NYU Black Renaissance Noire Spring 2015 - Page 12

You see, by beating my brother, Larry had violated unspoken, unwritten street code. The street code was simple. You don’t beat up an innocent person because you lost a fight that you started with strangers. And, as I was taught to believe, gang members would even protect the family of opposing gang members, if outsiders were involved. My brother should have been safe with Larry that night — Puerto Rican or not. The same principle applied to women. No matter what beef you had with someone, what fight you had or were going to have, women were never to know — especially women of the opposing group. Mothers, brothers, sisters, and girlfriends were sacred. If you saw your enemy’s mother on the streets struggling with groceries, your job was to carry them upstairs for her and never, I mean never, accept money. If you were high or drunk and that same woman passed by, you sobered up immediately, or acted sober, and made sure you said, “yes ma’am,” and “No, ma’am” to all her enquiries, regardless of your reeking breath or unsteady gait. Some folks today think that those codes applied to people you were connected to in friendship, but that wasn’t the whole of the matter. I t applied to all elders and family members of opposing gangs as well. It was street chivalry, the warrior code. That’s just the way it was, and by beating my brother, Larry had violated that code. My inner circle started to get impatient. Their way of fighting was quick, fast, efficient, very little talk. I was taking too much time. Moose stared me straight in the eye and then issued the challenge, dryly. “What you gonna do with this dude, man?” I was shocked into reality by those few words. This was neither a movie nor a game. Somebody had to go down, something had to happen. I looked away from Larry and said, “I’m gonna ask you again, why’d you beat my brother?” Larry saw the redundancy of the question as a sign of fear and weakness. It was. He spat out his answer. “I told you I fucked him up ‘cause I felt like fucking him up and if you keep this shit up, I’ll fuck you up, fuck your mother up, your sister…” I saw his lips moving, but I couldn’t hear anything else. A bomb went off in my head and the punch started from my right toe, went through my knee, ripped through my hip, flashed through my chest, flooded my shoulder, strengthened my forearm and granitized my right fist. It stopped Larry’s bravado and shattered the afternoon standoff. 10 Larry and I had a low flame, simmering conflict since I moved into Bushwick. He didn’t like me because, though I lived within his gang borders, I didn’t join his crew. Most of his guys were thuggish bullies, directionless, and were always fighting. The group I joined had dreams, sang doo-wop well, went to school and dressed nicely. In those days, they called guys like us “cool breezes” — guys who would fight hard if forced to, but would rather look good, go to school, and talk to the ladies. Everybody also knew I had always stood on the black side of the “hood,” even when the Puerto Rican gangs tried to recruit me. It was common knowledge that where you lived is where your loyalty lay. And I always lived on the black side of every neighborhood and every gang knew it and accepted it. If the beatings came, they resulted from being on the losing side, but not because I was Puerto Rican. Larry knew he couldn’t explain his racism without losing the support of his own guys. Whatever anger Larry had toward me should have been directed to me — personally — not my brother. Paul should never have been touched. BRN-SPRING-2015.indb 10 3/29/15 11:41 AM