A Teacher's Day

The day in the life of an inner city large urban school district teacher after the high stakes testing ends and there is still three more months left before summer vacation.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

I have taught school for over thirty years always in the inner city and for the most part always upper grade students. I have two children and I have been married for twenty years.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Last Week in July--Jefferson City, MO

It’s been a week and a day and peace has come to the college boys and the family living across the street from them. After our Ash Street meeting, we made arrangements for the college boys to meet with some of the residents on the block who were actually scared of them. Racists, really. Thought all men of color were a danger to the community.

There’s a whole lot of truth to the axiom that racists can change when they meet their fears at a personal level. After all, I myself believe most racists are racists because they are scared of what they don’t know, just plain ignorant or stupid. It’s not that hard to bring people together. Ignorance can be cured through teaching. Stupidity? That’s another matter altogether. But I was positive these racists were not stupid.

So the college boys and I went to the family across the street and spoke to them. It was a very informal meeting on the porch. They claimed the lady of the house was always calling the police on them. She said she did in fact call, but only twice. They claimed she was videotaping them from her attic. She said, No, that’s where I sometimes meditate with a small light.
One week and a day later, they are doing things together. Feeding the alligators. Helping out with the huge snakes. Even petting the dogs.

The principal of my school called me and told me how my seventh grade students did on the ISAT test. (That’s the standardized test we in Illinois have to give our students due to the No Child Left Behind Stupidity Law. Oh, oh. I think I let in some of my personal feelings.) They did very well in the science portion and almost as well in reading. Great scores. A good job. Off the charts. Etc. Etc. Etc. I feel extremely validated.

And as to the gangbangers—wannabees or not? This has been a very quiet week and a day. Getting arrested (the previous blog for those of you who want to read about it) was one of the best things that happened to me. No one—hardly anyone that is—even bothers to stir up anything on this block and now we’re even getting ready to collectively write a series of grants for neighborhood improvement and positive youth development.

It’s a hundred degrees outside and it’s almost seven o’clock. Even the breeze is hot. But who cares? Neighbors are waving to neighbors and we’re talking to each other. We’re solving problems through dialogue. We’re moving forward.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Now We Have Peace--But at What Cost

We haven’t heard from the Corner Boyz since the meeting. Oh, there was that party, but the gang of boys came from a lot of wannabee groups and they left peacefully at the direction of the police. The block has actually become fairly quiet. Some of the adults who ardently believed the parent at 324 was a victim now think she was a catalyst. This is a good thing.

Unfortunately, just when you think everything is going great problems arise. We picked up our documents from the police department. These are all of the records of calls from 324 Ash, not about 324 Ash.

And I discovered I made a mistake.

A phone call to the police—Officer Payne, to be exact—clarified everything. I should have made the request on the entire 300 block. This would have given me every report—including all of the missing reports on 324 Ash.

We already had a meeting—myself and a few other residents—and so we are going to make another Sunshine Law request.

Then I made a major mistake. Or not. I’ll let you decide.

It’s Tuesday night, the day after my birthday (and I should let you know right now my birthday was a glorious day), and I had just come from my first kick boxing karate lesson with my two teenage children when I started working on the porch.

It was about 6:30 PM, a bit cooler outside (the day’s high temperature peaked 100 at 3:00). There was even a light breeze. (You should know there are days in this town when there is no breeze whatsoever.)

I had removed a few rotten pieces of wood and was making my way down the porch. A few months ago the neighbor boy threw a stuffed Raggedy Ann onto the roof of the porch. My wife heard him clearly say, “Too bad there wasn’t gasoline in that can or we could have started a real fire and got rid of those people causing all the trouble.” Then he went on to describe how he tore the arms off the doll, discarded them, and felt great that the doll landed where it did.

(I should state at this point that my wife notified his mother who volunteered him to take down the doll, but my wife refused to let him. Insurance reasons.)

Anyway, when I reached the area where the doll was, I grabbed it and an empty bottle of beer. I threw the beer onto the grass far inside of my property line and then I dropped the doll nearby it so I would remember to pick up the beer bottle when I threw the doll away.

Then everything went wild.

The boy’s mother came out of her house like a hurricane—her teenage daughter in tow—screaming and cursing and threatening me for throwing the doll down. I didn’t understand what the problem was. I watched as she took the doll—but not the bottle of beer—and throw it in the depression on her property where she drops all of her garbage. I asked what the problem was, but I don’t think she heard. By this time, she was cursing loud enough for the deaf to hear.

