30 years ago today

Thirty years ago today I was held up and shot in the head at point blank range. The bullet remains lodged in my brain. If you think this is a difficult day for me, it is anything but. In fact, the anniversary of the shooting finds me with an extra spring in my step, as the saying goes. First, the remarkable truth and gift that I still have my life is never lost on me on this day. That truth has a little extra glow to its already formidable luster.

I don’t spend a lot of time (anymore) thinking about the details of that morning. I was held up by two people, one, a teenager, was the shooter. I never did see the second person, the one who emptied my pockets while the kid held the gun to the side of my head. It was around five in the morning and it was dark and no one except the three of us was around.  After the person relieved me of the $63 in my pockets, the kid shot. I came to on the ground and somehow, I have no idea how because I have no memory of it, I got back to my feet. Soon a voice from down the street called out to me. I saw a slender man in pajamas hurrying towards me. I would later  learn his name. Mark Jenkinson. He was and is an extraordinary photographer and gifted writer.

The reality of that experience was, and in some respects, still  is,  out of my comprehension’s reach. I didn’t learn how far out of reach until the first year anniversary when I got together for dinner with friends, including Mark, at the 7A Café in the Lower East Side.  It was Mark who introduced me to  how beyond my comprehension’s reach that morning was, and how remarkable the human mind is at getting us through life’s rougher waters.

We sat together at dinner’s end and I told him my memory of that morning. That I’d heard him call out and when he reached me he took me by the arm and said, “My wife’s calling the police and ambulance,” and how we began walking towards his house and how I could see he was struggling to stay composed because I was bleeding profusely (20 percent of your body’s blood supply is in your head) and how when I saw police cars from the NYPD’s 84th Precinct in Brooklyn coming up the street I pulled him into the street and flagged them down because I was afraid they wouldn’t see us in the dark and that would mean the end of me.  And, how, when they stopped, I got into the back of the lead cop car under my own steam.

Mark gave me a gentle smile and said, “You’re completely wrong. The only thing you’re right about is you were lucid. The fact is you kept falling down and getting up when I saw you.” He went on to explain that he was laying me down on the front steps of his house when the police arrived and that I had to be helped into the back of the cop car. His more accurate memory of that morning was, while emotional to absorb, comforting because it made more sense. I realized that my memory of that morning reflected the mind’s capacity for survival. My mind was only allowing me to perceive what it could handle. Had it let me know the reality of my physical condition my ability to be lucid would have perished, and I probably would have to.

So, here’s to the miracle of life. Here’s to the all too few truly courageous and compassionate people like Mark, and lastly, here is my message to you. Remember to live. Please remember to live.

Thoughts on Four Murdered Cops

One of the things on my bucket list is saving a law enforcement officer’s life. They saved mine. In 1984 when I was held up and shot in the head at point blank range, members of the NYPD’s 84th Precinct were there in a flash and took me to the hospital. When I heard that four police officers from the City of Lakewood in Washington state were murdered in cold blood my bucket list commitment strengthened and my heart broke.

They four murdered officers are, Tina Griswold, 40; Ronald Owens, 37; Mark Renninger, 39; and Greg Richards, 42. They had families, friends, people who loved them, people they loved. They had dreams and hopes. And, they had a right to live out their lives. If that doesn’t break your heart, consider this; as a result of their murders, nine children have lost a parent. Renninger has three kids, Owens has one, Griswold has two and Richards has three

Law enforcement officers are human beings. Too many forget that. With a media addicted to reporting the worst in people, cops get ink when one of them abuses someone, does the wrong thing. And yes, when a law enforcement officer crosses the line, they deserve to be taken to task like anyone else. But the family of law enforcement officers across this nation do not deserve to be defined by the mistakes of some. The cops that raced to the scene when I got shot had no damned idea what they were walking into. Shots fired, man screaming for help. What can the get from that other than there has been gunfire? But they came anyway to stop the gunfire and try and save my life and they didn’t even know me! Their actions, going towards gunfire as opposed to away from it, are heroic by any measure, yet, in my case, as in the case of those like me, the media didn’t so much as lift a pen in interest.

