Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Just Another Day...: Desensitized In The Age of Terror

So many unsolved cases...
The bombing in Boston was an awful thing to happen. The death of three people and loss of limbs and injuries sustained by the 170+ other victims of the bombing was awful. As a parent, I pray for the
family of Martin Richard, the same way I pray for the family of Trayvon Martin, or the family of Tiffany Moore who was killed in 1988 in front of her building by a stray bullet. The bigger issue: What happened to Martin Richard was an isolated tragedy, while what happened to the Trayvon and
Tiffany are epidemic crises that we have been trained to ignore.

Going on Facebook, I was struck by the number of my friends who survived the bloody and violent eras of Dorchester and Mattapan (which continue, but not quite as bad as back in the day), who got caught up in the media hype around this tragedy, without even a hint of irony about the ack of public attention or mourning of the countless lives lost to violence in their own neighborhoods. The most ironic was the pontification of a woman who graduated from Fordham University without even noting the war-zone like qualities that permeated the neighborhoods surrounding Fordham U from 1973 to 2000.
Ted Landsmark being stabbed with flag in Boston, 1976

To point out that the deaths, injuries and trauma of people of color in this country are not even worth mentioning, let alone cause for a public outcry (Trayvon Martin didn't even get into national press until he went viral on social media) is something that anybody with eyes and a consciousness has to acknowledge. Only the senseless death of white people is worth media attention; and the mourning of the losses are to be felt by all. I get it: the rest of us do not matter. Both Seth McFarlane and I get it.

The part that I don't get is the buy-in by the by those who should know better. But when you consider that despite education, and a semblance of intellect, a lot of these are the same people who proudly and happily help trend name brands and tv shows in their tweets and Facebook status' free of charge to the corporations and conglomerates benefiting from their volunteerism, we see that the negative impact of slavery and dehumanization has taken deep roots into the Black American psyche.

These are the true descendants of the slaves who cried at the side of Massa's death-bed and cast their own dead into open graves with lime powder to cover the smell, and little other effect. In short these are people who have settled into having no value. To them, an entire city full of memorial murals to children and teenagers, and memorial walls to carry the name of the dead (mostly under the age of 21) are sad. The fact that their children can't play in the street for fear of being shot is sad. But the stories fed to them on the media are "tragic." To some, and even more frightening, death, even tragic and sudden death, is just a part of daily life. People are born, people die and if you're lucky, it's not your turn... yet.

It was an early autumn/ late summer morning, and I was supposed to start a job at a media company that Tuesday. For some reason, for the first time in about ten years my back went out on me that Sunday evening and was not much better by Tuesday morning. It was supposed to be my first day of work, and I had to call in. How embarrassing. I left a message, telling them that if I was not there by 11, I'd call back. I went back to bed for an hour or so... time that I should have been making the long subway ride from the Bronx to Brooklyn... Then I turned up the radio, hobbled into the bathroom and took a hot shower. That's when the first plane hit the WTC tower. I thought it was a morning show gag until they announced the second plane hitting the tower and the radio signal went out. If I had taken the subway that morning, I would have been under the World Trade Center on my way to my first day of work.

It was an awful day, earth shattering, life changing, the cause of much change in New York City and the rest of the country that would shape the course of national events for the years that would follow. However, for a lot of us who had grown up in urban areas and inner cities during the late 1970's and early 80's the horror of these events were not quite as jarring as they were for others. You see, unless we lost a friend or family member in this horror, or just escaped it ourselves; like many survivors of war, it was just another horror for us to get passed and keep moving. Past trauma untreated can often create a level of callous that is beyond most people's understanding.

While movies and the media would have you believe that urban crime and violence were limited to poor, dysfunctional inner city dweller, the fact of the matter is that these experiences permeated social and economic class. Even your middle-class urban kids found themselves as witnesses, victims and in some occasions, perpetrators of violence in the post Nicky Barnes era of urban America.

