SOME UNDERSTANDING, please, of the plight of one Charles Edward Allen III -- the man behind the wheel of a cab in the Valentine's Day shootout that left alleged police-killer Bruce Wazon Griffith dead at First and W streets NW. Mr. Allen, it turns out, has run into a pack of problems as a result of his having been where he was when he was. Though the police were quick to note that Mr. Allen was a most informative and cooperative witness, he now finds himself short of money, in trouble with the law and deprived of an important means to a livelihood -- his cab.

Mr. Allen -- cab driver, school janitor, disabled Vietnam veteran, father of three, husband of a day worker -- apparently had never been arrested before. But on the day of the shootout, as he dutifully reported to the police, he had a handgun under the floor mat of his cab. Police also found marijuana in the cab. Even though one detective made a personal plea on Mr. Allen's behalf, the taxi driver now faces up to two years in jail, fines totaling $2,400 and the loss of his hacker's license if convicted of having an unregistered gun and marijuana in the cab.

Given the circumstances, it is easy to understand the detective's sympathy for Mr. Allen. Though one can appreciate the argument that prosecutable offenses should be prosecuted -- and though no one yet knows how the system of justice will treat this case -- the government's -- and the society's -- treatment of Mr. Allen so far has been awful.

Not only was $17 stolen from his coat when he stripped it and dropped it at the scene, but he lost a half-day's pay from his janitor's job when he went to police headquarters to testify. Worst of all, Mr. Allen has no cab anymore: what's left of the one he had is piled up and full of bullet holes. So what about compensation for it?

The bureaucratic response amounts to "Take a number and don't hold your breath." You see, first you have to write a letter to the mayor; then, the mayor sends it to the corporation counsel's office. There, you should know that there are more than 600 claims piled up.Besides, says the city's lawyers, Mr. Allen may not get a thing from the city because the police apparently weren't negligent when they peppered the taxi.

So much for the letter of the law -- but is there no human feel for what is happening to this man? Is there no way that the bureaucracy in the District Building can at least come up with a cab for Mr. Allen to drive? And if nobody does, why should any other resident help authorities if it can be avoided?