(If you want to hear her exact comments, I can email them to you.)

I paused in my work. I took a few deep breaths. Then I walked over to her house, stepped onto her porch, and knocked on her door. Her daughter opened the door.

“What’s the—" I never got any further. Inside she started cursing again even louder. Her daughter slammed the door.

I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I wanted to finish my statement. “What’s the problem?” I asked when her daughter opened the door a second time. “You know the doll—“

The cursing inside was even louder—is this possible?—and her daughter began shouting at me to get off her property. When she said it a second time, I walked away, grabbed the doll and the beer bottle, dumped them into my garbage can and started to go to the ladder.

Seconds later the teenage daughter was on her way to the pay phone.

I called the police and asked for an order of disturbing my peace.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go the way they should have. Or maybe they did. In the end, he went to interview her, got an entirely different story from her, and we both have a date in court for disturbing the peace.

The good news? A few weeks ago we tried to get a restraining order on the house—my family and one of our neighbors. It didn’t go through. Someone at the police department stopped it. Did you know when you disturb someone’s peace, you cannot go near them, you cannot talk to them, you cannot—you get the idea. It’s the same as a restraining order. I got what I wanted.

I’m writing this on Thursday. Last night the neighborhood was so quiet, you could actually think. Today—so far—it’s just as quiet.

I think I’ve figured out how to rid myself of their constant cursing, bottle breaking, throwing things, breaking things, etc. It was never us against them—a neighborly dispute. It was a neighborhood problem. Someone had put a stop to the gang activity on the block. Not one gang member wannabee came near the house since Tuesday evening. Not one.

But I have to go to city court on August 30th.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Week Five, Jefferson City, MO

Already our rules have the support of most of the neighbors. The house on the corner had a party Sunday night and notified everyone. At 1:00 AM--just as our rules state--they brought the party inside. Unfortunately, the teenagers decided this would be a great time to piggyback and they had a party, too, but there's did not go the way they wanted. First off, a large contigent of gang wannabees came out. The police came out, too, in force. By 2:00 AM they effectively closed the party down and then they came out again and actually left an officer on the block to watch.

We used the Sunshine Laws of Missouri to get all of the records of disturbances on the main problem house. It cost me thirty-seven dollars. The first report was five dollars. Each following page was ten cents. So you can see how big the file is.

Most of it, unfortunately, is the main suspect--the woman at 324 Ash--calling on herself or problems she helped to create.

I'll post some of the documents overtime.

Anyway, I feel I wasted my money because from this file there are almost no reports on actual complaints against the house. I know there are more reports. I myself complained. Where's that report? My wife complained. Where's hers? The neighbors complained. She can't understand it. I show up on only one report. My wife twice. The neighbor across the street not even once.

I'll have to do more research on this one.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The First Meeting of The Ash Street Block Club Association

Six people arrived on the porch at 6:00 PM. We discussed how to make the neighborhood safer and how we could be more proactive. I read the comments other residents had told me—you can see them on an earlier blog—and then I was requested to go and invite the college boys who lived on the corner and continued to peek out at us, but did not come.

When I knocked on their door, they said they were visiting or only living there for a short period and they did not want to get involved or did not know if they should get involved and…will, you know how this goes. (And these were the same individuals who were so fired up when I invited them to the meeting. I guess I should let you know, I have been delegated to go to them and introduce them to the lady they feel most angry with. I’ll be doing that later today. Stay tuned.)

Back at the meeting, we discussed the adult living in the house that allows the gang banger wannabees on her porch. Is she a victim? The consensus is that the parent has no clue what is going on at all and that is why she allows the activity.

Representatives from one of the business’s came as well as one resident. The rest were owners living in their home. We drafted three rules: Parties for adults have to be under control and inside by 1:00 AM. Parties for juveniles have to be in constant control by an adult and inside by midnight. All of the neighbors deserve the courtesy of knowing when a party will occur. Parents should understand they are responsible for both their children and their children's friends.

It was a good meeting, nice and easy, no tension, everyone in agreement. Near its close a car drove by, a young man in the backseat rolled down his window and said, "Corner Boys.” Not loud at all. Then the car hurried off. It was almost funny.

After the meeting ended, I was sitting on the porch when the same car came back going in the opposite direction. Once again the rear window came down and once again the same boy said, “Corner Boys.” This time I laughed aloud.