By 1981, it was rather common the hear about somebody getting shot, stabbed or killed over such serious offenses as: stepping on somebody's sneaker, looking at somebody the wrong way, looking at somebody at all, looking in their direction and them thinking you looked at them, dressing too nicely, not having any money during a robbery, having the wrong girl or guy like you, (which was also the cause of several contract killings at the time. A 12 year-old could be hired to do a hit for $10).

By 1983, the crack war added a new and even more bizarre serious of events and elements of street events. People getting their sneakers, coats and designer clothes stolen at knife or gun point and sold for $5, as well as situations of crack heads brokering gang rapes to raise money for their fixes. The rise in street crime helped create almost two generations of couch potato, video game playing urban youth who could not go out to play until they were teens, for fear of them getting caught in the cross-fire of some stupidity.

It was 1984. I had just bought two slices of pizza and a drink from the window of a pizza shop and was standing there eating it when I heard a "pop" and a girl a few feet from me screaming. The guy next to her had been shot in the head by a passer-by who apparently strolled off down the Harlem street after he did it. The police eventually showed up, and the EMTs collected the body for the morgue. To my knowledge the killer, nor the reason for the killing were ever discovered.

When I got to Boston in 1986, the stories coming out of the Roxbury/ Dorchester/ Mattapan are were even more atrocious than the things I was seeing and hearing about in New York City. Murders, robberies, random beatings and  the deaths of children caught in cross-fire were a remarkably common occurrence. I even know about an abandoned car that sat for months under a train trestle in Dorchester with a dead body in it, repeatedly called in about and repeatedly ignored by local police until election season came around (I'm sure it was just a coincidence). Meanwhile, scores of children and parents passed this vehicle to and from school for months.

Happy Land after fire and the tree in front.
It was a cool night on March 24, 1990 when I was in New York for spring break. A bunch of my friends from home and I decided that we were going to hang out that night, with all of us now being old enough to legally get into clubs. One of my friends had the great idea that we should go to a club in the South Bronx called Happy Land. When we reached the front door, a couple of us had mis-givings about going in.  One of my friends went in to check out the scene. By back started to itch really badly, which was usually a sign of danger. As I began to scratch my back on a tree, conveniently located near the entrance, I became adamant that I was not going in; offering the option to go into Manhattan and the Music Factory over in Chelsea. A couple of my friends, familiar with my itchy back premonitions decided that going to Manhattan was probably the move. Our friend came out of the club, trying to get us to go in, noting that there were a number of fine women in there. We told him about our alternate pan. He protested. He protested all the way to the train, all the way into Manhattan and sulked in the club. The next morning, as we were catching the train home, we saw the headlines on the paper, "87 Die in Bronx Club Fire". Yep, it was Story Land, and the fire happened hours after we left, the fire was started by some guy who was mad at his ex-girlfriend who worked in the club, and most of the folks died because the fire exits to the club had been chained and pad-locked... We all looked at each other, took a deep breath and kept it moving.

I think of the millions of people racially profiled and harassed by law enforcement, including own experiences, and after being man-handled, bruised, personal property and clothing damaged by over-zealous cops who discover that they have the wrong person, or find nothing, arrogantly tell their victims that this was done for their protection. I think of Emmit Till; Chavis Carter, who according to Alabama police out-did Houdini by being able to shoot himself in the head, while wearing handcuffs in the back of a police cruiser; Edmund Perry, an honor student at Exeter Academy, who was gunned down by a New York cop in an alleged robbery attempt; and my cousin, David Hendricks, a fisherman who was killed by sleep- deprived and notorious racial- profiling Mashpee policeman in a traffic stop, and I'm numb.


The fact of the matter is this: what made the Marathon Bombing a true tragedy int he American psychie is that suddenly, the average person can't feel safe in downtown Boston. Random killings and injuries from senseless acts of violence should only happen in the inner cities. The big difference, the killers from the Marathon have been apprehended within a few days, while the killers of countless children, men and women in the same city have and will continue to go unacknowledged by the media and unsolved by the powers that be. For many of us of Gen X, it's another day.




1 comment:

Tah Phrum Duh Bush said...

Thanks so much for this. I read it a while back and it deserved a re-read. Much love Bro