On Sunday, September 11, 44-year-old Jeffrey Krainess and 39-year-old Mark Shawley were walking south of Fourth Street on Washington Avenue when a silver Honda slowed alongside them and then came to a complete stop. At 3:30 a.m. this is never a good sign. "We had met a friend at Karma [a weekly South Beach party] and we were on our way home, walking hand in hand." They watched apprehensively as a young man exited the passenger side of the Honda, a glass bottle of alcohol in his hand, apparently furious. Krainess and Shawley quickened their pace, but the bottle-wielding assailant followed.
"He had this look of anger -- of hate -- like the Devil," recalls Krainess.
"He looked like the Devil!" agrees his partner, Shawley. "He had this look of rage, this scowl, and then he yelled, 'You fucking faggots!'"
After realizing he and his partner were not going to outrun the would-be attacker, Shawley paused, as Krainess puts it, "To defend me. I was ahead of him on the sidewalk when I heard this loud thump," he says, "and then this guy was running back to the car." Michael Gonzalez, age 18, had struck Shawley in the back with his liquor bottle, which hit the ground and shattered. "The driver of the car had also gotten out and was watching the whole thing with the door open," Krainess recalls. "He said, 'Let's go,' and they sped off."
Shawley called 911 from his cell phone, while Krainess chased the car on foot, infuriated. "I started running after the car to get the license plate," he remembers. But he was unable to see the numbers in the dark, and the car made a left turn at Fifth Street, speeding away in the night toward the MacArthur Causeway.
While waiting as their 911 calls were routed through Miami-Dade County to Miami Beach police, both men were filled with frustration at the thought of the perpetrator of the second hate crime on South Beach since July getting away.
"Unbeknownst to us," says Shawley, "someone saw the car and was following it." He can only postulate what happened next: "That person contacted Miami Beach Police and said, 'This is Deputy O'Neal. I'm following a car whose passengers just attacked two people.' And Shaq detained them." As the world now knows, Shaquille O'Neal witnessed the assault and helped apprehend Gonzalez on Palm Island, where he was arrested for aggravated battery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
In the meantime -- unaware of both celebrity policeman and criminal apprehension -- the couple waited on the now-deserted street for the police to arrive. A single squad car showed up, joined by a black Ford Explorer, out of which climbed a supersize man who began conversing with the police.
"The cops are talking to some guy," says Krainess. "After we'd just been attacked, and we're like, 'What's going on?'"
"He comes over to us, and we were both sort of emotional," says Shawley. "He asks Jeff, 'What's your name?' and Jeff tells him, and then he says, 'I want you to know they caught those guys.' He's very calm. He says, 'Everything's going to be fine. Just relax.'"
"And I look up," says Krainess, "and I'm like, 'You look like Shaq!'"
They both laugh, remembering the sheer incredulity.
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"Shaq just sort of nods and says, 'Uh-huh,'" remembers Shawley. "And I say, 'Oh, my God.'"
They are sitting in their living room. Shawley is tooling around on his laptop and wincing occasionally from the bruise on his back. The 10:00 p.m. news is on, and suddenly O'Neal appears on television from Baton Rouge, holding a child refugee of Hurricane Katrina. In context the baby is so tiny she seems as if she should be incubated. "He's nice," sighs Shawley, watching Shaq.
The two agree that if Shaq hadn't stepped in, Gonzalez would have gotten away, but they don't see the issue as a police problem. For them it's bigger than that: a lack of tolerance for the diversity Miami Beach cherishes, and an indication of a worrisome trend. "How can an eighteen-year-old kid in South Florida be raised with so much hate and hostility?" wonders Shawley.
As Krainess points out, here was an underage drinker driving around South Beach with an open container whose aggression could have been taken out on anybody. "It could have been somebody with piercing and black boots, some goth," he says. He knows O'Neal's participation lent media coverage of the crime a certain air of frivolity, but he hopes city officials pay attention. "What message are they going to send here?" asks Krainess. "This needs to be taken seriously. Things change because people get involved."