There are four human beings dead now who had taken a job so they could protect and save lives like yours and mine.

I am sure I am not alone when I say I wish I could have protected them and saved their lives. All of my heart and soul is with their families and friends, and with their colleagues, and with all members of the law enforcement family in my country.

I am no one special and am anything but superman, but I will make this promise; if I ever encounter a situation where a law enforcement officer is being threatened or attacked, every ounce of my being will look to protect the life of the law enforcement officer. To those who might say, but Peter, you don’t even know these people or why risk your life, my answer is a simple one. The cops that saved my life didn’t know me and they risked their life to protect mine. They deserve to same and, for what it’s worth, they’ll  get it from me.

MEMOIR EXCERPT: I REMEMBER

Dear Reader,

From time to time in this blog, though not in awhile, I publish an excerpt from the memoir I am working on. I am closing in on the end of this task, a scary and emotional proposition. When writing the following piece, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. In fact, when it got to the part where the young man is begging for his life, I had to get up and leave the writing table. I did not return until the next day. It is striking to me how one can have a memory, much like something on a shelf, and manage its presence with some semblance of composure, yet, when you write the memory, you take it down from the shelf and live it. And then there is little shelter. Anyway, thank for for taking the time to read this, and I hope your life and the life of your loved ones is going well.

Peter S. Kahrmann, April 7, 2008

_______________________

I remember.

It is 1981 and I am walking down Court Street in Brooklyn with Charlie, a friend of mine. We hear angry voices behind us yelling and screaming. We turn and see a young black man running his heart out down the center of Court Street. He is coming towards us and he is being chased by maybe 20 angry young white boys, mostly teenagers. The young black man who looks to be in his twenties runs past us. His face is lit wild with terror.

Voices scream, “Get that fucking nigger! Get that nigger!” I tell Charlie get to the other side of the street, lets stay with this.

We are running on either side of the angry crowd of young whites now, watching what happens. Some are carrying sticks, pieces of two-by-four. One carries a piece of rebar about the length of a baseball bat. I am hoping the young black man will get away.

He doesn’t.

They catch him and the angry young white with the rebar slams it across the back of the young black man. He crumbles to the ground. He trys to get up but another angry young white breaks a piece of wood across his back. The young black man wobbles upwards and is downed again when a bottle is smashed across his head. There is blood now. He is on the ground screaming. “Please God don’t kill me! Please God! Please God! I have a wife and children! Please God! Please God don’t let them kill me!”

I lock eyes with Charlie and motion for him to call the police. I move fast into the crowd, reaching the young black man through a barrage of kicks and pounches. There is a pause in the violence, a sudden quiet, the angry mob does not know what to make of me. I pull the young black man up into my arms and hold him against a parked car so it shields him on one side. I shield him on the other.

Some in the angry mob try to reach past me and punch him. When this happens, I push the young black man into a crouch so he is out of reach and aim hard words back at the crowd, now nothing more than a single rage-filled being: seething, pulsing, breathing as one, dripping with hate.

I say, “What the fuck are you doing? You really want to kill him? You want to go to jail for him?”

One reaches in again. I shove him back hard and our eyes meet. I know if this mob explodes into us I will have to damage or kill someone quickly. Suddenly a big Italian man joins me in protecting the young black man. He is older than all of us, huge and burly, powerful, no nonsense. His presence nearly stills the mob completely. Later I find out he is one of the powers in the neighborhood and deeply respected by all.

Police units arrive and take the bleeding terrified young man to the hospital. I thank the big Italian man. He says, “Hey, I hear him say he got a wife and kids. That’s all I gotta hear. The man’s got family.”

The police say they are taking the young black man to Long Island College Hospital. The police are from the 84th Precinct, the same precinct that will save my life and take me to the same hospital just three years later.

NYPD AND FDNY STARTING PAY IS A DISGRACE

Maybe it is just me but I think if you agree to take a job exoects you to give up your life to protect mine, your starting pay should be more than $25,100 a year. In fact, it should be more than $36,400 a year. These are the starting annual salaries for the New York City Police Department and the New York City Fire Department, the NYPD being the lowest of the two.

