Home Politics John Aronno: On Politics A Childhood Memory, an Adult Wake Up Call, and a Personal Note.

A Childhood Memory, an Adult Wake Up Call, and a Personal Note.


When I was in the fourth grade, I watched a man beat my mother’s face into the pavement.
I was inside our house in an affluent suburban neighborhood, in Lafayette, California. My friend Michael and I were in the house, in the den, watching videos from the morning’s antics. We had used a wooden plank and some bricks and constructed a bike jump, and then filmed ourselves, with my family’s brand new camcorder. It’s amazing what catching a few inches of air looks like when you’re a kid watching yourself on video for the first time.
A man had come to the door. He said his car had broken down. Thinking back now, it’s weird that it broke down in our driveway. But my mother was (and is) as trusting a person as she is an amazing one. She didn’t question his motives. She wanted to help him.
He asked to come inside to use the phone. My mom is trusting; she’s not an idiot. She brought our wireless phone out to him to call a tow truck, and went out to talk to him while he was on hold. They seemed to hit it off, so Michael and I went back to marveling at the captured images of us momentarily flying.
I heard a weird noise. Muffled. It sits with me today, decades later. I could tell you it was a “mmph” sound, but that immeasurably fails to capture the moment.
I ran to the front door and opened it. Only a screen door separated me from this man, hand gripping the back of my mother’s scalp, repeatedly planting her face into the concrete in front me me.
We locked eyes. He dropped my mom onto the floor. He raced towards the door, which I shut and locked the dead bolt. I likely wouldn’t be typing this had I not managed to do that.
A smart man would have called 911. I was a child, and not a particularly bright one, so I called my dad on his work number. Eleven painful rings. He had left his office and was on his way home. All that time, my mom was laying, bleeding, on the ground. Stupid.
I hung up the phone and ran out the backdoor. We lived in an area where houses weren’t connected. The nearest house was a decent jog. I sprinted.
My neighbors were preparing a birthday party for their son. Man, did I throw a wrench on those plans. I ran into their kitchen and screamed “Someone’s got my mom!”
As I said it, a blue car screamed by the house. It was the car that was supposed to be broken down in my driveway. I piled on: “He’s got my mom!”
I was so scared, not knowing if my mom was alive or dead; unaware if she was at our house or in someone’s car, bleeding and screaming away from anything I could do.
The police were there so quickly that I can’t remember the gap in between. I was still at the neighbors’ house when a call came notifying me that my dad was there, as were emergency responders, and my mom was okay. Concussed, with a swollen forehead from a science fiction novel, but okay.
The car was stopped by police less than five miles from our home. Derrick Mitchell was arrested, alongside his just-used crack pipe. I identified him in court. Nine years old.
My mom was okay.
It’s surprising, writing about it now, how many mental compartments I’m unlocking. I packed that shit far, far away.
This past Friday brought it all back on a level I am really uncomfortable with.
I finished college this week, at the tender age of 32. Friday was going to be my first day as a post-collegiate man. So, Thursday night, I celebrated. I intended to sleep in on Friday.
Around eleven in the morning, I heard footsteps in the backyard.
That’s not, in itself, abnormal. We have a shoddy deadlock on our front door. Sometimes the key doesn’t turn. So, friends know to come around the back. I figured this was the case. The roads have been icy, and either my wife or our roommate could easily have been sent back home.
But then I heard the howl. Our husky, Sage, tumbled down the stairs and out the doggy door to the backyard, and then she started screaming. She wouldn’t do this for my wife, or our roommate, or anyone she knows.
My lab, who generally plants himself squarely behind me in any given potentially threatening situation (like a gentle breeze), heard Sage’s cue and launched himself out of bed to back her up.
I immediately knew that whatever was going on was distinctively not supposed to be going on. My mind flashed back to that childhood memory. There is someone here who is not supposed to be here and now my dogs are in immediate danger.
I grabbed a baseball bat from my closet and ran outside. I heard footsteps, but saw nothing. I ran back upstairs, and saw someone running away – far past a point I could catch up to him.
APD came out, took a report. Turns out, our neighbor got hit. My house may have been the escape route, or it may have been the next target. Either way, in the time between me hearing footsteps and my dogs chasing him off, he had opened the window to our bedroom. We were a screen away from something unimaginably more awful.
That was a scary benchmark of adulthood. At the one end of the spectrum, I was a kid who was quickly shown a world that was sick and dangerous. Fourth graders aren’t generally tasked with saving the world.
Last week was different. This was my house. I’m the guy tasked with protecting it.
No city is immune from crime. But our current trajectory shows crime getting much worse while our ability to combat it is decreasing. Meanwhile, the debate surrounding municipal policy seems to be about how much less we can spend, rather than how secure we should be.
Damn it, I’m scared. What if it was my wife there today, and not me? What if my loyal dogs tried to scare off an attacker who was armed?
Stand Your Ground Laws are great, if all you care about is the fantasy where you get the unlikely upperhand on a home invader. But that is overwhelmingly, and tragically, not the typical result.
Things are not going in a good direction, and none of us should be okay with that. We can pretend that an island defense is the best approach: motion sensors on our houses and rifles at the ready. I’m honestly not opposed to either. But we’re going to need some serious firepower, barbed wire, and alligator-ridden moats with drones patrolling overhead if we intend to cling to the belief that the libertarian approach works as a community-wide strategy.
I’d really prefer living in a town where I feel safe in my own bedroom. I think there are various policy proposals that could help us head down that path. I’d like us to come together and work towards that goal. I don’t feel like that’s an undue request.


  1. Wow John, I had no idea! My home was burglarized in the early 80s. Nothing important taken but we still felt violated. Two weeks later, we had two awesome boxer puppies and never suffered from intruders again. I am glad you have brave dogs. But I am sad that you now have a police case number.

  2. John, this is one intense, breath-taking story. Your dogs are awesome. The leadership in Anchorage is not. Time is long past to address the issues that cause these kinds of things to be so prolific in our community.

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