to be dealt with in a humane way, except when one of them does something to my family. Then I want the book thrown at them. I’m bathing in hypocrisy. 

When the ambulance showed up, and the cops loaded him in, I thought, OK I have to live by my principles. I can’t change my feelings about what should happen because it happened to me and mine. If I believe that the mentally ill shouldn’t be arrested if at all possible then I can’t say, well, except when it happens to me. I gotta be consistent. Also, the cops were no longer listening to me. They were dealing with how they would transport this erratic person. I became invisible to them as they hyper-focused on him. So I went back into my place and locked the door. I hugged my wife because her nerves were shot. I called the kids into our bedroom and talked to them about it all, helping them begin to process what had happened.

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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