Watching City Hall #275, (4-16-04)
Murder, magic, and bad manners
Officer Isaac Espinoza was murdered last week. Had they met under other circumstances, his killer and he would have probably have gotten along fine. Maybe, theyd have even shared a mutual respect. Maybe drank a beer. I dont know, but I kind of expect thats what would have happened. Let me tell you why.
Them cops, they fight good.
(a Severely Emotionally Disturbed student)
I may know the kid who killed Officer Espinoza. In fact, its entirely possible that he was one of my students when I taught in the SFUSD. I remember a student named David who talked about times in the projects when cops took off their badges and guns and did no blame mutual combat with gang members. The kid really respected the cops for that. And, as he said, the cops more than held their own.
Which is amazing, when you realize the gang bangers they were fighting had spent their entire lives fighting. Kids whod been raped, enslaved & put out as hustlers and thieves as soon as theyre big enough. That will make you tough. Espinoza tried to help. So did I. Know what I said when the good cop died?
Everybody on their page of the phone book.
If Id been a cop, Id have made Alex Fagan Jr. look like Gandhi. It just never would have worked out. Someone kills one of my fellows. They dont get back to the station alive. Follow the victims family home!? Everyone of you dies, plus everyone on your page of the phone book, as they used to say back in my own hood. Naw, Im better off restricting my venom to a keyboard.
Its different if you know the perp
I still dont know if I know the shooter, but the possibility that I do changed everything real fast. The anger changed to some combination of sadness and disgust. Like Isaac Espinoza, I got along with the gangsters who peopled my workaday life because I didnt hate them and they knew it. Hell, those kids were my family. To think that one of the nicer ones might have shot Espinoza made me wonder what the guy must have gone through in the 7 or 8 years since I saw him. Three years of CYA hell. I read that much. A whole family of gang members. That kind of thing is hard to outgrow. I drank a bunch of bourbon & smoked some pot and turned on the tube to think it over.
Tookie explains it in Redemption
There was a movie on called Redemption. It was about a gang banger. This Tookie guy was one of the founders of the Crips gang down in L.A.. More recently, he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Thats a bit of a range of difference. So, Im watching this movie at my friends crib and Tookie says that he formed a gang to protect him and his family because it was a tough neighborhood and no one trusted the cops. It was like Northern Ireland & Afghanistan & Iraq and San Francisco!? Palestine & El Salvador?
Tookie does childrens books now. He preaches peace. It proves it is possible to change directions under the toughest conditions. A lifetime in prison without possibility of parole. Plenty of time to change.
Im an eye for an eye kind of guy. If Id been in charge in Iraq, Id have roasted Sadam Hussein, drawn & quartered him & hung his pieces on that bridge where his buddies hung the American mercenary. But, thats just the kind of guy I am. Like most of the guys & gals from the Crips & the Bloods and West Mob & Big Block, I grew up in a housing project. I grew up in neighborhoods where you better stroll with about 10 or 20 people unless you want to get your ass kicked. Let me tell you a story about that which, I think relates to the present condition in Palestine and, closer to home.
Home from the sea
It was 1965 & Id heard of Black Muslims but never met one. I was just out of 3 years in the Navy and had my first city job in St. Louis. I was a recreation leader for the Department of Park & Rec. I was one hell of a softball coach. The man in the suit with the bow tie came over and told me that I was a white devil and that this was his neighborhood now and that I had no right to be working here. The older black men playing chess and checkers on the forest green picnic benches paused in their moves and watched us closely without watching, if you know what I mean.
It was 100 degrees. The humidity was 100%. We were huddled under the few trees outside the small rec center taking a break between 3 hour heavy workouts on the black asphalt softball field where the temperature reached 140 degrees. It was a typical St. Louis summer day in the projects.
The field was in the center of a development the federal government had built as WWII got rolling. The feds knew how to build then. They were just off 10 years or so of W.P.A. (Works Projects Administration) work that had filled parks from upstate New York to Golden Gate with sound structures, trails, roads, bridges, museums
In St. Louis, they built a 30 story tall main city hospital complete with a separate school for nurses and an insane asylum across from a new elementary school and day care center. They surrounded the complex with 2 story tall public housing units to provide cover for the thousands of workers who came up from the Ozarks to work in the arms factories. My displaced Irish/German parents made bullets to kill, first, their European cousins, then, future Japanese in-laws. Thats just America.
Hired killers wanted: $78.50 a month
It was 1962 and Id just graduated from high school. It sounded like a really good deal. Room and board was included. Along with your first sea locker full of clothes. For most of us, it was the best food wed ever had and the highest quality clothes wed worn. If we re-enlisted, theyd give us a clothing allowance and, if you stayed long enough, you could have your own room when you were doing shore duty and you could retire at 38 years old. As the 8th of 8 project kids, that was a pretty tempting offer. They sent me to the desert in Morocco.
Navy in the desert?
I wasnt cut out for the military. Oh, I didnt get in trouble or anything like that. I did what they said and reached the maximum rank possible (E-5) during my tour. Where was I?
Black Muslim vs Irish Vet
Like I said, Id never seen the guy. I knew the neighborhood had changed lots in my 3 years away, but it was still my hood. This guy didnt know that. He walked right up and started trying to intimidate this son of, son of, son of immigrants whod escaped oppression hundreds of years ago from the British and made a place eventually in this town and went away and paid his dues as an international thug and came home and found that his neighborhood was no longer in need of his presence. According to this guy. I looked him up and down and started pointing and speaking.
I was born in that building.
I pointed to the hospital across the street. I went to pre-school in this building. (I indicated the rec center) I was raised in these projects. I went to grade school in that building. (I pointed to the school 50 yards away where home runs to right field often ended up on the 2nd story roof.) I played 2nd base on 2 City Championship softball teams here. (indicating the field upon which Id been coaching my new, all-black team we were 30% black when I played) I know everyone at these tables. (I waved at the picnic benches) Have you all known me since I was a child? (most looked down, but a few nodded and smiled) Then, I turned to him: I never saw you in my fucking life. You come in here and tell me this is your land now because you took it over while I was away risking my life to protect it?
The Muslim became a friend
People are territorial. Men are macho. I favor capital punishment. Every country in the world should pay people to get sterilized. (course, Id have never been born but that just lends credence) Neighborhoods change. Powerless people without property, draw lines on maps and defend them with automatic weapons. That last one, is the one that counts.
Its ironic that people will die for a piece of land or a building that they dont even own. I recall, for instance, an elderly Filipino guy who burned to death in a building Walter Shorenstein owned, rather than leave. I kind of doubt that Walter has that kind of attachment to real estate. Money? Of course!? Real estate? Naw, he can always hide his ownership in a straw party.
Is there a God?
A good man who was a cop died. If there is a God, thats OK. I should say, if there is a God and that God is good, its OK. I happen to believe the answer to both of those questions is Yes. I think Isaac Espinoza is in a better place. Lots better.
I dont have to guess
I dont have to guess. David Hill is in Hell and will be there for the rest of his natural life. At least. Hed spent years in Hell before he dropped the hammer that killed that brave, loving cop. If theres no God? Kill him without a trial and kill everyone in his gang and the other murderous gang of thugs he thought he was going to be wasting that night.
It could be worse
I cant imagine how at the moment, but Im absolutely certain it could be lots worse.
Keep smiling: firstname.lastname@example.org