When I was young, I spent a goodly amount of time working in the projects. I have seen things no one should have to see. I have even turned my head to wrong. There are times, even now, when guilt from my lack of strength then, can haunt my nights sleep.
I got along with the street gangs. When you are the only employee working a grave yard shift, in a C-store in the projects, there is really no other choice. Using my nickname, made things easier as I settled in to the job. We, meaning some of my regular customers and myself, had made an agreement, that worked until the very last day of my employment.
C-stores worker seem to be close to the top of the list, of the most dangerous jobs in America. I can say that’s probably close to true. You see, I’ve been shot at, and held at gun point, more than once. I’ve been robbed. I’ve taken a gun from hands of an angry man, who was about to commit an act of violence from which there is no return. I have also provided first aid to victims of drive by shootings. Showing I can be strong. But, I have looked the other way while rock cocaine was sold, and at times while violence was committed on others. All this, at the time, to save my own worthless hide. Even though it compromised my own moral and ethics.
There are many memories from this time, I would give much to not think of anymore. The scenes in my mind’s eye, are too much even now. Watching someone punch through a car window, to drag the driver out through the shattered glass, for reasons unknown to me. This I won’t forget. Running down a thieves and fighting in the streets, were never actions I thought I’d be participating in. The job I had though, placed me in stores that were troubled, or where in a previous shift the clerk had been beaten stabbed or shot. That was the job I did for Southland corp.
I was working one evening with some undercover officers. They had taken a position with a line of sight into my store. I had a walkie-talkie, so we could communicate. That night there was a fight in my parking lot. I stepped out of my store, and walked right into the SH*T. By the time the officers arrived, I had been in a fight with a man who I didn’t get the better of. I found out later from the officers, he was a “gang-banger” from Chicago. The bad part of it all, was when I went to court. They had a man there to stand for the charges, but not the right man. I’ve had this feeling since then, in regards to that precinct, that any black man they could put up to stand for the charges, was good enough for them.
Another late night work experience I’ve had, was on weekday. It was at the 2am mark. In this state, at 2am, alcohol sales stop for 4 hours. Resuming sales at 6am. There were two men on my beer aisle this day. They had an altercation, but I’ve never been certain as to what. Both, making no purchases, headed out of the store. One of the men was walking briskly up the street. The other had gone to his car. When he got to his car, he pulled out a gun and turned to aim it at the back of the man walking up the street. My gut turned and I hit the double doors. I was out in the lot now, with the angered gunman. I yelled to get his attention as he had already pointed the gun. With balls I didn’t know I had, I walked up on him and took the gun from his hand. I dropped the clip, cleared the chambered bullet, and striped it down into pieces, before I handed his gun back to him.
I’ve only put down a few experiences so far, but now I want to tell about the last day I worked the job.
It was a Friday night, and my friend was in the store after his shift. Standing in line to buy his usual. I single 16 oz. can of beer. He always stopped on his way home. Many times we had time to talk, but that was only when my business was slow. He was the head waiter at a restaurant called “The Blue Max”. This night though, my store was packed with a mix of folks. Even a few gang members who were known to me, were in the store too. My friend was standing in line and said hello, that’s all just a simple hello, to a female customer who was also in line, waiting to make a purchase. I didn’t know the female shopper was one of the SSL members girlfriend. On the hello, all hell broke loose, and the riot and looting began.
My friend was attacked and beaten by the gang, while other members held me back. They poured the boiling chilli and cheese on him. They tossed him into a display of Budweiser 12 packs.
Held back, I watched my store clear of people and goods. The only people left in the store were my self, my friend, and 2 gang members. They corralled him, working up and down the isles. He made it to the last aisle. He was almost free and through the door. Then the real violence started. One of the gang members had taken a glass jar of Taster Choice decaf off the shelf. With one person left between my friend and the door, the coffee holder ran up behind and broke the glass jar over his head. My friends head was split right open, in a long and wide gash.
There was only myself and my friend left in the store. I gave what first aid I could. He was transported to trauma center for care. I was to later find out it had taken 56 stitches to seal the wound. After the police and medics left I cleaned the store. Mopping began by smearing the red blood all over the floor. I pulled the damaged, bloody products, from the shelf.
I never went back to that store or the company after that night. I testified on tape, and 3 went to jail. One for attempted murder, I was told back then. The truth after all is said and done is, I’ve not been the same man, since that day.
I am jaded and effected each day. Small things, a word, a smell, a look, and I am back in the hood. Seeing all the things no one should see, even those who live in the hood. The anger and hurt are with me, it never leaves. I judge myself. I am guilty of not doing all I could to change these outcomes. But know, you all bear some responsiblity too.
Remember we live in this world together, and have made life as it is over time. We’ve gone about doing this by exactly method I judge myself for. We turn away, closing our eyes not wanting to see the truth. We say it’s someone elses concern, when it’s not. It’s all of our concern. As we live our comfy lives, in our nice homes. Seemingly, in safe neighborhoods. Blinded to the real world.
Know this. It isn’t better than it was, it’s worse. Gangs and violence haven’t gone away. It morphs and grows. It’s coming for us, because we choose to turn our heads. It’s coming for us, because we believe it’s someone elses problem.
I don’t want you to end up like me. Heed my advice, acknowledge this issue. Don’t stick your head in the sand. I want you to do what I no longer can, I want you to be able to sleep at night. Be well. Do what you can to change yourself, change the situation, and change your world.