This is a re-post of a blog I wrote in 2009. At the time, I was a High School English Teacher on the southwest side of Chicago. The original post can be seen here.
Today I left school about twenty minutes early and headed to the home of one of my students. If you have read my previous posts, then you know that this was a sixteen-year-old male student who had been beaten within an inch of his life. Turns out he was hit in the head with a hammer. Last week I visited his house and heard he would be coming home. Today was my follow-up visit to check in and see how he was doing. I was a bit afraid to see him, but for some reason I had begun to build a relationship with his family, even before this injury, and I felt I had to keep going down this path.
When I first went to exit school, it was about two o’clock. There were gun shots heard outside of the building, but close by. Security was spreading rumors like wildfire, and the police booked it out the front door. The janitors peered through the windows of the cafeteria to see if there was anyone dangerous looking within view. There wasn’t. I was told I couldn’t leave right then (duh.), so I went back and checked my e-mail six times and came back ten minutes later. Apparently, security had recieved bad information, the shooting was a ways off. I wondered if there had been shooting at all. I think the adults around our building sometimes get more of a rise out of a little action then the kids.
I walk out into the parking lot and the entire day is wet. Rain falls lightly. There is no wind at all. It’s very calm. I think about just going straight home. After all, its raining. Rainy days are no kind of day to be visiting people’s houses. You have to go over when its beautiful out, and people are ready for that kind of thing, you know? I knew if I didn’t go today, I might never go, so I took a left instead of a right out of the parking lot and headed to his home.
As I approached the corner before his, the gray day was interrupted by a screaming ambulance and red and blue lights. I pull over to let it pass. As I accelrate again, I see my path is impeded by yellow road blocks. I hit the brakes. People everywhere. Cop cars everywhere. I’m talking more cop cars than I knew existed on the south side of Chicago. All in one square block. People out on the streets everywhere, just gapers. Trying to see what happened, to gossip, but to stay uninvolved. There is an elementary school on this block as well. I wonder if maybe something happened there. I am freaked out now. It was raining before. And now something bad has clearly happened on top of that. I probably shouldn’t make this home visit. This is not safe. This was a bad idea. I should just go home.
I pull a u-turn and drive the long way around the block, just trying to gather any more information that I can. From this side of the block, I realize that the central gathering place of the cop cars is literally right in front of my students house. That freaks me out even more, but gives me more reason to stick around. If something has just happened to this family, I kind of want to know. I decide to circle around to where I began, where the yellow road blocks were, and proceed to ask some bystanders on foot.
I forget that I am white and professionally dressed. I stick out in this neighborhood like an icicle in Hawaii. I clearly don’t belong. When I approach an elderly black gentlemen, I ask in a concerned manner, “Was there shooting over here or something?” He looks at me numbly. He mumbles something about how he’s not sure and walks across the street away from me. His companion does the same, only in the opposite direction. Right. I forgot about the reason I have confidence in this neighborhood in the first place. Everybody pins me for a cop the moment they see me. Snitches get stitches in the ‘hood. I know this because I just held a classroom conversation about it today. Nobody would tell me what happened if an alien had come and ubducted their children.
Ok, right, confidence is key. I’m a cop. I am a cop. I know what I am doing. Walk toward the house with confidence.
I get to within thirty yards of the house. Two men suddenly emerge from a cop car facing my direction. I wonder if they will stop me and allow me to go no further, or if they will say something like, “Got a thirty-four red seven here boss, were still trying to figure things out. What would you suggest?”
They do neither. Just nod at me and begin walking in the same direction I am. Toward ground zero. I wonder if I will find some large crater in their front lawn. That would be nice. Yes, Jesus, let there just be a big crater where a meteorite hit. That idea is so suburban. I am as far as one can get from the North Shore.
I fall in step with the police in front of me, and think about asking them what’s going on. At one point I even make eye-contact with a cop and begin to open my lips to question her. But her eyes glide comfortably past me so quickly that I lose confidence instead of gaining it. I realize that there is very little that I can’t do here. I am aware of the power of my skin color in a way I have never before experienced.
Now, I am right at the epicenter of the activity. Many white and blue cars line the street in front of my students house. A couple of kids on their way home from school casually stroll down the side walk around the cops. The fact that these kids are not bothered is what gives me the final boost of confidence to approach the porch of the house. Everyone seems to be focused on the street, not the house. A couple of cops were looking underneath a car with a flashlight. I wondered if someone got run over. Or if they were investigating a car bomb. I doubted both.
I was there now. Right in front of the familiar porch. I gazed up to the deck, and saw the young woman I had spoke to at the house before. My student’s aunt. I looked at her with what I hoped was compassion, and I was met with a death stare. A boy-you-better-not-look-at-me-unless-you-ready-to-finish-this-thing kind of death stare. An Its-a-good-thing-its-raining-because-I-might-pee-my-pants-right-now death stare. But I remembered. I’m a cop. Right. I take a step back to show that I am not trying threaten anyone, and I ask her if she recognizes me. She firmly states that she does not. I try again, softly, “I’m a teacher at the High School, I came by to see–” her face softens instantly. She lets her guard down. Simultaneously, I see my students mom come out of the front door and wave for me to come inside. I smile and walk up the porch stairs. And suddenly, I am sucked into the warm of a peaceful living room with a soap opera on TV, the sound of the rain on the roof, and a space heater lightly murmuring.
I am surprised at how calm the family inside is, considering the comotion outside their door. It turns out that the center of the acitivity was not their home, but the one directly next door. There had been shooting. Apparently a dog had been shot. They weren’t sure about people. Sounded like there were a few gunshots outside the house, followed up three inside. This family had been the ones that called the police. It had happened ten minutes ago. If I had left my school when I meant to, I would have been knocking on their front door when the bullets started flying. I am not embarrassed to admit that I think all of this is really quite cool.
My student wasn’t at the house, because he was staying with his aunt in a safer part of town. His mother seemed relieved that he wasn’t there when this shooting had happened. She scribbled an adress and a phone number down for me, and told me I was welcome to visit him there. I told her I would. I stayed inside for a moment and we talked and laughed about how her sister had thought I was the police. I told them a few annecdotes of how having everyone assume I was a cop had often worked in my favor in the past. It was nice to see them. I don’t know how they stay sane. Perhaps they don’t.
So, all of that story to say that I still haven’t gotten to see my student. I’ll let you know when I do.