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March 14, 2013

Do you like this?

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 about local government denying their existence because, to the media’s dismay, local law enforcement kept referring to them as “gang-related shootings.”  

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 and therefore annoyed “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 likely even seeking an audience to explain why. After a quick introduction,  the young man surveying the scene was proud to say the incident was “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 that night. 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.

“Shot him in the face when he was already down,” I said. “Over a girl. Is that hard core? You got a long way to go, kid. Life means something, man. That wasn’t gansta. That’s not taking care of your kids, your parents, defending folks. That was pathetic. Now he’s going to jail, the other guy is dead, the families are a wreck … some gangsta. Some hero. He’s a fool.”

It was actually the lightest I’d ever gone, but my young veteran lacked response. And lacking answers, he just walked away, unable to avoid the truth any more than he could the 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 streets of East Chattanooga.

I’ve had many lessons in fact versus 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 in the confines of its home, the one bullet of more than 40 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.

This is where that kid’s head was at. Most of his neighbors too, in fact. The ones that have the indescribable right to not pull over when blue-lighted, or go to jail after beating their spouses, or robbing a neighbor on the street or a local business justified, in their minds, because “they had to eat.” This is the society we live in, catered to by social reform, overwhelmed by frequent horrific acts, reinforced by Hollywood. All without consequences, unless of course you count the dead infants and robbery and shooting victims who either survived or perished. But they’re not in the script and therefore not subject to fault or conscience. 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? 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, 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 and 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 acts and repainting them as something “noble,” something “gangsta.” They can forego their humanity, but they will not forego reality—at least not while they’re talking to me on the streets. Our streets.

Alex Teach is a police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.

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March 14, 2013

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