What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blood in an open container...

So there was a sort of surreal moment the other night here in "timistan".  After a late night at a rather ritzy potluck dinner party with OWSers in Williamsburg (thanks MTA for sucking - yes that's the same MTA that's been raising rates and cutting services), I dragged myself out of bed Saturday and ran to work at the hiking store.  I spent the day in Park Slope selling high end hiking gear and chatting with local outdoorsy types.  From there it was off for a quick shower and then a celebration of a superfriend's Phd graduation (yes, she wore a cape all night!).  It was about a 7 or 8 block walk through Bed-Stuy to get there.

Saturday night in Bed-Stuy is an interesting occurrence.  Cops upon cops everywhere.  Barbeques on front steps and walkways, loud Afro-Caribbean beats pumping from blocks away.  It has a sort of gritty festive feel to it, the kind of thing that turns of many, but is the utmost of fun for those willing to scratch through the tough exterior and find the fun being had underneath.

We got to our friend's and had a little good conversation, a drink, some nachos and some more conversation.  The true surreality of the evening really kicked in when the chips were down and I went out to get some more at the local bodega.  Of course I wasn't barely out the door yet when I happened upon an older man laying face down at the corner.  I couldn't see his head as it was blocked by a fence.  I thought, well its NYC, I've seen some odd things and people laying face down on the sidewalk is not uncommon (the last time I saw this a guy was humping the sidewalk).  But once I came fully upon him and saw the awkwardness he lay there with I was a bit more concerned.  As I got to the other side of him to try to catch a glimpse of his face I saw a large pool of blood gushing out of him.  It was the same as you see it in a movie.  You know, the kind that is slowly expanding and flowing down hill as it pours out of a person?  I was joined by a group of other people right away as well.  One older gentleman and myself were assessing the situation as a younger group of people were checking in to see what was going on.   He was unconscious with his neck and head cocked in a very awkward way.  I called 911 and with the other man we tried to make sure no one moved the injured guy and that he had space. 

No one seemed to have seen what happened.  While we waited for help people speculated about it all.  Some say they heard a thump and looked over to see him laying there with no one around him, others that they saw him drinking earlier, he apparently lived just two buildings down.  The contents of his one pocket were strewn about, lotto tickets and some dice.  A couple of kids wondered if he'd been mugged or had his pocket contents snatched after he fell.  There was only speculation among by-standers, it seemed to me that if he was drunk he might have just simply stumbled over the curb and smacked his head on the ground.  It didn't really matter at this point though.  He lay there awkward and unconscious.

While waiting for the ambulance he started to move a bit, an arm and then a bit of his head.  This was very much a relief for me.  All that time playing football makes me very leery of neck injuries, and to see him moving his head was big.  I kept trying to get him to stay still but he seemed completely lost as he was awakening, kind of taking stock of all his bits and pieces.  He picked his head up to show a massive gash on his eyebrow/temple area.  He was completely out of it, dazed and wobbly.  At this point a cop car puled up and he all of a sudden got very nervous.  He tried to stand up and subsequently fell straight back down onto his backside.  Varying consistencies of blood covering the whole side of his face and arm.  The bleeding had slowed down, but it was certainly still bleeding.

The police officers came out and tried to get him to sit back down and to remain calm and subdued till the ambulance got there.  He was visibly agitated and claiming nothing on the ground was his.  He definitely seemed to be quite nervous and maybe even afraid of the police.  But nothing about him seemed certain of anything.  There didn't seem to be any reason to be afraid of these two officers though as they seemed harmless enough.  They were just trying to help the guy and were very thankful to those of us around him, but who knows the context of his life and the complexity of the neighborhood.  The cops got him pretty settled down though until the ambulance pulled up.  At that point the officers told us we could head out upon our way as everything was under control.  I went over to the bodega and got tostitos and water before heading back.  I checked in on the way and they said everything was ok - he'd be fine.  They had him sitting up on the back of the ambulance and were cleaning the blood from his arm at that point.  He seemed resolved to accepting the care from the EMT's and what had happened to him.

I went back to the party.  We fired up the nachos, got another drink, and no one else really seemed too bothered by it all past an initial query.  As the evening winded down, we headed out towards home.  We past the corner were it had all happened and there was still a huge blood soaked spot of the sidewalk next to some of the bits of his pocket that were strewn about.  We paused and then kept walking.