Someone recently told me the starting salary for the NYPD was $25,100. I thought they were joking. “Are you kidding? That’s New York City, bro” I said. “You’re lucky if you can put food on the table for that kind of money.” He as not kidding. And so, I looked at the FDNY’s starting salary too. Yes, more than the NYPDs, but at $36,400, it is a disgrace.

Before I continue here, let me say that I am very biased. The NYPD’s 84th Precinct in Brooklyn saved my life in 1984 when I was held up and shot in the head at point blank range. It was just after five in the morning and a slew of police units were there in a flash. Some might say, So what? That’s there job. But no one with that mindset is thinking it through. These men and women raced to a scene where there was gunfire and one person wounded. They did not know me from Adam. They did not know what they were coming into. A gang fight? Was there still shooting? When they got to me, did they know if the shooter was nearby, and maybe crazy enough to shoot one of them? These are men and women with families. Some are parents, all are sons and daughters, all are human beings. And they raced to help me knowing damned well that where there is gunfire there is the chance of being killed. And there starting pay is $25,100! Are you kidding me? That is a base salary of $483 a week – before taxes. And for firefighters, the base salary is $700 a week – before taxes.

Now I know that there are those who will say, well, they get overtime and good benefits. Others will no doubt point to cases of police brutality and misconduct. My response to this is simple. Cops or firefights who break the law or engage in misconduct do so because of who they are as individuals – NOT because they are cops or firefighters. There is not a profession out there that does not have its fair share of fuck-ups. Have you taken a gander at Washington lately?

For anyone who disagrees with me and thinks I am wrong when I say the starting salaries should not be a penny less than $52,000 a year (Look, $1,000 a week for someone who has taken a job that asks them to give their life to protect yours and mine is not even in the same ballpark as overpaid) – I have a little exercise for you.

Sit back in your chair and relax for a moment. Take a deep breath, exhale slowly. Okay now. Close your eyes and remember the breathtaking courage displayed by so many firefighters and police officers on 9/11. Remember the images of firefighters going up the stairs while civilians were racing down the stairs to safety.

Now open your eyes and repeat the following sentence aloud. I think New York City Police officers should be paid a starting weekly salary of $483 and I think New York City firefighters should be paid a starting weekly salary of $700.

If you are not feeling sick inside right now, shame on you. If you are not feeling sick inside right now, you sure as hell do not have the strength of character displayed by the NYPD and FDNY on 9/11, and you sure as hell do not have the strength of character in the men and women from the 84th Precinct that saved my life. And if you are making $1,000 or more a week – you are probably overpaid.

AN AMBER ALERT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT

It is time for a nationwide Amber Alert for law enforcement officers and I am calling on New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lead the way.

Today I learned a New York State Trooper was shot to death and two others were wounded in the Catskills. It appears the man who shot the troopers, Travis D. Trim, 23, of North Lawrence, New York, was killed in a shoot-out with the State Police. Last summer Ralph “Bucky” Philips shot three New York State Troopers, killing one. He was caught after a five-month manhunt and is serving two life sentences. One wonders if Philips would have been caught sooner had an Amber-Alert type system been in place.

Is this personal for me? You bet it is. My life was saved by the New York City Police Department’s 84th Precinct in 1984 when I was held up and shot in the head at point blank range. All alone and bleeding to death from a head wound with the bullet lodged in my brain, I was able to get back to my feet, but my life would have soon ended if several units from the 84th Precinct hadn’t arrived lightening fast and taken me to the hospital.

I would propose calling the alert the Gregory alert, in honor of Brother Gregory Myles, a counselor at the New York State Police Academy, who selflessly tends to the hearts, minds and souls of those in the trooper family who are impacted by violence.

The Amber Alert website says the alert has saved the lives of hundreds of children. There is no doubt the Gregory Alert would have a similar effect. When these alerts are triggered, law enforcement notifies broadcasters, state and city transportation officials, radio and television programming is interrupted, alerts appear on highway signs, in e-mails, on wireless devices and on the internet.

When someone hurts or takes the life of a man or woman that has pledged to protect our lives with their own, an alert like this is the least we can do.