Copyright ©1996, 1997 A.D. Sullivan
At Surf & Stillwell
The policeman put his .38 service revolver into the Hispanic's neck. Coney Island. Blue Sky. No clouds. Little breeze off the ocean. "Don't move you motherfucker-" his wife pregnant, holding his fishing rod. "If you help him. I'll blow his head off." They dropped the keys to the station wagon on the beach somewhere. Then the policeman found the hanger in his hand.
Virtual Reality Diary
Author Joel Dreyfuss was wrong.
He predicted racial riots in the 1980s after studying the effect of anti-poverty programs designed to help blacks and other ethnic people out of the ghetto.
Dreyfuss wrote for The Progressive in 1979 that conditions such as poverty, unemployment and drug abuse had gotten worse not better since the last of the race riots in the 1960s.
For example, only 3 percent of all professional jobs were held by blacks-- exactly the same as it had been in 1969. The number of black youths under 16 arrested was 10 times what it had been in 1950.
Dreyfuss said the 1980s might well be one of racial unrest unless conditions were made better. Since these predictions, things have grown even worse. The Reagan-Bush era not only refused to aid cities and ease racial pressures, but began a systematic disassembly of poverty programs put into place as a cure for tensions of the 1960s. Big Cities have slowly been cut off as Federal money shifted towards defense contractors and wasted on Star Wars research.
Unemployment for young blacks has risen above 75 percent, and America now has the largest percentage of its population in jails than any other country in the world-- most of whom are black. Drug addiction and alcoholism run rampant in black communities, as does the AIDS epidemic.
Perhaps Dreyfuss' predictions should be updated for the 1990s--though judging from the hell in Los Angeles, it may already be too late.
Hang out all night. White and tan faces melt into the darkness, anonymous city warriors, rape, pillage and plunder. Anything to escape the concrete where nothing lives, trees rot and die, as do the people. Pot and crack comfort creating the illusion of well-being, short sessions of sexual sweating release the tension of oppression. City police cars race by with lights flashing, men emerging with guns drawn, ready to destroy live in their fight for the city. The battle rages the while night and claims a few more souls, no victors, only victims.
"License and registration," I said when he rolled down the window, the smell of alcohol all over him.
"You got a problem?" he asked in that smug nigger tone of voice which said he would be trouble.
"No problem if you do what you're told," I said, signaling to Joe in the car. "Why don't you just step out of there.
Escape flickered in his eyes with a glance up hill. Then resignation. No point running up into Wayne. We knew our town too well. If he'd been going back down into Paterson, he might have tried it. He got out of the car. A tall man with a smug expression and good clothing.
"Now why don't you just tell us where you were going in such a hurry," I said. Joe came up the other side of the car with his baton handy.
"I'm late for a wedding," the nigger said.
"Which explains the fancy duds, eh?" Joe asked.
"Where?" I asked, not believing a bit of it. Lots of people passed through these streets, taking short cuts to the highway. Sometimes taking things from people's houses on their way through.
"On the highway," he said. "The Manor."
"It seems to me you've already been celebrating," I said. "You want to walk the line for me?"
He looked annoyed. "I told you, officer. I'm late. I don't mind you giving me a ticket, but damn it, get it over with."
"Listen, buddy!" Joe barked, stepping around the bumper with his baton out. "Don't talk to my partner like that. When he says walk, you walk."
The man only staggered once, and did the other tests well enough. "Satisfied?" he asked coldly.
"Almost," I said. "We'll just run a check on the car. And then you can go."
"A check? What for?"
I looked at the car: a 1991 Mercedes. A little rich for a Paterson nigger. Even a successful one.
"Why do you think?" I said and moved, only to find his hand on my arm. "Lay off the flesh, fellah," I said.
"No," he barked. "I'm a businessman. I don't need to be treated like this."
"Nobody's mistreating you yet," Joe said, slapping the baton in his hand.
The nigger's brows rose as he looked at Joe. "Was that a threat?"
"You want it to be?" Joe asked.
"Joe!" I said, already too late. Joe poked the nigger in the stomach bowing him over. "Son of a bitch, Joe! Why did you do that?"
"Didn't you hear him?" Joe asked. "The uppity nigger thinks he's somebody special."
"I'll have your badge for this," the man moaned, managing to lean back against his car. Joe hit him again, in the shoulder.
"You just keep your mouth shut, nigger."
"He's gonna complain," I groaned. "He's not like the street punks we've been pulling over up here. He'll make hell for us."
"Will he?" Joe asked and grinned, pushing the baton up under the nigger's chin, lifting the head up. "You gonna make trouble for us, nigger?"
The nigger only glared. People would believe him. Him and his suit and tie would make people take notice the way no one would for the others.
"Let's let him go," I said.
"What?" Joe howled. "And let him get away with thinking he's scared us?"
But the baton rose and fell a half dozen times, bending the nigger farther and farther forward till he tumbled to the ground. I bent and felt his neck. Blood spurted from a wound on his temple.
"Damn it, Joe," I said. "You don't know when to quit, do you?" Joe grinned at me. "Sure, I do. He ain't dead, is he?"
