Monday, September 1, 2014


When I first moved to Brooklyn, my area was considered a “gang hotspot” and I used to see kids on the corners wearing red jackets and baseball caps – the rim flat, like new, not curved. They were always polite to me and not ever once did I feel unsafe around them.   

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any violent gang activity.  One day I walked into a little discount store at the south end of the block.  I guess I was in the store about 10 minutes when  I heard sirens, but there were always sirens – ambulances, patrol cars, fire trucks – so I didn’t think anything about it.  When I came out of the store, I saw across the street there were some patrol cars, an unmarked car, and an ambulance.  There were a lot of patrol cops and a couple of detectives in suits.  EMTs were putting someone into an ambulance.  I asked a patrolman what happened.  And what happened is that a kid had walked up to another kid and shot him in the face at four o’clock in the afternoon. 

I walked on home, dropped my stuff off, and a bit later I left the house heading to Manhattan.  I walked north on the block to the subway station at Prospect Park.  Along the way, I saw patrolmen entering the apartment buildings, canvassing, and on the corner was a group of boys in red jackets and hats.  I could hear them talking about the shooting as I passed them.  I never found out if the person doing the shooting got caught.

After that shooting, I took a ridealong one evening with the NYPD in my precinct.  I had to wear a bulletproof vest.  In the space of an hour or so, I went with them on three “calls.”  All of them involved a gun.  There was a man in a check cashing place who got robbed after he cashed his paycheck.  The robber had already taken off on a bicycle.  The patrolmen looked at the surveillance tape in the store and saw that in his nervousness, the robber had dropped some of the money and other patrons in the establishment picked it up and quietly slipped in their pockets.  They were already gone as well.  The next call was to visit a school janitor who said some kids had come inside the school while he was cleaning and he ran them off.  He said they had a gun.  Then we went to a gas station where someone threatened a woman at the pump with a gun – I had to stay inside the car so I wasn’t really sure why.  Then, they got a dangerous call and had to drop me off quickly at home.

Except on a police officer, I never saw a gun in Brooklyn.  I saw a butcher knife once, though.  A woman behind me in the post office pulled it out and started tapping it on my shopping cart handle.  This was a post office deep in the neighborhood.  It had an old, badly painted mural on the wall of famous sports figures from Brooklyn, clerks behind bulletproof glass, and a jillion pieces of used gum stuck in black circles on the floor.  The few times I went to this post office, there was a little old lady sitting outside the front door on top of three stacked kindergarten chairs, talking to herself. 

The woman with the knife was a lot bigger than me, but for some reason instead of feeling frightened, I got angry, really angry.  She surely didn’t expect to see me in the post office, so right away I knew that knife was in her big, junky purse because she was afraid in the neighborhood and that big, old Wild Thing was trying to scare me.  Although, she definitely had my attention, I never looked at her nor at the knife after I first saw it.  I pulled the cart away from her to the other side of me as calmly as you please, and she stepped really close to my left arm and tapped the knife on her hand.  I still didn’t look at her, and if I was afraid, I still didn’t feel it.  I just felt the steam coming out of my ears.  I don’t like being bullied.  There were bug-eyed people in line watching her.  I stepped to a window, purchased stamps, and left. 

I went to the police station to report it, and they said it was a federal crime, so they didn’t take a report.  I went home and reported the incident to the post office over the phone.  I never heard from the postal police, but the next time I was in that particular post office, a few months later, it had been completely painted white, the gum had been scraped from the floor, and there were five surveillance cameras in the ceiling.  I never saw the big, old Wild Thing again.  Maybe she got arrested.

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