There are a million different ways to say “I love you”. As a male, even if whispered from the softest of lips from the one who holds us in the highest regards, the premise still seems unfathomable; it makes us uneasy. It doesn’t always come in the form of physical contact; it’s frequently delivered in subtle methods such as, “Put on your seatbelt.”; “Watch your step.”; “Did you eat?” or “Get some rest.” So as a man, imagine how uncomfortable it is when one of your brethren conveys that sentiment in any form. The slightest expression of emotion, the least bit of vulnerability is met with resistance or disdain. “Alright!” or “Stop tripping” are phrases that you might typically hear in response to adulation. An often time, a quick change of subject is warranted to re-regulate the testosterone loss by any displays of affection. “The male has paid a heavy price for his masculine ‘privilege’ and power.” According to Dr. William S. Pollack in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “Although boys have the same emotional potential as girls, their emotional range is soon limited to a menu of three (3) related feelings: rage, triumph, and lust.” Anything else and they risk being seen as a sissy, says Dr. Pollack. Society demands that men display “machismo” at every turn; and culturally, as a black male there are but two (2) reactions that can be made when faced with conflict; fight or flight; there is no in-between.
Long before deciphering the concepts of the Willie Lynch letter – The Making of a Slave (in one case pitting black male against black male), the publication of Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, or understanding the dynamics of the prison industrial complex, there was October 15, 1997. The phrase “black-on-black crime” was first brought to the mainstream media in the early 1970s, which included Ebony magazine using the phrase in a November 1973 editorial titled, “What Can Be Done?” As an individual growing up in that era, as I matured, it was a normal part of my existence. On that overcast October morning, myself and two (2) of my dear friends were involved in a violent altercation. When I reflect upon the run-in, it was incomprehensible. The echo of gunfire reverberated off the surrounding structures as a number of bullets pierced the skin of my fallen comrade. We had all scattered in different directions after he attempted to remove the weapon the assailant pointed at his head away from his face; seeking to deprive him of the currency and jewelry he had in his possession. As the tires squealed from the vehicle that was left idling in the adjacent parking lot, and fled northbound on the major roadway making their escape, I rushed over to my companion to discover what damage had been inflicted upon him. There were no tribal screams or acts of rage, flailing arms or legs as depicted in cinema; just a feeling of disbelief and remorse. I had seen this coming; spotted the play as it was taking place, and had done nothing to prevent it. I would like to think my skepticism about the events even taking place would relieve me of any guilt I may have had, but honestly we were slipping; I was slipping. We took the fact that we were in our neighborhood for granted and thought our stature in the community made us immune to incidents such as this. That was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
The paramedics quickly arrived on the scene and our friend was airlifted to a hospital that managed those types of injuries. I had been out of college almost four (4) years and was three (3) years into my career in law enforcement when the confrontation transpired. So as the police conducted their investigation, numbered cones marked shell casings and yellow tape intertwined with trees and branches, questions needed to be answered. Admittedly, neither I nor many of my immediate friends were cut from a fabric of cutthroats and killers. Like most of Middle America during that period, we enjoyed mimicking the lyrics of our favorite gangsta rap artists and lived vicariously through movie characters like Doughboy from Boys N The Hood or O-Dog from Menace II Society. But after witnessing what had transpired, I believe we were all willing to take penitentiary chances in an attempt to get retribution for the possible loss of our homeboy. A visit to the hospital determined that he would recover and the only thing left was to “get our man/men”. After the laughter subsided, the saline solution was properly filled and administered, bed pan checked and breathing apparatuses were in place, there was a sense of angst in the air; a collective tension that justified action needed to be taken. Traveling to the police station once removing the bullets from my hood after leaving the hospital, I contemplated what measures needed to be taken to satisfy my desire to avenge the earlier proceedings. Was I willing to go to jail and throw away my career for the sake of attaining “street justice” and to not look “green” (soft) for failing to retaliate for an occurrence for which I was involved? It was a no-brainer. I contacted Azreal AKA Samael (the Angel of Death) who was willing to help undertake the task of delivering vengeance. And similar to Dough, Lil’ Chris and Monster, but without the convertible ‘64 Impala, we rode through the streets of then Unincorporated Miami-Dade County looking for our transgressors.
