Alex Teach on the beatalex teach on the beat
Officer Alex points out that shooting at babies is not ‘gangsta’—just horrific and wrong
It was 2 a.m. and we were in the middle of a “stepped-up” patrol presence on the street in response to a series of gang-related shootings.The shootings had become so common the local media had stopped running stories of any significance about them, a problem made worse for the gangs since local government no longer denied their existence. This eliminated the air of drama and obfuscation and made them only “regular shootings”, which have a lifespan of an initial report and maybe a follow-up, therefore annoying “the media” to no end—but that is an entirely different story.
I was across the street from the scene of the most recent tragedy and spoke with a young man who was more than happy to be there, if not even seeking an audience to explain why. Fortunately for him, I am the talkative type.
Surveying the scene, the young man was proud to say that that we were “Gangsta’.” That this was “Hood Life”, and that it was “Real” in Chattanooga, espousing the valor of the battle that took place on this spot. I listened, then told him, “Really? I was here the night it happened. This guy was shot in the back. He was unarmed. I heard it was over a girl.” My young General looked confused. I said, “That’s not Gangsta’. That’s a coward. That’s dogshit, pal.”
“Naw, naw…that was real,” he said, but he now lacked conviction. I continued, “Shot him in the face when he was already down. Over a chick. Is that hardcore? You got a long way to go, kid. Life means something, man. That wasn’t gangsta’. That’s not taking care of your kids, your parents, defending folks. That was pathetic, and now he’s going to jail, the other guy is dead, the families are a wreck… Some gangsta’. He’s not a hero. He’s a fool.”
It was actually the lightest I’d ever gone (I wasn’t even waving my hands about yet) but my young veteran lacked a response, and lacking answers, he just walked away, unable to avoid the truth any more than he could the remaining crime-scene tape streaming from the street signs in the cool night air, the spot where the fire department had bleached the blood off the road, leaving a rare clean spot on the East Chattanooga streets.
I’ve had many lessons in fact vs. fiction, more than my young student had that night, I suspect. I didn’t lead or live his life and I certainly wasn’t any better than him, but I’d experienced some fairly graphic examples. Another “gang-related” shooting came to mind that resulted not in revenge but the death of an infant inside its home, the one bullet of more than 40 fired that found an unintended target through a bedroom wall and into its undeveloped skull. “Gangsta”. The driver of the offending vehicle met a similar fate behind the wheel years down the road, but the damage was already done. “Gangsta”. A dead baby was an honorable result of…what? Nothing. How embarrassing to have to explain this to anyone. To anything.
This is where that kid’s head was at. Most of his neighbors’, too, in fact. The ones that have the right not to pull over when blue-lighted, or not to go to jail when beating their girlfriends because of their subdivision’s tax base. Robbing a neighbor on the street or a local business was justified because “they had to eat”. All without consequences—unless of course you count the dead infants and robbery and shooting victims that survived or perished. But they’re not in the movie script, and therefore not subject to consideration. How convenient. How revolting.
Reality. How do you teach that without such horrific examples? And how many of those examples can you use before they simply become the status quo, the new bar to be surpassed? Then how do you teach that without letting everyone else know how bad it really can be?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m the one who has it screwed up…but I don’t think so. And if I’m right, what if someone else finds out? Would life be better for us all if we all knew mankind was barely outside of the wild? For now, no. Lies are better. Theater is right. Happiness comes in the form of cookies, new love, temporary escapes, so why take that away? A long fantasy with infrequent disruptions beats “reality” any day of the week. But I will not give the most violently ignorant the satisfaction of taking the most cowardly of acts and repainting them as something ‘noble’, something ‘gangsta’. They will forego their humanity, but they will not forego reality, at least while they’re talking to me on the street. Our street.
To my own shock, I’m not ready to give it up just yet.