Saturday, June 12, 2004

A brief story

Rather than commentary today, I thought I'd simply offer up an anecdote. This is story that happened to me roughly 18 hours ago, and it's totally true. I know I have a habit of exaggerating to make things more either dramatic or comedic or at least more interesting but this story I'm about to tell you is totally true. It's a perfect example of what I talk about when I say I feel my neighborhood is spiraling slowly out of control (And the anecdotal reason I don't believe the statistics about crime in the City).

Coming out of the subway, Bergen and Smith. There's a large group of teenagers and they're walking down the
street in a kind of rambunctious blob. I suddenly realize that the blob is kind of shifting back and forth, almost certainly because someone is shoving
someone else. Then the shouting begins.

I live in a loud neighborhood, and teenagers tend to be pretty rowdy, so it always takes me a second to figure out "fun or fight". It's becoming pretty clear, though, in the 2-6 second before things actually get bad that this is a fight breaking out.

I whip out my cell phone to call 9-1-1, and as I look down to see that I have NO RECEPTION the fight breaks out. There's a tall black kid with a blue du-rag and he and a small arab kid seem to really have it in for each other. I can't really make out what's going on, even though it's only about 10 feet away from me, but I see that someone's being held down, and that person is being beaten by someone who has either a stick or a length of pipe, no it's definitely a stick, there's no fleshy clang of metal contacting flesh going on, oh shit this is really bad, there's a fight breaking out and someone is getting pummeled.

Okay, now everyone's been separated, it's still unclear exactly who is on whose side, but there are adults out so things should get better. Stupidly, I
walk down the block down the same side of the street as the fight, still trying to get my phone to work and as I look down the fight breaks out again. Except now I'm standing pretty much in the middle of it.

Picture a circle with a point at its center. The fight is the cirle, I'm the center. No one's actually hitting me or trying to to hit me or anything like that, but people are getting the crap beaten out of them all around me. It was surreal, and terrible. There was nothing I could do. Most of the teenagers
were larger than me (Except for the scrawny arab kid) and I knew that if I tried to do anything, I would certainly get the crap beaten out of me by everyone. I think about shouting, but it's verry very loud, and the breath doesn't really come and I see a doorway open to a construction sight and I duck inside to try to get reception. As I do, I see one kid holding the arab kid down and at least one, maybe two or three of the other kids just wailing on him.

A bunch of adults are standing around, totally ineffectual (as ineffectual as this adult writing this right now) and I suddenly think "we should all do something" but then it's over, the group of black kids is moving down the street, a group of arab kids and adults is talking to the one kid. I close my phone, and look at the kid who got the beat down. He has two silver-dollar welts rising on his face already and his eyes are filled with tears and hate. He ducks into the pizza parlor next to the construction site and emerges with a very long knife.

Everyone's trying to hold this kid back now and get the knife from him, but it's not working, the kid loosens the grip of his hangers-on and runs down the street after the gang of kids who just left. I pull out my phone and just then cop cars start showing up, one after other, one every minute or so until there's about 6 cop cars and an ambulance and they've shut down the entire block.

As far as I can tell, the cops only were able to detain the kid with the knife. There were a bunch of adults talking to the cops trying to explain what
happened. I thought maybe there was something I could do, but I realize that I only really saw this conflict from the middle, had no idea what anyone involved looked like, or what caused the whole thing, or anything like that.

I've seldom felt so useless, I had witnessed quite a bit but had absolutely nothing of value to offer anyone. I couldn't do anything to stop it, I couldn't
do anything to clarify for the police what happened, and I was smack dab in the middle of it.

Bizarre. The ancient Greeks wouldn't show violence on stage. They considered it a greater obscenity than sex. It makes a little more sense to me now.


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