A few months from now, when people ask why I’ve moved off of Laurel Street, at a potential financial loss, I’ll explain that I couldn’t take it anymore. I got tired of change not coming, of waiting for adults to act like adults and mostly, of waiting for the police.
I am certain I am not the only one who feels this way, especially about the cops and the forever wait times.
If there’s a dead body, like there was last week, you’ll get 20 cops in two minutes.
If there’s a situation that could potentially lead to a dead body, like people fighting in the street, call four times in an hour, and maybe you’ll get the cops.
Sure, it’s difficult for peacekeepers when two other homicides happened in the same week. But the quality of life issues are important.
I spoke with a local merchant the other night, and he asked how we were doing after the murder. I replied we can’t seem to get the cops there. He agreed. He said he’d call for a shoplifter, who was apprehended, and the cop would take 20 minutes. Even though they were across the intersection in Dunkin’ Donuts.
To their credit, when I left the store, there were two of them standing on patrol in front of Farmington and Laurel.
On the night of the murder, I got business cards and cell phone numbers from three different detectives. A few nights later, there were issues. I called. No one ever called back. Protect and serve?
On Friday night last week, for example, right in the spot where the body was, a car blocked my driveway (even though we painted the curb yellow to show the no parking boundaries). No one could get in or out without pulling up on over the yellow.
I called three times in two hours, and asked to have the offending Maxima towed. Four hours later, the dispatcher said the cop wrote a parking ticket. The car was still blocking my driveway.
If the car is illegally parked in the back of my lot, blocking in three cars, like a white Taurus was on Saturday night, I can call Whitey’s and have it towed. The owner of the car and his young girlfriend retrieved it before Whitey’s arrived.
Probably lucky, because if it was towed, the kid may have been fighting mad. He was at a party at 368 Laurel. He said we had plenty of space. But chalk it up to another incident on Laurel in a crazy week, a week when my faith in pacifism has been shaken.
Neighbors tell me to get a gun. Owning a firearm wouldn’t have stopped the murder. A fence in front of my house wouldn’t have stopped the murder. The cops couldn’t have stopped the murder. But 911 was the first call all the neighbors made.
As a practitioner of non-violence, I wonder if there is an inherent dishonesty in relying on the police to keep the peace in the neighborhood.
The police maintain order with the implicit or actual threat of violence – I will blast you! People obey cops because they have guns, right? So am I wrong to profess a belief in pacifism while embracing social stability enforced by uniforms carrying guns?
This desire to count on cops becomes even more contradictory when I know how corrupt the cops can be, from my own experience.
And I’m sure many loyal readers saw the bad lieutenant at the University of California-Davis this past Friday indiscriminately pepper-spray peaceful students at a sit-in.
And on Saturday afternoon in Hartford, when 200 people crowded our front lawn, and again, we couldn’t come in or leave, there were four or five cops standing across the street, watching the whole thing to make sure it didn’t get out of hand.
I appreciate the anti-violence vigil and I understand the need to mourn and to feel like you are fighting against the senseless violence.
But do we really want to stop the violence? Let’s talk about economic injustice and the hopelessness and desperation of poverty. And let’s talk about education.
Sunday morning, I cleaned up all the broken glass in the street and sidewalk where young Charles French’s lifeless corpse once lay. I parked my garbage can in the middle of the sidewalk. It stopped four young men leaving 368 Laurel.
We discussed the events of the last week, and I tried to explain to them why I liked my neighborhood – little things like how all the houses are set perfectly back the same distance from the sidewalk and the brickwork brought here by German artisans.
They never noticed that before. But this stuff with the house they lived in was killing us all, I said. They said they didn’t know what happened to Charles.
One of them helped me hold the shovel while I pushed the broken glass from Hennessey bottles, prayer candles and the car window that had been busted the week before.
A little while later, I came back out front to hang “No Parking” signs so careless drivers will stop pulling in my driveway.
Another group of young men passed by - 13, 15 and 20 years old. They smoked a blunt in broad daylight, and a silver bullet hung from a chain around the neck of the oldest.
They promised me they weren’t in the guns and drugs game. I asked why wear the bullet, then? Because the cops have guns, the oldest said.
Did they know of Chairman Mao’s famous line that power comes from the barrel of a gun? Chairman Who? These kids probably couldn’t find China on a map, sadly.
What about Marxism, I asked. Nope. Never heard of it.
Capitalism? The oldest shrugged his shoulders, joking sheepishly: “Isn’t that about big letters?”
So, the two competing economic theories that dominated the last century of the very planet they trod upon were unknown to them.
The eldest was studying to be an engineer, of what I’m not sure. The middle wanted to be a mechanic and the youngest, who said he was going to drop out, had a dream of playing in the NBA.
Perhaps they had an inkling of a financial structure that allowed the great disparities in wealth between what they had and what they saw on TV. But how can you fight poverty if you can’t name that which oppresses and impoverishes you?
The conversation almost felt like a lost cause. Except for the fact that I bought the silver bullet from the kid so he would never wear it again.
He probably took the $100 and bought weed. But I’d rather that than, say, a gun.
Depressed, I again returned to my project in the back yard. After a few hours, it sounded like someone had let all the kids loose from Chuck E. Cheese onto Laurel Street.
So I wandered out there, and lo and behold, in the middle of the street stood a large black man, wearing basketball shorts and no shirt and a pair of Uptowns (expensive brand name sneakers).
A group of people surrounded him. They were really close to the shrine for the deceased Charles French. There was much commotion.
I didn’t have to get to close to hear him yelling at the people at 368 Laurel.
“Go ahead and call the police bitch,” he screamed. “I’m a real nigger ‘cause I can afford bail, bitch.”
He kept bulling his way through the people – his friends and family - who were trying to hold him back.
There was a skinny black girl in a bomber jacket (on what was a 55 degree day, sunny and bright), yelling back that she would mace him. You can probably guess his response.
“Go ahead and mace me bitch! I can take it!”
Other voices shouted about what kind of a man he was for threatening a girl.
Standing in the front of my driveway, I called the police. This was 4:10 pm.
I returned to the backyard to continue working on my project.
At 4:36 pm, I heard another ruckus. This time, a woman stood in front of the little candle shrine. She wasn’t happy about something either.
“I respect my grandmother and I promised her I wouldn’t do nothing bad today, so there ain’t goin’ be no more bodies today,” she swore, “but tomorrow, I don’t know.”
I called the cops again, and returned to my backyard.
Again at 4:43, more commotion. The boyfriend of the girl in the bomber jacket had arrived, pulling up to the sidewalk like a bat out of hell. More yelling and screaming.
At 5:07, dusk arrived and an ambulance arrived. I heard the woman on the second floor of 368 Laurel talking to the ambulance: “That man is gay and he hit my son and my son is bleeding now. I want to make sure my son is okay.”
Homophobia? Ignorance runs deep in these parts. The hilarious part was that when the medics went on the porch to check the son, he ran inside. I called the cops again to let them know the ambulance beat them.
About 45 minutes later, when darkness had settled on Laurel Street, I saw four cop cars. All the people at 368 Laurel were calm, telling the cops their story. The officers never found me. Then they went to 337 to talk to the other feuding family.
I don’t need to live next to the Hatfields and McCoys anymore.