Just witnessed horrific scene, so this is a stream of consciousness but I have to get this out of my head.
I was just walking home, coming up Stuyvesant with my daughter, and after a long day at camp that walk is a chore, so I’ve taken to playing so she’ll walk and I won’t have to carry her. This time, I’m tickling her and she’s screaming and laughing so loud that I don’t really notice an older man across the street shuttling his son into a van. I hear his son, and because my child is laughing and screaming, at first I think the boy is also laughing, that his father is playfully hitting him with the wiffle ball bat, until I notice the lawn chair he’s hitting him with as well, and realize that he’s raining down on his son with that plastic bat instead of playing. And his son’s screams are so guttural that I know this is only the preamble to whatever is coming when they get home. Almost in unison, several people have turned their attention to this shit. I can’t believe what I’m seeing but pick up Yesenia and decide I’m heading over…to do what I don’t know, no idea. And just then another older brother standing next to me speaks up, gets dude’s attention. The father’s face and reaction says it all. He’s knows this is f’d up, but rest on that tired excuse that this is his son, and his son had disrespected his mother, and this is the problem with kids nowadays nobody gets in their ass (as if all the folks in prison were spared the rod), and he’s not having that bullshit. The brother near me asks about his North Carolina jersey; turns out they’re both from there. He asks if he can talk to another Carolina boy (or something like that). It was so bizarre they way the father ambled over, the gait of the guilty in a court far more damning than one of law, a court of his community. He shakes the guy’s hand and almost apologetically takes his scolding. I walked on, recognizing there was nothing I could do or could have done, and this man has handled it possibly in the best way short of more violence. But I can still hear the son, possibly 5 or 6 judging from his size, wailing in the van. His sister, maybe 9 or 10, is playing on her phone, testament to the normalcy of such brutality. This is how we teach respect for mothers? Women? And we’re surprised when such boys grow up and unleash unspeakable degrees of violence on women, men, their own kids? I thought I might have been making too much of it, until, just as I’m about to turn the corner, I see a woman who’s also been watching the whole scene with tears welling up. And then my child starts asking me questions about that man, and what he was hitting that boy with, and is he bad, and I start thinking he’s probably not bad but certainly screwed up, or has a screwed up view of the world, of love, of what it means to be a man and raise a man and to respect women and love a woman or love a man or respect another human being. He’s not bad, but yes, he is, and I hope he goes to jail, but pray no one called the cops, because as bad as it likely gets at home, those kids would probably be irreparably scared if the police come and it’s the usual outcome, because, let’s face it, this is Bed-Stuy and to the NYPD we’re all animals and they’d just be saving a future animal from a full blown one, and assuring the white folks witnessing all this that their kids, the children of gentrifiers who will scarcely remember when Bed-Stuy had black folk around, won’t have to watch stuff like this too much longer; and those kids the police will judge future animals at a glance will miss their father and his twisted sense of love, and still have to figure out love and life and anger and death and the joke those cops would likely make about how easily their father fell or whatever. So, I tell my daughter I hope something bad happens to that man, and I’m thinking that I’m hoping that brother gets so fed up that he hauls off and goes crazy on him, and I realize that I don’t know how else to respond to this kid of mundane, normal, everyday brutality than with equal brutality, and that’s not enough, it’s too much. And what would I have done had she not been with me? What was I going to do with her with me? This will be with me for a while, the inadequacy of it all, of anything I could say or think, the limited range of my moral imagination in the face of an all too familiar familial violence. Hopefully, something that brother said sunk in, and that boy and girl are not catching hell because they embarrassed him on the street in front of all those people and they’re not learning that they don’t do that shit. Hopefully, so that in five or ten years that boy or girl will not have had enough of being embarrassed on the street and living in such constant fear that they don’t fear it really at all but are simply tired of the bullshit so respond with the same bullshit, the only thing they’ve been shown.