The Incident


Today I have to file a citizen’s complaint against a policeman.  This is not going to be a good day.

To understand what happened, you have to understand the culture of these high-rise HUD-subsidized apartment buildings.  You have one or two hundred single people living alone together.  They are poor, sick and/or old—and what do you expect?  They neither have jobs to make them feel productive nor families to make them feel comfortable, so a lot of the tenants spend their days gathering in common areas (e.g., community room, laundry room) to gossip and complain. 

Those of us who don’t want to whine and gossip have to isolate in our apartments and the gossipers end up running the place.  So that’s the way it is here.  And there’s this woman—I don’t know her name but she’s a big African-American woman—who’s been bothering me for a long time. I have no idea why she takes after me.  I don’t know of anything I did to get on her bad list. 

Maybe I didn’t do anything to her; maybe I unintentionally offended someone else in her clique; maybe she’s heard bad stories about me, based entirely on gossip and not at all on fact:  I don’t know.  All I know is that there is a history of bad blood from her to me.  When I’m out in the common areas, she watches me like a hawk.  She mutters under her breath or she loudly says something nasty and then walks away before I can reply.  She’s got major nastiness on me, and I don’t even know her name.

So yesterday, Sunday, around 7:45 p.m., I went downstairs to water my garden.  This involves filling a watering can twice from the faucet on the patio and then carrying it out to the garden.  There were about ten people sitting on the patio and talking.  We did not greet each other.  The woman was one of the dominant people in the group.  Judging from the silences and laughter as I went about my watering, I think they were making fun of me behind my back.  I ignored it.

After I was done watering I left the property and went elsewhere.  On my way back around 8:30 p.m., a block away I could hear this woman’s voice.  I wanted to ask her to lower her voice but she was sitting on the patio surrounded by her crew and I’m not completely stupid.  I don’t start trouble.  I don’t back down from it either.

When I was in the circle on my way inside at about 8:45 p.m., one of the Bosnian men came out of the building and walked toward Crouse Ave.  The loud woman from the patio came out and accosted him.  She is about 5’8”, weighs around 250 lbs., and was wearing a black shirt and white pants.  He’s about six inches shorter and a hundred pounds lighter, and speaks limited English.  She has no obvious health limitations; he was limping and using a cane.  When confronted by her, he was clearly at a disadvantage.

She started yelling at the man.  Apparently she and some other people had been on the patio Saturday night and someone had yelled something at them out a window.  The woman was of the opinion that the man had done it, and that’s why she was yelling at him.  She was cursing and screaming, using every swear word in the book, most of them twice.

The man was trying to say he hadn’t done anything and he didn’t know what she was talking about.  She yelled that he’d called her “a pussy.”  Given the limitations of his English, I doubt that he knew what that meant.

Because she is about twice the man’s size, I was worried and wheeled over to a position about six feet away from them and sat there silently watching.  She then turned on me, screaming ugly obscenities at me for “getting in [her] business.”  She was conducting “her business” on a public sidewalk; what did she expect?  About all I said was that if she had a problem with the man then she should file a complaint with the office, not verbally attack him.  She countered with (referring to my indwelling catheter) “I’m gonna rip that tube out of your pussy.”

By now the rest of the people had lined up by the front sidewalk and were watching all this.  The woman turned and went back to them, then the man and I had a little talk.  He told me he was Bosnian and came here because of bad things happening in his country.  (Yeah, really.)  He very kindly thanked me for my involvement, and told me I was a nice person.

Then another man walked up to the Bosnian.  The man was as slightly built, light-skinned African-American wearing glasses and, I think, a head scarf.  He, too, accosted the Bosnian and said something about having talked to the Bosnian’s mother, who also is a tenant in the building, at which point the Bosnian man became alarmed, defensive, and repeatedly told the black man, “Not my mother; leave my mother alone.”  Later he told me that she’s 84 years old.

At this point, I called the police.  The Bosnian man sat down on the ground in front of my wheelchair in a protective manner.  An officer arrived within two or three minutes.  We talked on the circle and I told him my version of what happened.  The black man sat on a bench where he could monitor our conversation, then the policeman went and talked to the woman on the patio who was, of course, calm and pleasant to him. 

The policeman said the woman had not committed a crime so they could not get her name, which meant that I could not file a complaint with the apartment building manager.  Swearing and attacking another tenant in a common area of the building is a lease violation; do it three times and you can get evicted.  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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4 Responses to The Incident

  1. Kate says:

    According to HUD’s ‘Resident Rights and Responsibilities’: Tenants must -“Conduct themselves in a manner that will not disturb (your) neighbors”. You may have a case against this tenant, who according to this blog, verbally threatened explicit bodily harm, which may be the basis for a civil or criminal complaint. Your detailed written complaint should be directed to HUD and to building management so there is a record and it goes in this tenant’s file. Her verbal attack might also be considered 1st degree harassment. The NYS Warranty of Habilitability covers public areas as well as your apartment and guarantees a “safe” environment. Don’t let this bully (who seems to pick on immigrants and PWD) publically threaten and slander you! Look into this. No, I am not a lawyer, but you are not a doormat for other people’s frustrations and prejudices either!

  2. pro police says:

    FYI, the Syracuse Community Review Board found that the Officer’s actions were appropriate in this incident. For those that do not know, the Syracuse CRB is an independent panel that investigates Police Officers and complaints made against them. The CRB is very impartial and an alternative to the police departments internal affairs. Basically if the CRB finds that an officer acted appropriately, he did!!!! Hopefully this post remains here so people know the truth and another Officer’s reputation is not tarnished because this is only one side of the story.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Dear Pro Police,

      One of the differences between you and I is that I sign my name when I write something. Here are a couple other facts: the Dept. of Internal Affairs no longer exists. It is now called the Office of Professional Standards (OPS). When a complaint is filed with OPS, they copy it to the Citizen Review Board (CRB) (not the “Syracuse Community Review Board” as you say). OPS’ determination was that the officer should have told me the name of my antagonist. I have not yet read the decision from the CRB; how did you get it?

      Anne C Woodlen

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