Riding the bus with Gary Winslow: Fear

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Unless you’ve been in a bomb shelter for the last few years, you’ve probably heard more and more about police brutality, especially toward the black community. I got news for you: This ain’t nothin’ new. I dare say that I don’t know of one fellow black man that hasn’t been harassed by cops at least once. Somehow, regardless of our standing in life, the powers that be seem to see and treat black folks as if we were a threat by simply existing. If this is the sort of talk that makes you feel defensive, hold your horses; I have so much more truth to piss you off with. See, if you can’t relate to what I’m saying, then that means no such harassment has happened to you, and therefore you cannot possibly be coming from a place of knowledge or empathy. You may have your theories, uninformed opinions, and magical quick solutions, but until you’re a black man that sees that look on a prejudiced cop’s face, and are faced with the daunting reality that this asshole can pretty much get away with anything as long as nobody sees it, you don’t know shit. There are other populations that have experienced this reality, and it’s so damn universal, we could kick it on this subject whether they’re black or not. Bottom line: If you have a lily-ass point of view on police officers and have the tendency to blame victims of police brutality, you ain’t gonna like some of what’s comin’ … tough shit: Be in my shoes or, worse yet, the shoes of those victims you point your finger at and then tell me what you know.

April 15, 2015: a sad day indeed. This was the day that the Northland Mall became officially closed. I can’t tell you how important it was, or how much it hurt when it closed for good. Since then, I’ve had to come up with a new morning routine, so instead of taking that 420 into the Northland lot where I catch that 405, I get off at the corner of Greenfield and Eight Mile and ride the bike to where I get my first morning coffee. I’ll have that coffee, get my thoughts together and then cross Greenfield to get to the Northland bus stop. As an aside, the stoplight on the northbound side where I cross is the only light I’ve ever seen that has never turned red … at least not in front of my eyes.

Anyhow, I was there at the coffee shop last Saturday, relaxing with a little breakfast. (Usually its just the coffee, but the Saturday schedule is different; if I’m at Northland in time to catch the 9:35 405, I get to work earlier than the weekdays, but if I miss it, I’ve got time for breakfast.) So I’m sitting there eating my scrambled eggs and hash browns, watching the news in peace until I hear, “Everybody talkin’ about how mad they are about that pool party.”

These two ladies, both black, one younger and one older, sat behind me and to my left, and decided that this was the conversation they were going to have … around me? I said to myself, “Don’t get into it, G. Let it go.” I gave them a chance as I gave a quick glance at the young one who was doing the talking. I’m betting that I had an involuntary glare on my face, ’cause it seemed like she paused ever so slightly when we made brief eye contact. She continued, “and then they wanna go protestin’ and gettin’ all bent outta shape over that mess.”

“Mmmmhmm,” agreed the more elderly of the two.

“They wanna protest somethin’, what about that old lady that got killed in that home invasion by them young boys.”

“Mmmmhmm, they just crazy these days. Ain’t got no respect fa nothin’,” the older woman agreed, adding her two cents to boot.

Look, people: I’m going to say this before I go any further. One horrible act does not exclude another. Just because one terrible thing happens doesn’t mean all other injustices should be ignored. Of course we should all be upset when something horrible happens, but these are two different circumstances. For one, the assholes that robbed and beat that elderly lady that they were talking about got caught and were charged. I don’t know if they’ve been convicted and sent to prison yet, but there was swift justice for the victim, so what’s to protest? If she’s speaking in terms of communities speaking out against violence, people already do that, and I know because I’m in the neighborhood and around the type of cats for which she has so much disdain. Guess you gotta be there to actually know what you’re talking about. Still, I stayed cool.

The younger, more vocal of the two continued, “Yeeaahh, they out there actin’ all crazy. What you expect the police to do?” and that was it. How the hell do you justify putting a full-grown man’s entire weight on a 14-year-old’s spine, especially when she posed no threat? That bitch ass bully of a cop displayed sooo much more aggression than was needed for a young girl, and he wouldn’t have done that to someone he saw as a young white suburban princess. If you look closely at the footage the world saw, she was actually seated repeatedly telling her friends, “Call my mama!” Does that sound like a threat to you?

I felt my blood boil as I listened to her ignorant babble. After that last statement, I couldn’t hold it any longer, “You think he should have done that little girl like that? Both knees, all his weight on her back like that?” They both kinda froze and I could see that both of their heads were slowly dropping as I let ’em have it, “Ain’t no way! Ain’t no way you can tell me dat’s remotely right. It ain’t nowhere near right treatin’ a little girl like that! I don’t care what they did. She was in a bathing suit, ain’t no weapons and she was sittin’ down when he picked her back up and mashed her face in da ground like dat! Come on, now! I was in security for years and that ain’t the way you handle things. He made more trouble actin’ like that than there was in the first place. That is not how you do it!”

