The guy was coming out of the dry cleaners on a pleasant Saturday morning. He was walking over to the taco place when a homeless woman sprayed his eyes with pepper spray.
The woman ran away, tossing bricks at cars as she went. The fire department came and helped the man pour milk into his eyes.
Then he got his taco.
The police never came.
I mean, if they'd come, what would they have done? The firefighters are all paramedics, making them very useful in situations like this. The police? Pretty much useless as things stand.
They could arrest the woman, but then what? There's no cash bail, meaning she would be out on the street before the paperwork was done. And without that paperwork, it won't even count as a crime.
Saturday in Venice, California. And believe it or not, this is better than the way things had been. Venice is an expensive neighborhood if you're one of those who actually pays to live there.
At the first Los Angeles mayoral debate, all but one of the candidates agreed that homelessness was the biggest problem facing the city. The sole holdout said it was the cost of affordable housing, which is an almost entirely different problem.
There are too many families cramped together in bad housing. There are also too many criminals living on the streets.
On the polls, it comes out as a problem of homelessness.
Probe even a little and we're talking about crime.
Probe even a little bit more and we're talking about the police and the local prosecutor giving up control of the streets.
Defunding the police might as well be the theme of a '60s movie. It is not happening, nor should it. Crime is up, but the fear of crime is up even more. One feeds the other.
There's a famous study that was done of places residents in a particular neighborhood found dangerous. To no one's surprise, a corner where young people hung out was considered among the most dangerous spots. In fact, it hadn't been. But as concerns grew, people stayed away — and the more people stayed away, the more crime increased.
Fear of crime can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy when it causes law-abiding people to adjust their conduct. If people are afraid to ride the buses, the buses become more dangerous. If they believe buses are safe, they will be.
Police presence matters not only because of what a single police officer walking a beat can do but because of the way the rest of us behave when we think the police are there. Graffiti and disorder, what we consider the quality-of-life offenses, affect crime because they affect the optics of who controls the street.
Cover it with graffiti and I'll be looking for the gangbangers. Add a crossing guard and I'll watch out for children and dogs. Add a security guard and he might tell the homeless woman to move on, something the police these days can't even do.
I wouldn't be surprised to see a guard outside the taco stand. The private security business is thriving.
It wasn't so long ago that the streets were filled with protestors challenging the overuse of force. Those issues remain as important as they ever were. But the crime issue cannot be a choice between toughness and racism or, frankly, toughness will win.
If reformers do not embrace the growing fear of crime and address it with answers that include punishing that homeless woman for risking a man's eyesight for no reason at all, then the demagogues will. All is not well at the taco stand, or anywhere else for that matter.
Susan Estrich is a politician, professor, lawyer and writer. Whether on the pages of newspapers such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post or as a television commentator on countless news programs on CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, CBS and NBC, she has tackled legal matters, women's concerns, national politics and social issues. Read Susan Estrich's Reports — More Here.