Another couple blocks away up Franklin we saw some police lights and commotion in front of us.  There were 7 police officers and a cruiser surrounding a kid who couldn't have been much out of his teens.  He looked befuddled, annoyed, and all together caged; standing with a semi-circle of officers around him and his back to a wall.  We asked him if he was ok, he said yes with some thankfully assured and bonding eye contact.  We thought to continue on but lagged as we listening to the banter between them all:
"No, come on, tell us you're a drug dealer.  Come on, tell us you are please."  
"No, I'm not a drug dealer." He said almost seeming bored of it.

It went on, a constant verbal berating of him.  We decided it just didn't seem right, so we stayed and videoed it.  The police reacted with some surprise, as if this type of stuff didn't happen out here in the hood.  A couple of white passers-by videoing them stop and frisk and shake down a kid on the street.  The one police officer of course tried to get us to move away:
"You're too close to the officer here, please go back there or across the street."
"Then we can't see or hear what's happening." We said as we stayed.  
The officer seemed to hesitate, kinda of surprised be our lack of immediate compliance.  He then offered another side where we still could see and hear everything.  So we swiveled around to that spot.  The kid seemed glad to have the support.  It was no longer seven to one.
"Yeah, film this!  This is bull shit, seven cops cause I got a little something extra in my cool-aid."
That's what it was all about.  As he'd said when we walked up, they were writing him a summons for an open container.  Seven cops and a squad car for an open container violation.  He started telling them what he really thought.  As if he'd never had the chance to tell the cops what he actually thought about how they treated him and people in his neighborhood.  With us there filming, the cops couldn't do anything even if they wanted to.  Who is to know what would have happened if we hadn't shown up.  They could have given him his citation and parted ways, or they could have hassled him, pushed him around or who knows.  As he was telling them all about their business though, the one main cop told us we should get back:
"We don't know what he's got on him."
We responded:
"It's not him we're worried about."

The police think somehow that their presence automatically makes people feel safe.  But fact of the matter is that the NYPD has killed 6 people this year.  There are video's upon video's of cops beating and harassing people all over youtube everywhere from the hood to Occupy.  The police do not make me feel safe.  You can argue with me all you want, but that is the way I FEEL.  I have been pushed, I have been berated, I have had all sort of unlawful, hypocritical, and arbitrary abuse of power dealings with cops at Occupy, and every one of them pales in comparison to what happens in black and brown communities every day of their lives.  No I do not feel safe.  I saw a statistic two days ago that in the whole of Germany last year the entire police force fired their guns 85 times - total!  In America police have dispensed that in one incident and on one person - multiple times!  We have a very specific mentality of law enforcement in this country that does not make me feel safe around police officers.

But that is not where the absurdities lie within that evening's stories as my feelings for the police are not what's important.  The true concern to me is that a young male walking through Bed-Stuy with a fountain soda cup spiked with alcohol merits seven plus cops and a car, yet it takes over ten minutes for officers to arrive on the scene of a man laying unconscious in a pool of blood on the sidewalk.  They weren't but a couple blocks from each other.  The whole place was crawling with cops and no one could run over and check on it? 

Anyway, eventually they get the kid's summons written and he grabs the ticket and takes off.  Literally as if he was a penned up animal given an open gate - half used to it, half ready to just expand his wings and fly as high as could be.  With that we exchanged a few snippy pleasantries with the cops and went upon our way. 

We weren't a block away though when out of some odd hallucinogenic cartoon movie these two white hipster kids riding completely impractically tall bikes ride straight through a red light.  It was like sitting in a film watching Armageddon when all of a sudden the film stops, the lights in the theater come on, and a purple elephant struts across the front of the screen... Poof!  The lights go back off and the bombs and guns start again!    

The whole evening was such an odd slice of Americana.  Face down and bloodied in a island of coplessness in a sea of cops, a text book stop and frisk harassment of a kid with the same spiked cool aid we've all had in our hands so many times, the absurdly princely white hipster kids perched so obliviously high atop their hobby bikes without a care in the world, gentrifying the neighborhood with each pedal, all the while while a couple of white people wander around one of the roughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn never once feeling unsafe amidst the carnage and chaos, as if our skin somehow created some sort of force field that shielded us from the atrocities of others' lives.  Resting in an island of aloofness, amidst a storm of uncertainty and social paradigms. Such an odd, surreal world we live in.

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