A worthwhile waste of time

    The subpoenas were flying. For the fifth time in the last two weeks, my general manager, Ralph, had been called down to the Hall of Justice to appear before the Grand Jury.
   He would spend most of the day there again, just when I needed him most. But you donít argue with a subpoena.
    Iím still not sure why the district attorney targeted Ralph and let me off the hook. But I was free as a bird, and poor Ralph was practically living at the Hall of Justice.
    While that may sound intriguing, it is hardly the case. Ralph was simply called to testify against suspected looters who trashed and stole thousands of dollars in merchandise from one of my San Francisco retail stores during the riot night of April 30.
    The police had arrested up to 10 individuals who had been in possession of stolen Raider and 49er jackets and team hats, ostensibly taken from our store. The district attorney needed to convince the Grand Jury there was enough evidence to prosecute.
    Ralph, who had wisely been home snoozing while the store was being ransacked, was certainly no eyewitness. His duty was to identify the merchandise as ours (which wasnít difficult since the price tags were still attached) and then testify that the looters did not have our permission to break through $2,500 in windows and plunder our store at 1 in the morning.
    Ralph has been sworn to secrecy by the Grand Jury, so I canít be certain that is the question he is being asked. But I do know the district attorney asked me the identical question while conducting a preliminary investigation. My exasperated response probably led him to believe I would crack if asked the same question before the Grand Jury. Maybe thatís why they chose Ralph.
    Itís been a difficult few weeks. The cleanup from the looters was the easy part. The store was back in operation the same day, the glass replaced over the weekend.
    Whatís been difficult is observing a few of the local street people with their new wardrobes. Itís hard to ignore a kid in a brand new Raider jacket that is two sizes too big for him. But heck, it was dark, and who had time to try on sizes?
    Worst of all was one kid who came in two days after the looting and wanted to exchange a 49ers hat for a Raiders hat. When told he needed a receipt, he looked as though he didnít know such a thing existed. "Oh, man," he said, storming out.
    He may be back for the exchange. My only fear is that he wonít come in by the front door.
    Perhaps all of us around here are a little paranoid. Getting looted will do that to you, at least for a while. Maybe Iíd feel differently if the looters, who were theoretically protesting the Rodney King verdict, had left some leaflets and literature amidst the broken glass in the store.
    "Looters For Justice," or "Thou Shalt Not Steal, Unless in Protest" would have been nice. But no, a search produced nothing. Maybe they were going to post a flier on the window but those plans fell through.
   Itís been three weeks now since the looting and we have not had an ounce of trouble. My initial determination to install gates over every window has receded due to my natural optimism and even more natural cheapness.
    I replaced the glass with the same type that was so easily broken. It had survived for the 12 years Iíd been in business; maybe it would last another 12.
   Ralph finally returned in the late afternoon. He couldnít tell me exactly what had transpired, but it was clear it was nothing extraordinary.
   The wheels of American justice were churning, ever so slowly. Ralph had sat for five hours, along with dozens of uniformed officers, all waiting to give their three minutes of testimony to the Grand Jury. It was a colossal waste of valuable manpower, but thatís the way it works. In fact, if all the cases go to actual trials I may never see Ralph again.
   Iíd miss him, but we both agreed nothing he does is more important than assisting in the prosecution of looters. No one wants to watch another television news scene of thieves with armloads of loot rushing past paralyzed Los Angeles and San Francisco police.
    And I donít want to pay for gates over every window. Save us all, Ralph.

 

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