No, he wasn't dead. But we were. One more complaint, the sergeant had said. "He's unconscious. But he'll talk up a storm once he wakes up."
"He doesn't have to, you know."
"What are you going to do, beat him to death?" I asked, straightening, the man's blood dripping down my fingers. "Let's call the paramedics."
"No. It wouldn't be hard. I mean he could have had an accident. He was drunk and in a hurry. We could put him behind the wheel and roll the car off the road. Over where the Kelly kids went through the guard rail."
"No," I said.
"And what about the sergeant? Remember what he said?"
One more complaint and I won't be able to cover it.
"All right," I said. "Do it. Just don't make any mistakes." Joe grinned. "You worry too much, pal. That's your trouble." I nodded as Joe pushed the body back into the Mercedes and drove off with both. I didn't hear the crash -- only Joe's footsteps hurrying back down the road.
"Done," he said, wiping his hands. "That'll teach that nigger to have a little respect for the law."
On Sunday Morning in Paterson, I see three blacks outside the liquor store counting their money, discussing what bottle to share. I abhor the loud rap music that brands it staccato beat in my brain. I hate the racial stereotypes that jump up in front of me and effect my judgment of others.
My great grandmother was in the KKK. No white-haired lady. She pulled on her hood and sheet on Monday, the way she did her choir robe the day before. I am crying, trying to atone for the sins of a woman I never knew, hoping to rid myself of the same thoughts and feeling she felt.
People say white folks have it easy. I say it isn't so. At least not from where I'm looking at things.. Down here where all people are poor, it doesn't matter what your skin color is -- unless maybe when you're applying for welfare. Then niggers don't get stared at as much. People figure they're supposed to be there. But with whites it's another story.
People figure a white boy like me already knows more than a nigger-- like how to get a job or make people trust me. But in truth when you're down on the street, you have to fight twice as hard. Not just with the niggers, but with white people, too. People figure white folks can reform easy, that down here a gun and knife don't quite mean the same thing as they do for a nigger, that one day you'll just put down the switch blade and leather jacket and pick up a suit and tie. They don't expect you to come waltzing into the treatment center asking for help -- nor expect you to ask for an education once you're cured.
You go up to the college and ask to get in, and some nice clean liberal-type white says: "But you're not black!"
Why, they say, can't you just pull yourself up by the boot straps like you expect niggers to do?
Maybe that's possible, too. Maybe enough banging my head against the same stone wall got something for me. Everybody's always told me if you want something bad enough it comes to you over time.
Maybe's there isn't any knack to getting off smack and into a job. I did it, and was pretty proud of myself for it, until this lazy suit-and-tie nigger comes and gets to be my boss. Not that I should have been his boss or anything, or that I thought myself anything better than he was. But it was clear someone high up said there'd never been a nigger boss here before and that it was about time they had one.
I guess I felt put out. Not enough to cause him trouble or anything. It wasn't in my head to do anything when I first started. I'd seen too much trouble over the years, and I figured I could live with the nigger if he could live with me.
But he couldn't let it go like that. He got it into his head that he'd earned his place or something and, like most bosses of any color, started lording over people -- especially me.
Maybe he figured I didn't like him -- which I didn't. Maybe he figured I wasn't afraid of him-- because I wasn't. He certainly knew I didn't think him anybody important. But he pushed it, and it got to a point where I couldn't even pee without him asking me why. Now I've never been one to hold my temper, nor take much bullshit from anybody, and I wasn't far enough from the street to not fall back into my old habits when people pressed me, and man, that nigger pressed me, hounding me every minute of those eight hours I was working for him till I wanted nothing more than to see him dead.
And yeah, when it came down to it, when he had pounded on my head with his orders and his high attitude, I turned and did the thing, telling myself the whole time it wasn't the kind of thing I ought to be doing, telling myself I had fallen right back to where I'd come from.
Yeah, I killed him, just like all the witnesses say.
But now you people are telling me no white man's ever been executed for killing a nigger before, and that it's about time someone ought to be. And I say maybe that's a good thing, but why does that first guy have to be me?
I wake to the radio. News-talk & weather. As if we aren't capable of looking out the window or reading a newspaper. Something is out of control in our lives. Like the Sixties rock band Steppenwolf’s monster which we cultivate in ourselves for our own self-destruction. Waking to broadcasts of SALT talks and middle east hostages is like having the nightmare continuing on outside myself. Part of the problem is the feeling that I am manufactured creature rather than one born of nature, with a by-product of confusion and pain. We sit on the assembly line, getting our stamp of approval, yet something deeper in the process feels wrong. As if in this post modernist generation we have sold our souls for efficiency. Perhaps even this analogy is the mistake of a mind groping for order in the universe, that there is no nature or manufactured self, and pain is not a by-product, but all there is.
Tales of Garleyville
When the riots broke out in Newark during the mid-1960s, we all expected Paterson to go next. My house, situated on the southern boundary, became an armed fortress. My five uncles filled every window with a loaded gun. Boxes of ammunition filled dishes on the TV and end tables like so much candy. And I was told to keep out of sight.
