Shortly before midnight a middle-aged black man staggered up Granville near Winthrop. He wore walking shorts, sandals, socks, and a white T-shirt that was soaked with blood. His eyes and forehead were badly swollen. He got as far as the el station before he collapsed in the gutter, where he lay bleeding slowly from his mouth.

A few minutes later there was a short siren burst. An unmarked car pulled up, and two white officers who wore flannel shirts and had flashlights on their hips got out. They took a look at the man and radioed for an ambulance.

A crowd gathered on the sidewalk. A husky, bearded man who wore a sleeveless T-shirt and had tattoos on his chalky white arms walked right past the man’s head. He glanced down and kept walking, then turned and called back to one of his buddies, “I’m hungry, man! I’m going for a sandwich!”

Then he stopped and came back. He walked up behind one of the cops, put a hand on his shoulder, and said, “Hey, what happened?”

The officer spun around. “Don’t touch me!” he said.

The husky man backed away, bringing his arms down stiffly to his sides. “I don’t want to start anything,” he said.

“Do you like to be touched?” the cop asked, edging forward. “I can hear you. I don’t like to be touched.”

A young black woman who was near tears asked the officers if they had a blanket.

“No. That’s not something we get,” one of them answered, looking chagrined. Then he bent down, pulled a wallet out of the man’s front pocket, and began to go through it.

“Can you roll over, Mr. Simms?” he asked.

The officer managed to turn him on his side, so the blood would drain out of his mouth. “Keep him from choking,” he said to no one in particular. The blood continued to flow in a slow, even trickle.

Somebody in the crowd speculated about internal injuries. The woman who had been weepy laughed at someone’s small joke. She caught herself, looked down at the man, and shook her head. A man who was pushing his wife in a wheelchair explained that he had seen the man walking west on Granville and had then watched him collapse. That was more than ten minutes ago, he said. Someone made a remark about response time.

Nothing we can do, one of the cops said. The ambulance is coming.

Finally, it arrived. The two attendants got out, put on their white-rubber AIDS-proof gloves, got Mr. Simms on a stretcher, and took him away.