Some gang. Too scared now to even yell out who they are.

So what did my family and I do after dark? We took a stroll down Cherry Street, slow and quiet, right down the block where the Corner Boyz now hang out. At the corner we stopped and discussed the three houses for sale. No one on any porch confronted us. The only assault to our ears was a loud radio.

I guess we are winning the war on gangs.

Still Week Four, My Summer Vacation, Jefferson City, Missouri

The young lady who moved in across the street three months ago turns her porch light out whenever the action starts on Ash Street. I invited her to the block club meeting. She did not want to come. It was not her business, she told me, and it wasn’t mine either. She minded her own business and why couldn’t I. Didn’t I know I was giving the teenagers more power? Didn’t I know I was getting the police to be more violent?

“I have a videotape showing the police beating up a black man,” she said. “And there’s a man on the 200 block who is sick of all of the negative publicity this street is getting. He says he’s going to come down this street and clear all of the porches.”

I didn’t tell her this, but I really want to meet with him. If he is that powerful, can you imagine his potential as a community activist?

Even though she repeated over and over how she minded her own business she had these complaints and statements:

The college boys on the corner are drug dealers. Proof: “They had three people come to visit with them one day last week and each visitor only stayed five minutes.”

The lady next door is dangerous. Proof: “She has alligators in her backyard.” She is afraid her children who visit the alligator cage—thick plywood four feet high on her next door neighbor’s property—will fall into the cage and get hurt. (As far as we know, she has no children living with her. Or, at least, we have never seen any.)

The lady and her husband who live next door are big drug users. No proof. Just the allegation.

The dogs are too loud.

No one should be allowed to have a party on weekdays when people have to go to work. Weekends? No, there should be no parties than either.

The family across the street? No problem there. She just has troubled teenagers. No one ever causes problems from her porch. Never. “I have never seen any of this,” she said.

“Why don’t you get a job?” she screamed. I should be a missionary. No one can change anyone. Don’t the prisons prove this?

And: A final outburst directed to me and the woman across the street who never has any problems on her porch—“Mind your own business. Don’t ever knock on my door! You and you, leave me alone!”

Today the police under the Sunshine Laws are allegedly going to release information on all of the problems with 324 Ash, the porch with no problems. They already showed me the size of the file.

It’s as thick as a telephone book in a large city.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Week Four in Jefferson City, Missouri

Week four in Jefferson City and the following things happened all over our block. The neighbor across the street had the back window of his truck shot out. The man who bought the business properties at the end of the block tore down one of them. The landlord next to the demolition site went berserk because a few of the bricks landed too close to her alleged property line. Juanita’s restaurant was broken into twice a half hour apart, but the alarm system scared the intruder away. The candy store across High Street has been implicated in drug sales and the college boys at the corner are angry about the alligators in the lady across the street’s yard. Then there was the firecracker fight on the porch next door and the teenager who threatened to kill them all if they turned their porch light off. (We immediately turned our porch light on, too.)The good news is the printing business on McCarty no longer has the daily spit splatter whenever they arrive.

Let’s take these incidents one at a time.

Charlie was sitting on his porch in the dark when suddenly he heard a loud noise and then watched the back window of his pickup truck explode all over the place. He ran to the truck, looked for a brick, did not see anyone around and then realized someone had shot out his window. He didn’t call the police because he said there was no one to accuse, but it probably came from the people across the street. In the morning, he drove to his farm and replaced the broken window of his truck. He also rigged a fence-like structure so it won’t happen again. Now that the back window is safe, will they go for the front window?

Mr. D. purchased two properties near the corner of Ash and High. He began the demolition of one of them—a historic building which was famous for its arches because when the building was constructed we did not have the technology to build arches. Somehow the wood was bent into semi-circular shapes. It was all over the news. The demolition, though, did not receive one mention.

So why did he tear it down?

His tenant lives in the building next door to the property. The tenant stopped paying rent to him six months ago, stole the pipe work for recycling, and is very territorial. He parks his cars all over the lot, does engine work every place and leaves parts littered across the asphalt. He even has very old cars everywhere and no one says a thing to him. Once he pulled a gun out on the landlady’s boyfriend because he did not want to pay his rent. He told another tenant that if he was over put out of his existing residence (not his business place) he would tear all of the plumbing out of the walls. Mr. D. said, “I had to tear down the building. This was the only way I could get him out.” He is so intimidated this was the only solution he could come up with.

