Growing Up On Long Island: Racism 102 – When the Police Treat You Different

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As I mentioned before, I grew up in a town that went from being a town of mostly Jewish and Italian residents to multi-cultural. Those changes brought about pushback from the white residents. Most people just sold their homes and left as part of the blockbusting and racial steering that went on by the local real estate outfits. There were many of us who stayed. The problem was, the local municipal services changed how they treated the neighborhood.

The first incident happened when I was in junior high. It was a major incident and one that has stayed with me. We had African-American families on both sides of our home and they were both great neighbors. More If I look at my old house from the street, the house on the right was a corner house. The girl there who moved in was the same age as me and we were friends for a while. They moved in when we were about 13, so it was a time when things were changing with us too. For a while we all hung out together playing kickball or just talking. We just moved to different likes eventually and drifted apart (okay, I was a sci-fi geek and if it didn’t involve Star Wars, Star Trek, or Doctor Who I was pretty inept at that time). Our usual spot to hang out was in front of her house because it was a corner and there was plenty of room if there were other kids hanging around.

The schoolyard from Gotham Avenue School abutted the houses across the street from her (yes, that’s where my friend Suzanne lived). We even had an entrance back then to the schoolyard at a break in the houses. That was how we walked to elementary school back when I attended. They’ve since closed it up in the name of “security.” Back then, though, it was a popular way for people to cut through – even my Dad used to cut through there if he got off the N6 bus on Hempstead Turnpike instead of taking the N1 which dropped him on Elmont Road.

One night I had been outside with them when a group of about 5 white boys came through the schoolyard. I was watching Sheryl and Joanie do double-dutch (something I could never master, kind of like driving a stick shift). The boys didn’t like that all of the kids doing double-dutch didn’t move out of their way when they came through. Seriously. there was plenty of room to walk by on the sidewalk; there was no reason to move. We did move any time cars came down the street. I think shouting “CAR!” was likely my job as the white chick who couldn’t do double-dutch.

I’m digressing. Words were exchanged with the boys and that was it. Or so we thought.

I went inside since it was getting late. I was watching television with my parents when I heard a lot of noise from outside. Those boys we had exchanged words with had come back. There were now a multitude of high-school-aged white boys in the street in front of my neighbor’s house and shouting was going on. What I didn’t know at the time was my neighbor had called the police already. The neighbor on the corner to the next street behind him had called the police as well. 40 minutes had gone by since those first two calls and no police. My neighbor had gone out to try to reason with them to break it all up – apparently they were throwing things at his house, trying to break windows. He came back to his house.

Meanwhile, I called the police as well. I was on the phone with them when my neighbor brought out his (legal) rifle and fired 3 shots into the ground between our houses to get the boys to disperse. That the police operator heard while I was on the phone with her and we soon had the police arriving.

It didn’t end there, though. The boys knew who we were, of course. We all went to school together. One day on the way home from school two boys walked behind me making comments. I let them walk past then walked behind them making comments. The next day one of the boys’ older brother met me with a baseball bat and chased me home, calling me “ni–er lover.” Imagine being that insecure in yourself that you need to do this to a girl in 7th or 8th grade; but it was scary at the time. Now, I see how really pathetic it was.

My mother picked me up the next day and saw the boy with the baseball bat. Apparently he was ready to chase me again. My mother slowly followed him in the car and I remember the shitty grin on his face to this day. Needless to say, I didn’t walk to or from school the rest of that year.

It wasn’t over, though. The police waiting over 40 minutes to respond and only when shots were fired wasn’t enough. We had a detective from the precinct come to my neighbor’s house within a couple days of the incident. All of the kids’ parents who were there were out there. My parents were there as was Tony, the other (white) neighbor who had called police the first time with no response as well. I don’t remember much of the meeting except the boys were back out front, taunting and jeering with the police car right there. The detective was more worried about them damaging the police car than doing something about them at that time or hearing what was going on.

We called in the County DA and had a meeting with him. By then, I’d had my incident. I didn’t know the name of the boy with the baseball bat, but I knew the name of one of the two boys I’d initially had words with (that’s how we found out it was his brother with the baseball bat). This time things happened. I don’t think anyone was arrested, but whatever happened after they had the discussion with the DA we never had an incident again. I started walking home the next school year (this had happened near the end of the school year in May or June) and wasn’t bothered.

I would hazard a guess that someone in that crowd had a connection to the precinct and that was why they were so sure they could do what they want even with the police car right there. Likely the DA gave them all a good talking to, but that was it.

There are two other incidents with involving the local police, but I’ll leave them for the next post.

It’s not so much that the neighborhood “changes” that is the problem. It’s the way the people who live there are treated differently that is the problem.

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