Posted by: nedlnthred | July 1, 2015

#Livesmatter

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Ghetto, Sweet Ghetto, west from my front porch. New Section 8 housing in the foreground.

I am undone.  In between the whisps of appliance failure and heartbreak, something happened in my front yard, almost.  And I just don’t know what to think or feel about it all.

I was still on vacation this Monday.  It was chilly, so I came indoors about 11:30am, after finishing my pot of tea.  Such a lovely summer day.  I knew I had to mow the lawn, but I’d just had my heart broken, and was in no hurry to do anything responsible.  So I went indoors, to the comfy sofa at the back of the house.  I was reading distracting romance with the Booloved in my lap, as she is wont to be.

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All that remains, July 1, 2015.

I heard a shot.  Then a second.  Then a cluster of two or three.  Sunk in my own misery, it took me a minute to move, or even to process what I’d heard.  I know from years back that I won’t be the only person to call the cops if they are needed.  But.  I went to the front door to see what had happened.  And there was a tan small sedan pulling out across the street, two or three men, wearing red caps, and a woman? leaning over the body of a largish man, dressed all in browns.  Lying on his back.  Not moving.  I backed from the window, shaking.  I went for the phone.  I have the cops’ phone number in my “contacts” list because I used to want it more often.  And the taped message always says, “If this is a real emergency, hang up and dial 911.”  What is a real emergency?  I think someone lying still on the lawn across the street from mine counts.  I called.  I told them what I’ve told you.

Seconds later, the mailman pulled up in front of the prone man, and his attendants began speaking with the mailman.  Then a cop pulled in from the East Orange side of the street.  Someone had beaten me to the call, clearly.  And now, the helplessness of the bystander.  Sluggish with shock, I went back to my book, sort of.

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My house. In the middle of my street.

An hour or so later a nice-looking, well-dressed black man about my age knocked on the door.  I was waiting for my friend John to come take a look at my hot water heater, but it wasn’t he.  I answered the door.  The man was a detective from Newark’s homicide squad.  What do you say in this kind of situation?  “Hello, come on in!  What a lovely day, would you like a cup of tea?”  (I did not ask him.)  He complimented me on my glasses, incongruous.  I don’t remember what else he said.  I related hearing the shots.  And my surprise, because it has to have been 10 years or so since the last I heard. I returned his incongruous by complimenting him on his shoes, because the present was too awful, and I couldn’t face him.  He asked me what I’d heard, I guess.  Or maybe I just told him.  That I hadn’t seen it because I’d been in the back of the house.  I asked how the man was, and he told me, “He’s dead.”

I could feel my face crumple in pain.  No one deserves to die on the street, on a gorgeous summer day, in a fairly random way.  I’m sorry, so very sorry.  The detective gave me his card and encouraged me to call him.  Then he began the questions about how long I’d lived here.  As usual when a black cop takes a look at me, a middle-aged white woman, living in a neighborhood of Section 8 homes and rundown apartment buildings, he paused for a second.  Then he asked the usual question.  “Are you all right here?”  Hell, yeah, I’m not the one getting shot at here, am I.  Again, so incongruous, how could I do anything but laugh?  Palely, because I remembered midst-peal that he must know different things than I do about this street, this ward, this area.  I told him the truth, which is, “Yeah, my neighbors have pretty much accepted me as “their” crazy white lady.”  Bless his manners, he demurred at that.  But much the way I heard the murmurings concerning what the watchers would do when the cops came, I have heard my neighbors talk about me as I grocery shopped, or sat on my porch.  They don’t know what to make of me, most of them.

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A summer evening, front porch, on my planet.

As a middle-aged white woman, an academic, middle class, with a job in NYC, I exist completely separately from my neighbors.  I may as well work on a different continent from many of them.  Not all of them.  As I walk towards the train station in the morning, there is a steady stream of passengers from surrounding blocks walking with me.  After years of riding the same train, I recognize many of them.  But don’t know them, beyond what they wear day-to-day, and the laughs they share with their riding companions.  And on my block, the block between South Harrison and Oakwood, a block from I280 and from Central Avenue, an east-west artery, I live in a world that doesn’t quite reach further than Newark for its influences.

But I don’t know that I could tell you, or the detective, who the dead man was, other than one of the miscellaneous men hanging out, talking trash when the weather was fine.  And that makes it worse.


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