February 2, 1995 in City

`No Fear’ Is No Way To Make Community

Diana Griego Erwin Mcclatchy New

Jeanne has never let “getting older” curb the way she lives her life. She puts some of the rest of us to shame.

At age 69, she walks daily, glides through aerobic workouts and makes her way around the city with one of those “No Fear” looks on her face. More recently, get this, she started lifting weights.

“This is not some timid, fragile grandmotherly looking woman,” her grown son said. “She knows about terror.” Jeanne once was married to an alcoholic, abusive man, an experience she turned around later to help women facing similar circumstances.

But something has happened to cause Jeanne to second-guess the way she approaches life. That closer scrutiny began on Jan. 18, when Jeanne drove into a grocery store parking lot in Sacramento to do a little shopping and pick up some dog food.

Locking her car and starting for the store, Jeanne almost immediately noticed two teenage boys walking through the parking lot with skateboards. They were about 12 and 14 years old, she guesses, and the younger of the two - the one with a baby face - carried an orange.

But nothing about their clothes, demeanor or attitudes alarmed her. They looked like the sort of kids anyone might smile at or nod to on a winter day at dusk.

And perhaps Jeanne planned to. Before she could, the younger one said something to her. Jeanne didn’t hear it. Then he said it again:

“God, you’re old!”

What would inspire a kid to make a comment like that is beyond me. But I’m certain of this: A generation ago, a youngster would risk having an ear twisted halfway off his head for a wisecrack like that. There were more eyes and ears back then, a concept known as accountability. Shoot your mouth off and it never failed that a former teacher or that cranky Mr. Thorndike down the street was around to hear it.

You’d pray for an ear-twisting because worse, much worse, would be the do-gooder who instead would tell your dad.

But that was yesterday and this is today. And today, a whole army of kids out there know they are nearly anonymous in the communities in which they live. Anonymous and unaccountable.

Jeanne didn’t have time to react to the boy’s disrespect, and so she simply and calmly said, “Well, we all get older.”

“Well, I hope I’m dead before I get as old as you,” the boy shot back.

He was perhaps two feet away then, when Jeanne saw the glimmer: a paring knife the boy had been using to peel that orange. And next thing she knew, the kid started making little jabbing motions at her with it. Jab. Jab. Jab.

“I ought to use this on you,” he said.

Jeanne kept walking, but so did he, walking and jabbing, closer and closer. At one point, Jeanne says the blade came within six or seven inches of her waist.

“The whole time I’m just looking at this little baby face and not believing this is happening,” Jeanne said. “I kept thinking, `No, he won’t do it. He won’t, he won’t,’ but I really didn’t know that. How can you really know?”

“Oh, maybe you shouldn’t,” the older boy finally said.

Jeanne hurried into the store just then, but not before the boy threw the orange at her as she scurried in the door. Inside, knees shaking now as the body caught up with the brain, she quickly alerted a clerk.

But it wasn’t lost on her that the boys were just sauntering away through the parking lot. As if there were no knife. No fear.

“They didn’t even run,” Jeanne said.

The store called the Sheriff’s Department for Jeanne and the dispatcher asked her what she wanted to do. A boy with a knife, ho-hum. Did she plan on pressing charges?

Jeanne suggested that it might be prudent to stop and question a pair of boys threatening passersby with a knife.

There were urgent calls ahead of hers, she was told. When she pressed, she heard about the number of crimes reported monthly and the ratio of deputies per capita.

A sheriff’s deputy showed up about an hour later, but Jeanne was gone. She needed to feel safe. She needed to get home.

The store increased security and clerks later said, oh yeah, those kids are around a lot, although no one knew their names or where they live. No one stepped forward to twist an ear or call dad. We are all too busy or afraid.

Meanwhile, the baby-faced boy thinks he has learned that threatening people with a knife for kicks is cool and certainly without repercussions.

It is not cool. It is not even OK.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Diana Griego Erwin McClatchy News Service

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email