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A Day in the Life

          DAVID MARTIN WENT calling at his grandfather's house in the Summit-University neighborhood one afternoon last week. It was a day off from his security job, and a chance to take his 4-year-old son to the home where he had played as a child himself. Several family members were gathered, having a beer in the front yard, when one of Martin's cousins rolled up to the curb. He was followed shortly by multiple St. Paul police cars, out of which multiple officers sprang to subdue and cuff the man on the sidewalk out front. The suspect was in custody on drug charges in a matter of seconds. After that, according to Martin--who prefers, for reasons that will become obvious, that his real name be left out--a police dog was briefly loosed on the prone man, and another officer maced him and kicked him.

          At that point Martin spoke up. "I yelled at them, 'What you're doing is against the law.' I didn't call anybody no names. I knew better than that. An officer came and took me out of the yard and put me in the back of a car for 15 minutes. Then another officer came and asked me for my name and ID. And then a female officer cuffed me and said they'd have to take me to the substation. They ended up taking all the men who were there.

          "They didn't read me my rights. They didn't arrest me at all. But once I got down there they took me in a room and made me strip, then they made me shake out my clothes. Then they made me spread my cheeks, lift my penis and testicles up for them to inspect. It was humiliating. And then they just told me to get dressed and go. Didn't even say they were sorry. It's funny, you know. I don't know whether I'd be talking to you, whether I'd be making anything of this, if they had said they were sorry."

          Martin, a 31-year-old who's presently separated from his wife, went out that night and got very drunk. The next day he called a lawyer, who has not yet decided whether he'll take the case. A couple of days after that he called me. I agreed to meet him for coffee. I'm not sure why; to tell the truth, there are days when I don't even return calls like his. There are just too many of them to write columns or news items about each time. As abuse of police power goes, for that matter, his was a pretty pale case.

          You will have realized by now that Martin is black. Hearing him tell his story made me remember the one and only time I was detained by police. I lived in the Belmont then, near Hennepin and Franklin in Minneapolis, and I was walking through Kenwood coming home from a friend's place shortly after dark one spring night. I was wearing a Walkman, so I didn't hear the cop calling to me, if he did; the first thing I knew, someone grabbed me from behind and shined a flashlight in my eyes. The officer asked where I was going. Home, I said. Could he see my license? A squad car pulled up, and he asked me to lean up against it and submit to a frisking.

          Finding a CD in my jacket pocket, he asked me to name a couple of the songs--from Neil Young's Decade, as I recall--which I did. By now the other cop was out of the car, and they explained to me that there had been a burglary in the area, and the suspect fit my general description. They were sorry for the confusion and hoped I would have a good evening. The whole thing took perhaps two minutes.

          Martin listened to the story. We both sat there for a moment, and then I said one of those things that is too painful, and too painfully obvious, to say to a young black man most of the time. I had heard stories like his before, I said, many times; I had never kidded myself about whether these things still happened. But in that moment I could not help feeling dumbstruck by the distance between the world I would go home to and the one where he lived, 10 minutes away. Now I happen to know a fair amount about his world, in a certain limited sense; a lot more than most journalists, for the little that's worth. But I don't think all that much about the fact that he lives in what may as well be a different country, or about what that country requires of him that mine does not require of me, because I don't have to. There are days when he probably thinks about little else.

 

          "One night back in September, I can remember seeing four cars with young black men in them pulled over in a three-block stretch of University. Another time, at Central and Grotto this past summer, I saw a cop make a kid drop his pants and he used a rubber glove on him, gave him a rectal exam, right there on the street. Now there's drugs around there, but there is no reason for taking someone's dignity away from him right out there in the open like that. You can't drive down the street without getting hassled. You can't stand with a group of other young black men without getting hassled. You can't walk down the street wearing the wrong clothes without getting hassled.

          "Truth is, I'm afraid to go out in the neighborhood at night. It's gotten a lot worse since they stepped up the gang task force after that 4-year-old kid was killed back in July. I mostly stay at home. I want a drink, I drink at home. I can't go to the neighborhood bar. It isn't that I'm afraid of the gang members. If you don't hassle them, they leave you alone for the most part. I'm afraid of the police. Everybody I know is afraid of police. They're afraid of being seen talking to police, because they don't want people thinkin' they're snitches. They're afraid of--my mother, she's mad at me right now. Thinks I shouldn't have talked back to them. She's someone who thinks you should never question authority. But she would never call the police, either. She'd be too scared.

