Today Seems like Everyday




October 1973. Richmond, Virginia.

My friend Vernon and I volunteer to make a beer run. We take a shortcut down a West End street barely lit by those ridiculous colonial gas lamps. Both of us make a simultaneous decision to walk in the middle of the street, but it’s too late. Two guys jump out from their hiding spot, one’s aiming a gun at me. He barks put your wallet on the car! We empty our pockets of the combined $4 in change we collected for the beer. Your wallet!! I reach for it but plead to keep my driver’s license. He cocks the thing. I toss it on the car hood, put my hands back up. Tells us to turn around and count to ahundred. We take a stab at it, only getting to 3, turn around and they’re gone. I look across the street and see a man staring at us from his front door. When he sees me looking at him he quickly draws the shade and turns off the light. I sprint over, Vernon tailing me and bang on his door—I know you’re in there and you saw what happened, OPEN UP!! The light comes back on, he opens the door—he’s all sheepish; I ask him to call the police. Minutes later a scooter cop rolls up, followed by two squad cars, red lights spinning. We give a description to the scooter, it’s not much: two guys, young, wearing dark jackets and pants, maybe jeans, the one holding the gun takes the lead while the other hangs back in the tree shadows they came out from. Both Black. All the radios crackle at the same time they caught a suspect. Taking direction, Vernon gets in one car and I get in the other, the K-9 car. I’m in the back seat, the dog’s snarling, spitting, trying to chomp his way through the cage to get at me. I ask the cop to sit up front, he tells me civilians sit in the back, but don’t mind the dog, he only goes after criminals. I lean forward, trying to put him out of my mind and get away from his spittle. We roll about 5 blocks, finally turning into a supermarket parking lot. The cop points in the direction of a man completely surrounded by cop cars, and lit up by all their searchlights. Cop asks if this is one of the guys. This guy is light-skinned, got a beard and wearing an argyle sweater and gray slacks: doesn’t look anyway damn near the guy who held a gun on me. I give the cop my description of the stickup guy which doesn’t match this guy; he asks again if this is the guy. I say no. He pulls away a few blocks where they’ve pulled the same maneuver on another guy in another parking lot: well dressed and no where near fitting the description. I see Vernon in one of the cars, he’s pale and looks as scared as I am. Cop asks me if THIS is the guy. I say no. Cop asks me if I’m sure. I tell him. He says something into his radio and they all disperse. Cop rolls up to another car going the other way. They roll down their windows; the one cop asks if they got the guy. My cop thumbs at me and says he says no. The other cop says, shit, then, he pauses and says, but we almost got one didn’t we. Cop tells me he’s taking me back to the crime scene; I ask him if he could take me home. No, we’re not a taxicab service. We’re driving back, finally, as if he just noticed, he tells the dog to pipe down, which it does and in that cold silence he asks if I’m taking part in the streaking that was all the rage at the time. I tell him no. I lied. He ponders a bit, a small bit and comes back with I guess it would be a waste, you being so dark and all no one could see you, and laffs and it’s a big one, like, he got his own joke. By the time he drops me off at the spot, Vernon’s waiting. The scooter cop must’ve been waiting on me too because soon’s he sees me, he kickstarts his scooter and tells us to be careful out at night and think about carrying a gun next time before puttering away. Vernon and I are both bewildered and scared out of our wits. We stay to the middle of street, hugging each other as we walk towards his apartment looking ever which way. We got to this apartment, turned on all the lights and sat up in his livingroom until it was light enough for me to go home.

North Star

BLM sign at Central Baptist Church

North Star

Every time I open FB—I vowed to skip it last week and failed, then, this week and failed—another Black person’s in the crosshairs of the police. I mean Charles Kinsey, damn. Reports about the reason given by the policeman who shot him: I don’t know. I don’t know? The message is pretty clear: this is a serious, if not systemic, culling of the population disguised as rogue cops behaving badly while justice looks the other way. It feels like war although not on a whole scale yet. First, random shootings, while folks steadily arm themselves and congress does nothing about gun control. Second, outbreaks of skirmishes as tensions with the media fanning the flames while deflecting attention to Black on Black crime. It’s like everybody knows it’s coming but won’t do anything to stop it. Yet, at the same time, I refuse to accept the possibility of civil war. We are too many of us who have fought and fight to get this far in making this situation a more perfect union to comply or even accept the possibility of such a horror.

