Yes, early on Monday morning –the Columbus Day Holiday– I get off the ferry. It’s midnight, it’s a beautiful night, and I am, as ever, (correction, as often) on my bike.
I’m heading for home –normally a ten minute ride. I pick up some milk at the filling station. I turn into my street: I’m more than halfway there. A few people are still out and about.
Outside of one house a large group of young men is gathered, I would say about a dozen or so. I have often seen them there in the last few months. The front door is often open and folks are going in and out. It’s a porch group, except that in this case there is no porch.
As I ride by there are a few comments made: here I am, an old white guy with a beard on a bicycle –he’s always on that bicycle. Tonight I look a little different: I’ve been out to dinner with K and D and L (for L’s birthday)and I’m wearing a jacket and a silk square in the top pocket and a white shirt and jeans –not my usual summer attire of shirt and shorts that they would have seen me in.
Somebody else might, but I did not really object to the comments. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but by the tone they seemed “joshing” –probably at my expense, but all in all reasonably good natured.
What happened next was not that good-natured.
One of them unexpectedly threw a football at me, with considerable force behind it. It hit the back wheel of my bike, throwing me momentarily out of control.
That, I immediately decided, was thoughtless and dangerous; not acceptable behavior.
I decided to walk back the few yards to where they were. Two of them had come out to get the ball and I spoke to them first: “Hey, excuse me. That’s a very dangerous thing to do.” One replied “It wasn’t me” with an elaborate shrug –it was as if he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.
I addressed the whole group –mostly but not exclusively African-American; maybe one or two whites, one or two Hispanics; mostly young adult males, but with also a couple of young women.
I repeat: “That was a very dangerous thing to do.” No effect, except a few “who the hell are you” and “what are you talking about” looks. I repeat that it was dangerous thing to do, and that neighbors ought not to treat each other like that. Still no reaction. I then say –somewhat more pointedly: “This is not the way for us to get along.” (Later that day I realize that I had just invoked Rodney King.)
At this one of them came to the front and seemed by his expression to be in agreement with me. It seemed as though for a moment an apology was hanging in the air, but as it turned out, none was forthcoming. I repeated my “neighbors” and “getting along” piece. There was no more to say. I got on my bike, and headed off.
Immediately the football was thrown again with more force than before.
It just barely missed me. I got off my bike. I thought “that’s it! If I give it back, it’ll be the same again. For half a moment I think: police cars are often on our street. Hopefully one will come along now and I can give them the football and head home myself.
But within a few moments two more of the group run up to me. Rather forcefully they grab the football from me. I do not resist. I repeat my earlier remarks, except this time, more angrily, more forcefully. And then, finally, I take off for home. I am angry.
When I get home I am very surprised to see that my white shirt is dramatically covered with blood. When I look in the mirror I immediately see that I have a big split on my lip, and a bleeding nose (on the side of my left nostril.) My jacket and jeans are also bloodied.
I wash and change. I collect myself. I examine my wounds: the split in lip hole goes all the way through into the inside of my mouth. My God! How could I not have felt that?
But there it was, nonetheless.
I am not quite sure what to do.
I thought that perhaps I should first report it to the police, though I wasn’t sure about this. I wanted to address the situation, but –rightly or wrongly– I wasn’t sure that I should bring the police into it, at least at this stage. I thought of a list of friends whose advice on how to approach the matter I wanted to get first.
I also thought that I had better get to the Emergency Center at Saint Vincent’s hospital over on Bard St. But it was now quite late, and I was feeling quite drained –not of blood, but of energy– and decided that I should first lie down for a while, which I did.
I was soon asleep.
[COMING SOON: PART TWO of “STATEN ISLAND MAN IN INCIDENT”]
1. The Emergency Center visit –a glimpse of hell. A six-hour glimpse.
2. And then –my Police Report: phase one.