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'No One Came Back on the 911 Line'

Beachgoers stand paralyzed as two boys are kicked and beaten in a very uneven fight, and a sandy paradise is lost.

May 11, 1996|ELENA DE VOS BINDER | Elena De Vos Binder is a writer and education consultant in Redondo Beach

Sometimes even Southern California natives succumb to the beauty of a perfect day, so my husband and I knocked off work early to spend the late afternoon at Knob Hill, our local beach spot in Redondo. We watched the sun sparkle on the ocean, read, even made a few business calls with our cell phone. Another day in paradise. Two hours later, we ambled back up the sand to the beach path, content and peaceful in the quiet calm of the day.

Suddenly the afternoon sounded louder yet slower, like the 45s we played at 33 rpm when we were kids. Yells. Screams. Sound of fists hitting flesh. It's a fight, we thought. No, more than a fight--a brawl. About 10 older boys, not big enough to be called men but certainly big enough to cause damage. That's just what they were doing. The odds were about 8 to 2.

The beach crowd, us included, froze into a tableau. Then a lean woman in red shorts ran to the public phone by the restroom. "I'm going to call 911!" she cried. And the boys kept beating each other, one breaking a bottle on the bike path to use as a weapon.

Some of us yelled out to stop--from our distance, our shouts were probably as unheard as a mother's cheers in the crowd as her offspring performs on the athletic field. But how to watch and not do something? I barked out again in my best schoolyard voice, "Hey! Stop It!" My voice blended with the others', with the boys' sounds of pain and anger, with the cry of the woman in red shorts: "The phone doesn't work!"

With the slowed-down perception and motion that happens during an accident, I remembered our phone and reached for it in our beach bag. My husband dialed 911 repeatedly but could not get a cell connection. It's not like the ads they show for cell phones, keeping you safe from danger. Then, finally! He connected to a 911 operator--and got put on hold. Hold for 911? Do they play elevator music? What's the appropriate station to play while we stand watching a group of boys kick another boy who's curled up on the ground trying to protect himself? Wherever he covers leaves the other parts exposed and the gang moves to kick him there.

No lifeguards. No police. No one reckless enough to intervene directly because of the unspoken fear we all felt as we watched the beating, dialing in vain for help: They might have guns.

No one ever came back on the 911 line. Minutes passed. Like a wind-up toy running down, the fight faded, the boys dispersed--the two beaten ones up the stairs, bent over and bleeding. The bike path was quiet again, with the local volleyball group and the rest of us, locals who know each others' faces, all standing stunned.

Seeping through, creeping in, the violence had arrived. A weekday afternoon at the beach and we watched while a gang of boys brutally bashed, kicked and beat two other boys. What's most terrifying? That it happened? That 911 put us on hold? Or that we were afraid of getting shot so we kept our distance? Not knowing the answer, I shakily went home after an afternoon in paradise lost.

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