The past week I have been remembering the night we had a gang fight next door to the house we bought in Providence. The west side came to the east side to settle some score. Real social problems under the guise of girl problems.
Our house was pressed up to the street, barely half a sidewalk from the road. The house was built when it was farmland on a steep hill overlooking the sunset, I liked to imagine. The triple deckers came later when the mill workers needed a place to live and they were packed in tight. Up the hill lived a family we would chat with daily. Dividing our mismatched driveways was a crumbling concrete barrier where cops and dealers would hop, playing chase through our backyard to the maze of fallen down garages on the street behind. Two weeks before the fight night, we came home to find Pedro Martinez hanging out in lawn chairs on the cracked concrete under the dying tree. Our neighbor and he were teammates back in the Dominican. Providence is the kind of place where that happens, wave of hand.
That night of the fight heard screaming. Real rage, the shaking of the chain link fence in the yard down the hill. There was a mass of young men, maybe 20-30 in total. It is an farce to call our second story a second story, think Dickensian sized hovel second story. All that to say, the entire house including the upstairs was intimate with the street. We could feel it shake when cars sped down the hill.
The parents next door were trying to keep things under control when clearly they were way beyond anything resembling control or logic. They were hoping a fight would be had and that would be that.
From that upstairs window we saw brutal beating of bodies. Young men in rage. It is worst thing I hope to ever see. And it felt like we were hovering on the edge, unwillingly egging them on. I couldn’t stand it anymore and hid in the stairwell holding the baby. Then there were the gunshots from up the hill. In the chaotic next few seconds the police arrived and things went bonkers from there. I made it outside without the baby to speak with the police and there were children held down on the street, alive. The others had fled. The bullets had gone astray this time. One bullet lodged in the metal siding in the house up the hill, one window and one wall from my baby. The other found in the gutter. Our neighbor down the hill was shouting and pointing at our house saying we were under their protection. What protection, what does that even mean! I was denying it. Was he trying to drag us in somehow? It was terrifying.
I looked up and down the street. All the women were out. Walking around, inspecting our houses, taking one another by the shoulder, reassuring one another.
I think of this now because I am a mother that could remove my children. I think of the mothers that cannot. I am thinking of how I cut and run, leaving their children to I don’t know what fate. I think of how I don’t know how to help make the rage and violence against one another untangle and stop. I think of the America I lived in and now watch from across the border. I think of how we have let a culture of torture and hate seep in to all of our daily lives and I think of how I can raise my children to make it stop.
parenting and educating my soon to be anointed teen is a personal exercise in social justice.