In response they mumbled some incoherent nonsense, one with her head down, the other turning her head away from me. I, in turn, tried to go back to my eggs. A second or two passed before the younger woman and her amen corner started up again. Defensively the younger lady came with some more negativity. Look, it’s not so much that she was wrong with much of what she was saying, it was the defeatist complaining that got on my damn nerves, so I retorted, “Look, I see how it is out here with so many of our youth, but we gotta stop handlin’ it in such a negative way. We sit up here pointing our fingers, like, ‘You bad, you ain’t nothin’, pull yo pants up’ and just be negative. No positive reinforcement, no love. Come on, now! How they supposed to think when everybody tell ’em they ain’t nothin’?”

They mumbled some more, not getting my point, and through the muck I heard the older lady very clearly say, “Yeah, you better be scared. They crazy out here.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, but whatcha gon’ do about it?” I said to myself as I pumped my brakes so as not to explode. These were ladies, and no matter how simple they were, I was raised to treat them as such. At that moment a gentleman that was sitting adjacent to us chimed in with a more balanced approach than any of us. First he empathized with them by telling this story, “The otha day these three young fools tried to rob me. I’m out in the yard doin’ work and they tried to rob me. I’m glad I had that weed wacker with me,” and there was a flurry of mmmhmms and agreement from the ladies as a result. (There was so much more to that story, but if I don’t remember it, I don’t write it.)

When he was done with that statement, he turned to me and said, “I know what you mean though.” Again he was trying to balance the equation, but I don’t remember exactly what he said. I was just too hot in the face to concentrate. I do remember him saying words like “sometimes” and “maybe” instead of “always” and “never” like the ladies were. The conversation continued shortly thereafter until the ladies raised out of their seats, gathered their trays, and proceeded to leave. Once again, as she left I remember the elderly lady say, “Yeah, you better be scared,” which proved to me that I had no impact on her thinking whatsoever. Oh well. It’s hard to preach vision when dealing with people who can’t think past their damn nose.

The clean cut gentleman sat longer and listened to me go off on my remedy for the youth of today. “Yeah, there’s bad out there, but what do we do? Do we keep puttin’ ’em down and tellin’ ’em they ain’t nothin’? Or do we encourage them with love? Do we look at them in the eye like human beings or do we keep treatin’ them like they’re somethin’ different. I’m out here. I see the youth and what I say? ‘Whatupdoe? Whasup youngblood? You alright?’ I greet ’em like folks and I don’t have no problems. Of course there are no guarantees, but …” With passion, I further explained my point of view and he listened patiently. “Look, I ride a BMX, that bike right there,” as I pointed out the window to my bike that I had locked up to the metal sign in the middle of the grass island on the side of the store. “I ride that bike through the hood and the kids sometimes wanna ride wit me. So one day we’re ridin’ in this parkin’ lot that I ride at and it’s cool, everybody ridin’ havin’ fun, I’m showin’ ’em stunts and whatnot, but then I looked down at this black plastic bag on the ground, the kind you get from a party store. I was like, ‘Hol’ up, hol’ up! Who put this here? Stop! Everybody stop! Ain’t nobody ridin’ till this get picked up!’ When one of ’em went ahead and picked it up, I said, ‘That’s right, there’s a garbage can right ova there … have some pride in yo’self.’ And the one kid who’s kinda like the ringleader of this little crew was like, ‘Yeah, have some pride in yo’self.’ See? It don’t take much, just a little guidance and they get it! That’s how you do it!”

The man smiled and agreed in a way that seemed as though he was relieved to hear a counter-narrative to the rampant cynicism that is also part of the problem. With an awakened interest, he got out of his chair and came closer to further discuss the problems of our youth and their possible solutions. For a few minutes, we had quite a constructive conversation indeed. As a result of his positive input and another story or two, I regarded him as a man of high character due to the fact that he spoke on almost gettin’ vic’d (victimized) only a short time ago. Do you see? Here’s a man that had to ward off some young fools just to tend to his own damn lawn, and he was still interested in positive resolution. That’s care. That’s empathy. That’s character! The last thing I remember him saying before he parted was, “Keep on doin’ … they need us out here … we gotta fix this.” I agreed and we wished each other well as he left me to my eggs, hash browns, and the remainder of my day.

I got a sense of satisfaction that my positive and, yes, shamelessly idealistic words touched someone on this day. It was needed for both of us, because the storm of seemingly relentless negativity can overwhelm us, making us more jaded and less empathetic. You may have a thousand reasons to be pessimistic about today’s society, and you’ll probably be right most of the time, but I tell you this: No amount of being fatalistically negative will change a damn thing. Bet that! Peace.


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