I tossed a final shovelful of compost onto the wheelbarrow and trundled the load over to where Mulenga Harengua was turning over the soil in his garden bed. He'd put me to work when I came by to see how he was doing. I'd only seen him once over the winter and was wondering what's up.
"It's a good thing you caught me here," Mulenga said as he dumped the load out so he could spread it around. "I needed an extra hand. I just got back over here, hadn't been around for a couple of weeks."
"Where've you been?" I wiped the sweat off my brow with a dirty hand. "I thought you'd be getting your beds prepped for the spring."
"I have, just not here," he said. "I've been putting a couple of small gardens in around town."
"What's that about?" I asked.
"Well, this winter I went back underground," Mulenga said. "Things are just too dangerous out there with police carrying on shooting people and beating them. I decided I didn't need to be out on the street much at all. Then I figured I needed a couple of safe houses to hide out in. I've been living here a few years, getting a little too comfortable. That makes you a target, too easy to find when you stay in the same place all the time. Then I figured I needed a couple of little satellite gardens just so I could get something to eat in a pinch."
I looked around. There was parsley coming up already where it had grown last year. There were garlic scapes enjoying the warm sunlight and chives were already doing their thing. Strawberry leaves were green and abundant. Well, he was ready for a parsley salad at least.
"It seems kind of complicated having all these different crash pads and gardens," I said.
Mulenga tapped his temple, "I got it all up here and I'm the only one who needs to understand it. I see the police, they don't see me. Look at what happened to Walter Scott down there in South Carolina. That policeman straight up murdered him. And nobody would have found out if that Dominican kid hadn't shot a video of the whole thing."
"That's the gospel truth," I said. "Cop had already filed an entirely different story before the video came out."
"Same thing with those cops in Inkster," Mulenga said, leaning on his shovel. "What's his name, Floyd Dent, he said the cops pulled him out of his car, choked him, beat him, Tasered him and planted cocaine in his car. Then they charged him with assault, resisting arrest and cocaine possession."
"It was the cop's own dash cam video that showed the truth and the judged dropped the charges except for the cocaine possession," I pointed out. "The brother tested negative for signs of drugs in his blood."
"And that cop, William Melendez, got fired," Mulenga said, throwing his hand up for a high five. I slapped his palm in response. Then Mulenga said, "Give me another one for Walter Scott's killer getting charged with murder."
I willingly delivered another high five and a fist bump. Then a sobering thought slowed me. "Too bad that's not going to bring Scott back to life," I said.
"But at least some of these rogue cops are getting caught," Mulenga said as he turned over a spade full of soil. "Just like those local cops getting sued for robbing medical marijuana stores and terrorizing that couple in Warren. That bunch was so bad Chief Craig disbanded the unit last year. Now we're starting to find out why."
"I been hearing about that kind of stuff for years," I said. "Police bust in with no warrant, put a scare into whoever is there, take all the money and marijuana, there's no arrest or charge and there's no report on the incident. With medical marijuana that's just a new twist on an old routine. I know a woman who told me back in the 1970s about cops coming in and stealing a pound of marijuana and an ounce of hash from her and never charging her for it. They even stole stuff that was sitting around her house that they wanted. There was a wine flask covered in tooled leather from Spain that they took."
"I got some lettuce seeds in that box over there," Mulenga pointed. "Could you get them for me?" As I walked over he asked, "Do you think they sold the flask or one of them kept it?"
"They might have kept it in their apartment," I surmised stumbling over a pile of dirt. "Back then police had to live in the city so some of them would get together and rent an apartment or house and use that address to establish residency while they lived in the suburbs. Sometimes it became their party house. Maybe they had stash houses I don't know."
"See, that's why I need multiple residences," Mulenga said. "I need someplace to stash myself when people come looking for me."
"Yeah, you need someplace to stash your mouth sometimes." I rubbed my back and asked, "Are we about done?"
Mulenga shook his head no and pointed at the lot next door. "Get the wheelbarrow and start hauling compost over there."
Larry Gabriel writes the Stir It Up and Higher Ground columns for the Detroit Metro Times and is editor of The American Cultivator.