Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Disturbance in the 'hood

Things got dramatic Sunday night. We were sitting lazily, watching football, when there was shouting and the sound of many feet running outside. Looking out the window, we saw a dozen or so young men -- boys really -- yelling, pushing and shoving. They were doing that chest bumping thing, charging toward each other for a poorly aimed punch or kick, then backing off, screaming insults. It was not obvious whether distinct groups were involved.

Whatever conflict was going on seemed to be exhausting itself.

Meanwhile, we were trying to decide if we should call the police. That's not a simple decision. If this was an inconsequential juvenile storm that was going to pass by, adding the police might have bad additional consequences. Afterward, I was able to figure out what my criteria might be in the future: in descending order of urgency, I'd call the police if men were beating up on a girl, if there seemed to be a gun or knife, if someone was down and being set upon by a group, and/or if a crowd was randomly smashing cars on the street. None of this was visible, though I can't say what occurred before the fight arrived in front of our yard.

Our druthers didn't turn out to matter. Suddenly we heard multiple sirens and shouts: "Get down; get down." Looking out the window, a cop was pointing a gun at a couple of boys down on the sidewalk in front of our house, and other figures were similarly spread out on the street. There were about half a dozen patrol cars.

I'm glad to say that on this occasion, the San Francisco Police Department was restrained. One kid yelled "nigger bitch!" at a Black cop; he was quickly cuffed. I can't imagine quite what the young man thought he was going to get out of that bit of bravado.

The commanding officer asked us to come out and say what we'd seen. We did, including that whatever it was about seemed to be abating before the officers had arrived. He told us that someone had called in that a kid had a gun; hence the overwhelming force. They had found no gun. He seemed to have already formed the impression that there was less here than he'd feared.

We never will find out what the excitement was about. We'll never find out if there had been a gun, though the situation didn't feel as it it included that level of violence.
On Monday I happened to listen to a Fresh Air podcast titled "Program Fights Gun Violence: Bravado With 'Story Of Suffering.'" I strongly recommend it. Terry Gross interviews trauma surgeon Dr. Amy Goldberg and 'Trauma Outreach Coordinator' Scott Charles. They work to bring home to North Philadelphia youth what the gun violence culture means. Here's Charles describing the kind of dangerous machismo that perpetuates youth street violence:

SCOTT CHARLES: So you know, there's a lot of mythology that surrounds guns and gun violence in the neighborhoods. But one of the things that being shot does, I believe, is that it really is the thing that suggests to the community, at whole, that somebody imposed their will on another. And as the victim of the gun injury, I think there's a sense or a desire to recoup something that was lost.

And the word is that they're now soldiers as a function of being shot. They go back out and they say it wasn't really that big a deal being shot, 'I took it like a soldier.' And I completely understand that, because their concern, I believe, is the fear of being reinjured or re-victimized. They become a target. You don't want to be seen as soft. I get that.

The problem is for those who've not been shot yet. They have no idea how bad this experience is. The reality for 80 percent of the people who get shot, more than 80 percent of people who get shot in Philadelphia and who will survive, it's really a story of suffering. And so what we wanted to do with the Cradle to Grave program is to reveal the truth about that experience. …

Gross went on to interview a kid who had been recently badly injured by a street shooting.

GROSS: How did you get to the emergency room?

GREGORY CUNNINGHAM: Philadelphia police, they came and they saved me. So there's a lot of people out there that got some bad stories with Philadelphia police, but I got a good one.

… GROSS: You know the person who shot you.


GROSS: Did you report it to the police?


GROSS: Because?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't want to see him in jail.

GROSS: Even though he shot you.

CUNNINGHAM: Absolutely.

GROSS: Why don't you want to see him in jail?

CUNNINGHAM: Because he don't belong there. And another thing is, I would've lost credibility in my hood had I said who shot me. So that was one of the reasons why I didn't say nothing. And another reason is I don't believe he deserves to be there. So I didn't tell the police what happened.

Fresh Air transcript

I'm not going to fault that kid for his ambivalence about law enforcement. If he and his friends live, they'll be better off for not relying on the police. But they do need someone, somewhere, somehow, to rely on, someone who can get across to them that they are valuable human beings.
My neighborhood is not North Philly. Bad things -- shootings, muggings -- can happen here, but they don't happen every day. Thank goodness. I'd flee a setting of daily violence if I were able to; most people would. But this is a city. Shit happens. Also sunrises. Here's one from our street:


Rain Trueax said...

I've been around violent moments a few times in small towns and most relate to alcohol like as the bar closes the fight goes outside, etc. Since I don't do bars ever, that means I only see what went outside.

Out where i live in the country, the decision to call a sheriff is more iffy. We are almost 20 miles from the towns and the sheriff could be closer or farther than that. At night there is very little chance of bringing out an authority which means you either take care of it yourself or you hope it goes away. We ended up with a big gate at our driveway which has cut way down on incidents that make it to the house. We didn't do it for the incidents, which over our 37 years here have been rare but do happen, but because the sheep have free range all around the house to get more feed for them. Still it did have a side benefit.

The neighbors call if it comes to their house and they are scared-- most recently like the night call from the woman whose husband wasn't home. She had small children and a drunk was screaming obscenities in her driveway right outside her house. She was frightened and my husband went over but that was one of those rare times the police got there fast as the one patrolling officer was already in the area on another call. I think our main risk is the park that is so close to the house and drunkenness. Sometimes I hear loud voices over there and try to decide is this a fight, do I hear a fist crashing into someone (it's happened) or are they just boisterous, and I only hope the loud drunk sounding one is not the one who is about to drive off.

Parks have their drawbacks as they also can be a meeting place for drug deals which is another time things can turn violent but I would guess when it does, we don't hear it as the last thing the dealer wants is to bring in others. There was one murder out this way from that cause but not in that park-- that we know of. The body was found elsewhere.

Really the biggest danger to us out here are from hunters who are careless (that season approaches) and those who combine guns, autos, and alcohol.

janinsanfran said...

Rain: interesting about the country version of such events.

One reason I never felt threatened by the recent episode described here is that I never had any sense that alcohol was involved. That actually is unusual.

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