"There are snipers on the streets," one uncle said, quoting the TV news reports as gospel. They didn't want me to leave the house, and if my bedroom hadn't been on the third floor high above the street, I might never have seen daylight.
My uncles took well to the siege, stocking up on canned goods from the supermarket the first day. I did not. I felt like a trapped animal, moving from one gun-filled room to another, waiting for the attack. It was no complicated matter sneaking out of the house with their attention so focused outward.
There was no riot in Paterson that summer, though the blacks had more than enough reason. More than Watts, Newark or Detroit, with nightly beatings by squads of police a fact of life. I'd seen a few such beatings during my sojourns downtown. Lone blacks caught in the Italian neighborhood along 21st Avenue rarely left unscathed. Some, not alive.
Armed bands of white males from Wayne, Clifton and the whiter sections of Paterson did nightly patrols of their own, cruising through the black neighborhoods, taking pot shots at groups of blacks. Sometimes, they found individuals walking away from the crowds. The police said nothing. The Paterson Evening News printed nothing about the bodies found washed up on the river banks downstream in Elmwood Park or Passaic.
Despite this, or maybe because of it, Paterson refrained from the national venting of rage.
But there were gangs -- screaming kids of about my age, who wandered from their own parts of Paterson into the whiter sections of the south side. A few beatings were reported dutifully in the papers, as if each bloody-nosed white kid was a harbinger of things to come, putting parents -- and my uncles -- that much more on edge.
I was out on the street when they caught me a little too close to the Alexander Hamilton project from which they'd come. I'd been walking in a daydream as usual and barely noticed them when they surrounded me.
"What are you doing here, white boy?" they asked.
I shrugged, a little too dreamy to be afraid. I had seen many of them before. One kid named Sherman, I knew from our tenure in the local drum and bugle corp a year or two before -- though now it wasn't the silver and green uniform of the St. Brendan's Cadets he was wearing, but a camouflaged uniform and black beret. Nor did he acknowledge knowing me.
"You know what we do with white kids here?" the others asked. Again, I shrugged.
Maybe they would have beat me up had not one of my uncles come. His big brown Cadillac screeching to a halt at the curb. He hopped out with a pistol in either hand.
Maybe they would have made me hate them the way my uncles and my neighbors did. Yet even before my uncle had come and they'd run off, I had seen the confusion, pain and fear in their eyes, as if each one had been afraid of me.
A town cop stopped me during my morning jog the Sunday after the LA riot. I guess he didn't know any black people personally. It was that kind of town. But he knew me from my year-long protest against the Iraq war, peace signs on my jogging shirt and slogans on my car.
This, however, was the first time he'd acknowledged my existence, though I had passed him many times. He wished me a good morning, but his eyes ached and his face asked me without words if I thought he was a bad man.
I wanted to hug him just for being human. We're all trying to cope with it, man. It's all we can do.
Tales From Secaucus
As the town reporter for a weekly newspaper, you're not supposed to take a side -- in anything. You win no friends by telling too starkly the truth. You don't print who is sleeping with whom. You don't mention names about anything unless you have proof, even then you risk being punched out in the Plaza for saying too much. But in Secaucus where I've worked for the last three years, you never, ever take the side of a black.
Secaucus has a reputation for its outrage and its prejudice. I'm not sure how much is earned, though if a black family's car breaks down on the side of the road in the north end, the police get a full dozen phone calls. Over the last few years, Secaucus has become the target of legal action. The U.S. Justice Department forced the town to advertise outside its own boarders, particularly in black populated areas of the state. The NAACP threatened lawsuit unless the town sought better means of taking on blacks. Of the town's 39 town workers, none are black. Of the town's 50 man (sic) police force, none are black.
With this situation in mind, understand just how dangerous life can be in any of the town's numerous bars during the recent O.J. Simpson hearings, when I dared express doubt about the man's guilt. Oh, I'm not saying he was innocent, but I believed right from the beginning he would not be found guilty, and that people should be satisfied with that outcome. Part of it had to do with the Rodney King disaster. But more importantly, it had to do with the idea of justice, and whether or not 12 people on a jury can come to a decision of this kind against a man like O.J.
People in the bars thought I was crazy. Some threatened violence, using the ``N-word'' at me, as if they believed I'd dyed my face. Some called me a nigger-lover and wouldn't serve me a drink. I admit most of the bar patrons simply turned away from me in disgust, grumbling something about me, as a white man, sticking up for my own kind. The women here thought I was a bastard for not supporting Nicole -- whose habits with men resembled theirs, the ultimate barfly.
I tried to say that any relationship was more complicated than the national media made it, that over the years, O.J. and Nicole learned to push each other's buttons. He hurt her. She got even by stirring him up. In the end she stirred him up enough to possibly kill her. But alas, in a town like this, where even a scum-sucking barfly is higher on the social scale than the most upscale black, such talk from me proved to them I was crazy -- and a traitor to white society. Oh well, that's how the cookie crumbles.
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307