Not in My Front Yard
It’s Day 2 at the courthouse and things are as they have ever been.
Sullen-faced supplicants and pissed off tough guys shuffling through the entryway on Eugene Street, emptying their pockets for the X-ray machine, walking through the beeping gateway, standing spread-eagle while a security guard wands them down and asks if they’re wearing belts.
Into the elevators like a herd, most to find out what the legal system has in store for them.
Relatively speaking, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m in a lounge in the district attorney’s offices on the fourth floor, sitting on a naugahyde and aluminum couch that came out of the crate perhaps in 1981. Got a bookshelf full of magazines in here, too, the most recent a Newsweek from July 2006, and a couple stacks of novels, mainly of the bodice-ripper variety with a few tomes of Clancy, Rice and Grisham. And here’s a gem: The Kid Comes Back, a childrens’ baseball story written by John Tunis in 1946. The cover tease reads, “What good is a slugger with a game leg?” and pages 67 through 90 are missing, a fact I learn this the hard way.
I’m free to go at any time – I haven’t done anything wrong, not today anyway, but I’m gonna sit here as long as it takes just like I did yesterday, an event which, by the way, turned into an all-day affair.
I guess now is a good time to talk about the shooting.
In November 2004, two years ago, I saw something scary.
It was the night before Thanksgiving, coming up on midnight, and I was outside on the phone with my sister, who lives on the West Coast. I talk on the phone outside a lot because my cell doesn’t work in the house. Also, I like to smoke when I talk on the phone.
I was in my front yard smoking and talking to my sister on the phone, pacing on the grass I had recently cut because our family was coming over for the holiday: all of my nieces and in-laws, my parents in from New York and some guy named Jordan Green whom I hadn’t yet met but was going to start working with in a week or so.
I was going to make a turkey, and I was likely blathering on to my sister about the big plans I had for the bird in my fridge when I saw a disturbance across the street: a car pulled up under a streetlight, two guys fighting on the corner, a third guy with a gun.
Bang. Bang bang. Bang bang bang.
He must’ve fired ten rounds, the last two or three straight up in the air. I saw him do it.
And then a car speeding down my block and a kid in the street, his blood already seeping into the pavement.
I remember his brother kneeling over him, crying for help.
The cops came fast; I heard the sirens before I had hung up the phone with 911. They secured the corner, took statements from my neighbors and me. The crime scene van was there long after I had drunk myself to sleep.
Two years later I get the call.
And so I sit, all day yesterday and all morning today.
About 20 of us stood in my neighbor’s yard after the ruckus on that mild November evening. But only four of us have answered the subpoena which, I guess, is the way these things go. Because the case involves young people who live in our community, violence and firearms, I don’t really blame them.
Those of us who showed up have our reasons, too, though mine are my own.
It is not cool to shoot off guns in my neighborhood, and after that asshole fired those rounds into the air I was terrified to check on my children in their beds, lest I’d discover that a bullet on its downward trajectory had torn through my roof and killed one of my babies. I was skittish for six months every time a car drove down my street. Even today when I look to the corner I can see a bullet hole in my neighbor’s house, a neat black dot between the two front windows.
When the assistant district attorney tells us we can leave right before lunch, one of the other witnesses said something to the effect that our appearance in court was all for nothing.
But that’s not true, I said. Just being here showed the defense attorney that witnesses were at the ready, willing to tell what they saw, eager to ensure justice would be done.
By being there we reinforced the sense of community in our tiny little neighborhood. We banded together to right a wrong, to draw a line in the dirt, to say that this’… this shit’… is unaccceptable on these streets where we raise our kids, cut our lawns and struggle to meet our mortgages.
And while it’s true that you can’t run from crime, it’s also true that there will be one less scumbag with a pistol walking through my little corner of the city.
To comment on this column, e-mail Brian Clarey at email@example.com.