Growing Up On Long Island: Racism 103 – It Gets Worse

In my last post I covered how the police started treating the neighborhood differently once we were “mixed.” What could have been a very bad incident didn’t bring police in until shots were fired, more than 40 minutes after the first phone call was made.

Almost 10 years after that incident, I was out of high school and still living with my parents, despite two attempts to live on my own. Long Island and New York City are very expensive and it was cheaper to live at home. I worked for a freight company and one of my co-workers happened to be the older sister of someone I went to high school with. Dayna’s family lived in the same general vicinity as us but we weren’t “neighbors.” We got along great. Did I mention she is African-American?

One of Dayna’s neighbors started leaving unregistered cars all over the street by their house. It was making the neighborhood look trashy. We didn’t have parking restrictions except near the bus stops. However, unregistered cars should never be parked in the street. I should know, I held on to my Mustang for a bit after it was hit by a tractor-trailer; unwilling to let it go. It sat in our backyard – not on the street.

Neighbors finally complained to the police and to the Town of Hempstead about it. The police paid the neighbor a visit and said he couldn’t leave the cars in the street like that. The neighbor somehow found a way to pile the cars one on top of the other on his front lawn.

Elmont is not a rural area where people might typically have cars on their property they are working on. It looks like the above picture; with not much room in front or in back for a lot of things. My parents’ home was on a 40×100-foot lot. Imagine living next to someone who piled cars one on top of the other on a front lawn.

It was easily against the law. Dayna’s family and her neighbors called the police and the Town of Hempstead code enforcement, both of whom basically shrugged their shoulders and said there was nothing they could do.

I can’t imagine any town where something like that was allowed. When we moved to Valley Stream, if we put our garbage cans out too early the neighbor across the street was calling code enforcement on us and we were threatened with a ticket. There’s no way that piling old cars up on your front lawn isn’t against the law, not to mention creating a hazard for the kids in the neighborhood as well as health-wise. There’s no way that would have been allowed in any North-Shore white neighborhood, nor the bastion of Long Island whiteness, Garden City.

It was around this time that had my own incident with the local police. I often went out with friends on the weekend and ended up driving. One of those nights I dropped my friend off at his house, then went to drive to my house a few blocks away. It was about 2 in the morning and the streets were deserted. I got to a stop sign and slowed up but with no cars out I rolled through it. Halfway down the block, here came the flashing lights. Oh damn! I pulled over, knowing I was guilty but it was 2AM so maybe I could talk my way out of it. I handed the officer my license, registration, and insurance card.

The officer asked me what I was doing in the area. I said I lived here and I was driving home after dropping a friend off. He insisted I didn’t live nearby and wanted to know what I was doing. Keep in mind, he had three pieces of identification in his hands that showed my address just about 3 blocks from where he’d stopped me. It took me about 10 minutes to convince him that yes, I did live nearby. I guess at this point they thought any white person in the neighborhood must be buying drugs or something. I sure didn’t know anyone selling drugs in the neighborhood, but what other reason could he have for thinking a 22 year old white girl in her car at 2AM didn’t belong in the neighborhood? He let me go with “a warning” and watched me drive make a left at the next corner, drive 3 blocks, and turn again. That was the street my house was on. I waited for him to come by, but he didn’t. Maybe he sat there and waited to see if I came out again, since my street cut a circle into pieces and I couldn’t get out any other way except to go back past where I’d turned.

What did that say about that officer as well? He was immediately assuming that this area he was patrolling must have drug issues since African-Americans lived there. He had a bias built in already when dealing with the very people he was supposed to “protect and serve.”

People think New York is a bastion of liberal-ness, but it isn’t. Long Island was very segregated – probably moreso than many southern towns. I hated that part of living there and growing up. The good part was I made many good friends who I still have in my life. I made mistakes along the way, but I learned from them. I’ll keep telling the stories until people understand what racism is about. It’s not always what you think it is.

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