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
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
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.