In retrospect, I am glad we never found the culprits that dreary, fall evening. There was a case of mistaken identity and misinformation. It is amazing how a series of events can cause a chain reaction which could plummet an individual into the pits of purgatory. I still have the deposition that reads, “State of Florida v. (insert name)”. The charges were Robbery, Gun/Deadly Weapon 1st Degree Murder/Premeditated and Robbery Gun/Deadly Weapon. The funny thing is we, myself in particular, have had plenty of opportunities to have our revenge; if death were our intent. It is common for most people not to recognize individuals that they have casual to little contact with. Perhaps either of them could not identify us; maybe they did not care and thought we were not going to do anything; just some clean cut rabble rousers living their lives and not causing trouble. On one remote Sunday afternoon years later, my friends and I were all together, ironically at the scene of the crime by the basketball court. The primary suspect in question was in our view, less than one hundred (100) feet away; none the wiser to who we were and our possible intent. I spoke with the individual who nearly had their life taken by this person; identified the individual as the perpetrator of the offense and asked him what he wanted to do. Any answering would have been acceptable while awaiting his reply. He had lived through that unpleasant experience; had to endure the pain and heal both physically and emotionally. If he would have said, “Let’s duct tape that shit and put his ass in the trunk”, I would have gone along and help commit the dastardly deed. Being raised in a broken home or lack of formal education would not be the justification for my decision making; as I enjoyed the benefits of being raised in a two (2) parent home and being an academic scholar. Anything that would have help make him whole again, although wrong and knowing the ramifications, I would have prayed to have had the courage to undertake the task, and would have done so because of my love and loyalty to him. I would not have asked for anything in return because in my mind, that’s what you’re supposed to do as a friend; be all in. With adrenaline rapidly coursing through my veins, I reluctantly awaited his response with anticipation. “Nah…!! I’m good!” We never asked for the reasoning behind his answer, just a retort of, “You sure?” And from that point, the subject was never broached again until the writing of this piece. The entire incident has been lost to the annals time; only raised when expanding the mythology of the individual who was summoned to help swing his scythe as the Grim Reaper.
The phrase “black-on-black crime” makes sense only if you understand our propensity to commit crimes against people of our own race as inherently different from the way other racial groups commit crimes. There is no difference; crime is crime. In our case, look at how many lives a continued cycle of violence would have damaged. We may not have lived or been free from incarceration to have careers, be a presence in our children lives, create generational wealth for our families, or be mentors and educators. That is what is lost in the equation of violence amongst our own. If I get into an altercation with someone and as a result kill them, then essentially there are two (2) or more people no longer apart of society; unless it’s determined I committed the action in self-defense, there is a strong likelihood that I will be incarcerated for an extended period of time. As males, without our presence and the ability to reproduce, there would not be children. If children were had prior to the incident, there is no fatherly guidance. Without a male figure present, there is no family dynamic or structure. Upon release from a correctional facility, there is now an economic toll that has to be paid; the inability to get public housing, food stamps, student loans; one’s ability to succeed is hindered. In whichever case, there would have been either a choir singing or commissary bringing. At the time of the robbery, neither I nor any of my immediate friends (seven of us) had children; collectively we now have seven (7). I cannot speak for any of them, but his decision to say no definitely saved my life. In my twenties, I would have thrown it all away to get the respect from my peers by retaliating for the incident; to show my loyalty and prove myself as gangsta as any tattooed, grill wearing so-called “real nigga”; never thinking about having to retain an attorney to fight for my freedom or how any of us leaving the block (by death or incarceration) will allow another soldier to fill our shoes. If jailed, perhaps the continuous changing of the months on the calendar would have provided a sense of regret. For those armchair quarterbacking saying, “It couldn’t have been me!” it is easy to utter foolish rhetoric until placed in that life altering position. The prospect of taking another’s life weighs heavily on the human psyche. Who wants to send “kites” from cell to cell as a form of communication or use mirrors as an instrument for social interaction; or have family and loved ones mourn a loss clad in black attire? I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I have had to live and see my friend recover and move past that moment in time. I have never inquired if there were any psychological scars as a result of being shot; I am sure he would not tell me the truth if asked. On many occasions I have told the harbinger of bereavement how appreciative I am for him always being there when I have appealed for his services; it was not until I reached this state of consciousness that I realized how valuable my friend’s decision was to my current existence. The thoughts of our possible response play out like a nightmare in my subconscious and often times haunts my existence. Love comes in any many different fashions. Who would have ever thought the word “No” would be so reinvigorating. Thanks for making that decision King; for that, I love you.
Note: I have spoken to the victim involved in this incident prior to me sharing this story, and he said if he had to make that decision again, he would do so a thousand times. That in itself shows you that the cycle can be broken and people can rebuild themselves when tragedy befalls them. He is a better man than me; I pray I could be that forgiving. “We Are The Change!” I’m gone! (b)
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