I started this essay on July 22nd, so, it’s been several weeks since my return to it. I couldn’t find the words to talk about my recent n00se experiences, the reason being totally consumed with my mother and I’d been pondering if it was appropriate to share why I haven’t been posting, but, the absence, the dearth of entries for n00se warrant this post. At last, I finally bid my mother goodbye as she was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. We interred her in the same gravesite where my father’s body has occupied since 1997. 2016 has been a grueling and exhausting year and my mother rapidly, and with brakes failing, became its focal point. Strong-willed, some say more accurately, stubborn, right up to the end I can’t recall being with her for so long for those 3 months of care nor so intensely in nearly 30 years. It was necessary to care for her, but, more importantly, as she spoke of old long gone friends visiting her and dead relatives dropping by, I needed to be with her. Now, my sister and I take the steps to emotionally, not to mention, materially, say good-bye to mom. Each scribble of “deceased” on a subscription renewal notice, each bill settled, makes the passing of my mother more and more acute. And more and more I don’t want to let go and am haunted by wondering if I did all I could do to keep her going. Which, the answer is yes, but, still, was it enough? I have no answer to that end and am unsettled by its blank. In fact, I can’t remember what I did, but, for a period of three months, I was doing it everyday. There were times where I felt helpless and frightened as I harangued hospital and rehab staff to attend to her pain issues. At times, it seemed as though my alarum slowed them down. Now, living in the weight of her absence, which, at times, tethers me to the bed or binds me to the driver’s seat unable to do much of anything at all I dream of fleeing, but there’s nowhere to flee to. Where is my northern star?

So, instead of editing this document that I started in July I decided to keep adding to it. The death of my mother parallels the deaths and shootings Facebook brims with. Since Charles Kinsey’s shooting, there have been other—it’s hard to keep up—Black people shot and/or killed. Carl Williams, in his own home, Bernard Wells, Jeffrey Tyson, Korryn Gaines, Donnell Thompson, Sylville Smith, I could go on and on (names drawn from this site: I am not ordering them chronologically or alphabetically; it would be ridiculous to be so formal like I’m tending a garden or reading off an attendance list. The tragedy associated with their names comes at us from a man-made avalanche everyday. And though not all shootings and killings have exclusively been of Black people, what still is incredible is the number of Black people killed. I discovered the site, killedbypolice, and selected year 2016, which, at last count, numbered around 600 in July, but, surely, that number has been surpassed.  So, it seems, the police are shooting everybody and anybody; there is no doubt they have a license to kill. But, the rampant and nondiscretionary use of guns, the proliferation of open carry or concealed carry which have made packing heat so populous has made shooting, killing, a national epidemic. But, hasn’t it always been so? As more and more guns supplant reason, isn’t expediency and resolution by gun the new black?

So I return to my earlier query: Am I doing enough? Did I do enough for my mother? Am I doing enough in the fight against racism in the 21st century? Probably not, but, each day I am presented with the opportunity to get better at it. Make a commitment to do more. Just around the time I started n00se and during my weekly runs through Wayne, Pa. I noticed a Black Lives Matter sign posted on the grounds of Central Baptist Church. Curious, I did some research and discovered that the church decided to display the sign on the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown ( Soon after, in reading an article about the display, members of the church were ‘surprised’ by reaction the sign provoked. I chuckle at the word, surprised. Anyone familiar with Wayne knows that a sign like this is sure to spark a reaction and not a good one either. What’s more, why are the patrons of the church unaware of what’s happening with BLM nation-wide? What is striking to me, besides the fact that a church is receiving such a negative reaction, is that it is one, an historical one to be sure, that continues to uphold the sign in the face of such hostility. But, more importantly, as frightened as the church pastors are, they continue to stand behind the sign. It’s been vandalized a few times, most recently, the word Black was erased, but repainted. It’s probably not so ironic that the haters who leave angry and ranting voicemails and Facebook posts anonymously hide their identities in much the same way as the ku klux klan hide their identities underneath their robes and hoods. I bet if they were confronted with that analogy they would be shocked. I can hear the refrain now, “I’m not racist but. . . !” Then again, maybe not. Maybe I’m being too optimistic about Wayne. But if this church in one of the toniest areas in the Philadelphia area continues to post that sign I can do no less.