The Zimmerman Verdict And My Block … And Yours


A reader shares two riveting tales of racial violence:

This quote from you about the violence on your block in DC [17th and Euclid, seen in the above photo by Alex Ogle] broke my heart:

Will that change my attitude when I manage to return from NYC? No. Does it deeply depress and anger me? Yes.

I have been living in NYC for 20 years and most of it in Brooklyn, yet I come from a very small town in Massachusetts. There was one black family in my town, where they lived in a cramped and battered shack – wait for it – outside the gate to the town dump.

I have lived in various places in the city, ranging from slightly dangerous to incredibly dangerous.  During the first five to seven years, I found the black anger at white people to be very real and rather surprising and disconcerting (as well as very understandable).  I must admit that over time I felt attacked for simply being white and began to, in my mind and heart, generalize the black population.  Until …

I lived in a decidedly tough neighborhood in 1995, when my very clearly gay roommate was beaten and mugged, where a neighbor was stabbed to death one door away and the pool of blood on the sidewalk larger than anything I have seen since. One summer evening I saw something unreal unfold before me from the beginning to the horrible end; I watched four white men, all very tough looking – dressed very preppy actually – in a red Mustang drive up and begin to taunt a group of neighborhood black men sitting (as they did every evening) on the stoop in front of my building. At first I assumed they were just Jersey guys looking for trouble. The driver was arguing with the black guys but it was difficult to make out. The guys on the stoop seemed incredulous, wary and attempted to appear tough.  However, they eventually quieted down and backed off. It seemed like it was over.

But the white guys wouldn’t let them be.

It was clear that the driver was trying to get a reaction – an excuse – to fight.  Over and over and over from the driver’s side window pointing his finger insultingly saying “Don’t you say one more word … not one more word.” And they didn’t, so he kept at them, repeating “one more word, one more f!@#in word” until one of them finally dropped an F bomb and they jumped out of the car – all of them actually undercover cops – and proceeded to beat the hell out of them and arrest them guns draw.  All the guys had were a couple of 40 ounce bottles of beer.

A slight, skinny man was pistol-whipped in the head so hard he didn’t just fall over; he crumpled into a pile unconscious.  As I watched from my window, I noticed a gallery of people from every window slowly gather and watch as I had, cheering on the one remaining (and VERY large) guy still upright, named Arturo (the name they chanted) as he managed to simultaneously fend off and speak incredibly calmly to the police, who literally circled him like a pack of dogs trying to find a way in to nail him.  All he kept repeating to them in a calm voice was “Why you trying to bust me up?  I’m just sitting on my stoop.”

Finally more cars arrived and an ambulance, so the undercover cops moved in.  They knew they had backup imminently.  Arturo managed to really hurt one of their knees inadvertently as he was being jumped by four guys. Eventually ten more uniformed cops with batons beat him mercilessly a la Rodney King while the angry gallery of onlookers begged and yelled for them to stop.  They loaded him and two more guys into the ambulances. Another one was cuffed and pressed into the hood of a car.  The man, in clear agony, simply stayed calm and repeated ad nauseum, “Will you please let me go? I was just going home.  Will you please let me go?  I was just walking by.” The cop holding him in this horrific position realized he just grabbed a random black passerby, frantically looked around for someone to tell him what to do and eventually he uncuffed the guy and let him walk away.

Now here’s the cherry on top of this S!#$@ sandwich:

One guy from the gallery of onlookers in the building directly across from my window was yelling “I got you on tape!  I got you on tape you bas!@#ds!! Why did you do that?!  I got you on tape!”.  What did the police do then?  Well about five of them got into his building, went up the six stories and arrested him and dragged him out in handcuffs put into a cruiser and driven away.

That solidified for me the incredibly disparate set of rules of engagement city cops have with white versus black people.  I have recounted that story many times to friends, but this type of profiling has come to light so many times it sadly seems to only merit a head shake, a sigh and a shrug and then everyone goes back to The Voice.

Another story:

Last year in May, I went running on the very safe outer ring of  Prospect Park in Brooklyn, in broad daylight, when I saw four black youths taunt a female jogger about 30 yards ahead of me.  They let her pass but whispered something in her ear that I couldn’t hear.  They just seemed like, well, KIDS.  I had about ten seconds to decide:  Should I give them the benefit of the doubt and run right past them or be the scared white guy and give them a wide berth?  I decided the former.

As I passed them, they parted two by two and one of them swung around and tripped me so high on my leg that I slung to the pavement and broke my eye socket. What ensued was an all-out brawl, where I was beaten, kicked, and punched, with many on-lookers doing nothing.  One good Samaritan finally tried to advise them they should leave me alone.  Well, he got three stitches in his eye for that.

We managed to find all four and they are being dealt with via the justice system, as they should be.  It dawned on me recently that in the wake of that traumatic experience, I managed to quite honestly not ever consider race in the incident.  All I kept thinking about was that they are ignorant kids, who are very stupid and make foolish choices and how fragile I have been since then.  I am angry, nervous, scared and scarred, but interestingly race has never entered into the equation for me. It was the brutality, the mindlessness of it (they didn’t even steal anything; it was just for fun).

If I were to be asked to imagine myself in this situation having happened rather than having actually gone through it, I would quite honestly bet that the opposite would have been my reaction.  We all have places within us that need to be exposed and learn from them until you can manage find a truer path, but it CAN be accomplished.