IN THIS WACKY WORLD of miscast heroes, we now have someone new. He is Charles Edward Allen II, a cabdriver cum school janitor who, in a bit of a marijuana buzz, rode Bruce Wazon Griffith around town searching for drugs until the police closed in and the alleged cop killer was shot to death. In the shoot-out, Allen lost his cab, his illegal gun and maybe his freedom. It is against the law to smoke grass and pack a rod in the District of Columbia.
For this turn of events, Allen has become the object of sympathy. The detective who arrested him on the gun and marijuana charges said it was one of the hardest things he's ever done. He praised Allen for cooperating with the police, but he arrested him anyway. In the movies, the detective would have been played by Gary Cooper.
The detective told prosecutors that Allen had aided the investigation of the murder of the policeman and the subsequent slaying of Griffith, although I'm not sure what other choice he had. I always thought this was the duty of a citizen and I personally nominate Allen for the Larry Pressler Award. This is named for the senator who received such praise for turning down an Abscam bribe.
It seems there is nothing but sympathy for Allen. During the gunfight between the police and Griffith, his cab got blown away. The back window was blasted out, the other windows were shattered, the fender dented and the car itself, it says in the newspapers, is rusting in the garage of police headquarters. Presumably, things rust faster there than elsewhere in the city.
If you have detected a note of sarcasm along the way, you are not wrong. Pardon me for being hopelessly bourgeois and middle class, but I have a hard time getting my tear ducts to work for Allen. I feel sorry for the guy, hope he gets his cab back and wish him no ill will, but he is no innocent victim -- at least he's no innocent. He is guilty, as we used to say in the insurance biz, of contributory negligence.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Allen said that he went out on his lunch hour with his cab to pick up some gas money. So far so good. He is a school janitor, who hacks to make ends meet. This is also no problem. What is a problem, though, is that he said that he had already smoked a marijuana cigarette.
This is what I call a problem and so do people down at school headquarters. They take the view that a school janitor who smokes grass is not setting the best example for kids. They are, of course, hopelessly square down at school headquarters.
No matter. Allen goes for his ride. He picks up a woman who wants to go to Providence Hospital and then, at 2 p.m., he picks up Griffith, and all three go to the hospital. Then, having dropped off the woman, Allen and Griffith go for a meandering ride through the city, looking for drugs -- marijuana and cocaine. Griffith is the one who is buying and Allen is the one who is driving.
They go to First and Seaton streets, looking for the coke man. Griffith gets out and walks around. No coke man. They go to Hanover Place NW, about 10 blocks away. Here Griffith buys $10 worth of "wacky weed" -- marijuana laced with PCP. They drive around some more and now they get to First and S streets NW where Griffith notices the car belonging to the man who sells cocaine. It is here, also that the cops spot Griffith and it is some blocks later that Allen's cab is forced over and Griffith is killed.
It makes no sense to turn Allen into something he's not. He's not a criminal and not a hoodlum and probably a very nice guy. But it also makes no sense to turn him into a hero or a martyr. He was cheating on his job, a bit high on grass, driving a cab, looking for dope and -- under the mat of the cab -- the proud possessor of a Saturday Night Special. He was, in fact, a public menace and what is interesting is how everyone feels sorry for him when there should have been a public outcry to get him off the streets and out of the schools. I am waiting for the outcry.
So now, instead of sympathy, it would be nice to read that the school system has asked Allen to account for his time (it has) and to wonder what his smoking habits are. It would be nice, too, to read that the hack board has asked him if he's in the habit of playing chauffeur to guys looking for drugs and whether he can possibly drive without the aid of marijuana.
I know these are tough questions and asking them, as the detective said, will not be easy. But the person who does it will be more than just another hero to me, but something rarer in this city -- someone who's actually doing his job.