          "You'd be surprised how Frogtown looks at night. Like a scene out of The Terminator, all these guys with these bad short haircuts in these cars covered with lights. I been there all my life. I've seen the change. Police never used to be this bad, harass people this way, before crack and the gangs came along. There's nothing wrong with cracking down on gang violence, but you can use some intelligence about it. Now it just seems like no matter what you do, they're coming down on you. And they're calling for backup. Guns are drawn. And just pray they don't bring a dog. St. Paul police like to use those dogs.

          "Since this happened, my son asked me, 'Daddy, are you going back to jail?' He asks my wife, 'Does daddy sell crack?' And to think they never even said they were sorry, that's hard. Their attitude was, We're patrolling enemy territory, and we'll just finish up here and move on to the next village."

The Friends of Rudy

          I SPENT THE day last Saturday on the Wellstone campaign bus, whose final stop was at a bikers' rights rally in the Medina Ballroom. There we met the Boschwitz juggernaut, consisting of Rudy himself and three youthful attendants, a trio of the most malevolent-looking little ferrets I have ever seen, rushing around with paws outstretched and hungry, vacant looks in their eyes.

          This election really is a referendum on Wellstone. Rudy, whether those Alzheimer's stories are true or not, is just a filler of space. His campaign has not a single idea, and neither, apparently, do most of the people around it. Even the sloganeering feels half-hearted. "Embarrassingly liberal," the phrase lifted from Arthur Finkelstein's Republican National Senatorial Committee ads, is embarrassingly lacking in force. "More freedom, less government?" There is nothing remotely resembling passion in the Boschwitz operation, only a sense of abiding entitlement; he is like Bob Dole without the occasionally acerbic wit. And the organization is clearly nothing to brag about. A New York Times reporter riding the Wellstone bus kept asking everyone else if they could get calls back from the Boschwitz people, because he couldn't.

          After Boschwitz spoke to the bikers, the national reporters accompanying Wellstone huddled round him to get quotes. Inevitably they asked about the attack ads he and the RNSC are continuing to air. Well, you know, droned Rudy, we're not so negative. We've actually got some funny ads. That one with the sign that pops up--liberal, liberal, liberal--that's pretty funny. And Wellstone, he's pretty negative himself. He's got a radio ad in which he's criticizing me for taking tobacco money, and this guy who's reading it is coughing practically every two seconds...

          "Yeah," said one of the ferrets, "Wellstone's making fun of lung cancer victims." I laughed out loud at his hypocrisy, only to gaze up a second later into a face filled with hurt. He was no hypocrite; the little shitbag was really that stupid. So much for the arguments regarding private school vouchers. And The Bell Curve.

What the Ump Said

          THE MOST PROTRACTED drama of baseball's post-season, now coming to what promises to be an anticlimactic ending, was the incident just before the playoffs involving Baltimore Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar and American League umpire John Hirschbeck. The sports pages have carried on in an entirely jaundiced and predictable manner about those uppity players. But those who saw the tape will recall that Alomar charged Hirschbeck and spat on him only after Hirschbeck said something as Alomar was walking away. I received the following e-mail from my friend Dave Marsh last week:

 

          "Re: our discussion of Roberto Alomar's reasons to spit: Today's NY Post reports that Hirschbeck called him a 'fag motherfucker.' The Post tries to make it sound like the problem is that baseball doesn't want to embarrass Hirschbeck and add to the scandal.

          "On the basis of Jann Wenner et al., I would say that there is a more important reason--it's one thing for there to be an out ballplayer. But the best player in the ML might be gay? Baseball can't deal with that. And neither can the Post or the rest of the sporting press.

          "I feel badly for Alomar if he's really living in the closet. But it does suggest that the real criminal here, the fag-baiting ump, is going unpunished. As usual. As the wicked witch said when the water hit her, 'What a world! What a world!'"


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