Last night the above tenant from Hell came home and found some bricks on the alleged boundary line. He called the landlady who called Mr. D. She was so angry, she came to see where the bricks had fallen. The tenant, meanwhile, was having a cursing temper tantrum across the street and actually stopping cars to curse about it some more. The one thing I was able to understand through the incoherence and cursing storm was that he was angry because he had no place to part his car. I guess the street is not good enough for him.

Let me tell you about the landlady. One of her buildings—kitty corner to Ash and McCarty—has a lot of broken windows all done by the people next door and the wannabee Corner Boyz. She did nothing about that. But let a brick fall on her property and she’s a raving machine. Remember, only three bricks fell near her alleged property line and she had to make sure those three bricks were removed.

Juanita owns the fancy restaurant on High, about a half block from Ash. “They tried to break in twice,” she said. “My alarm went off both times and the police were on the scene within seconds. The intruders didn’t get in. I don’t know who they are, but I’m sure they are members from that house on Ash Street.” She’s talking about 324 Ash, the gang banger wannabee nest. When they tagged her property, she did not call the police. “I don’t want any problems,” was her reason. She is an older woman and I could tell she is easily intimidated. But what can you expect from a town where the undertaker leaves many properties vacant because she will not ever allow a person of color or a lawyer to live on her property. They can die for her and she will charge them funeral expenses, but that’s where she draws the line.

The candy store is now—allegedly—a drug hangout. Cell phones are left behind on the shelves for later pick-up of messages for drug deals. The police have confiscated twelve cell phones in the last few days, according to my sources. Can it be that the “Slim Jims” are decaying (and you thought “Slim Jims” lasted forever) and the “rap snack chips” they sell are stale and that’s why they moved into another line of business.

And then we witnessed the firecracker fight on the porch next door from 11:00PM to 12:30AM. Cars drove by throwing firecrackers into the people congregating onto the porch. You couldn’t tell if it was fun and games or serious. Later the crowd grew bigger and the boys took over the street. Then, after everyone left, one teenager came down the street yelling he would kill someone (I’ve cleaned up the language) if they turned their light off. No one came out of 324 Ash after that.

But at least the printing business reported to me that they no longer have to take out sanitary wipes and wipe off the door handle and lock when they enter their place of business in the morning. No one is spitting on it anymore.

As for the alligators and the college boys? I’m going to have a block club meeting at the house tomorrow. I’ll let you know.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Still the Third Week in Jefferson City, MO

OK, so now people are coming up to me in the street or they're calling me on the phone or they're talking about me. Nothing negative--at least not so far. But someone tagged the sidewalks on Cherry Street--a block over--and someone got murdered five blocks in another direction--and the police called me to tell me they have what might be a real gang situation ("Gangbangers from St. Louis," one officer told me) and someone else is afraid when I leave, everything will explode again.

I don't know.

The Corner Boyz buzz the block late at night with their cars blasting and they yell their slogans out into the street. We had some minor vandalism behind our house. There are other things too. We're biding our time.

Somethings you can smell.

And next door. Well, it's still a nest for all of this.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Third Week of Summer Vacation

I guess you have to be here. Troy, the alleged founder of the Corner Boyz, walks from block to block like he’s lost. Not lost in thought. Not lost in a brilliance of ideas. Just lost. The next door neighbors come out at night like vampires—only they appear in the day, too, sometimes, so we know they’re still human. It’s quiet during the day—the gangbangers walk from block to block, the sun hurting everything (it’s that hot), and everyone of the teenagers seem homeless.

At night—every night—the neighborhood wakes up. But it’s very localized now. Everything turns on one porch. I wrote a letter to the editor explaining the principle’s of association. You know the saying: If you run with garbage, you begin to stink. If your friends are thieves, people believe you are a thief. If you hang out with the whores, it’s not a far reach to believe you, too, are a whore.

Officer Clark of the Jefferson City Neighborhood Patrol was called to our next door neighbor’s porch. Windows are being knocked out of vacant homes and she wanted him to know it wasn’t her family. Unfortunately, I heard her tell the manager of one of these buildings that it was her family and that she knew who else was involved and she would give them up to him on Thursday. Officer Clark told us a lot of the gangbangers think of our neighbor as “Mom.” But they never call her that. They curse and constantly disrespect her. They never offer to help her when she has to get a cab to go and get groceries. Some of them do drive, but they never take her anywhere. “Mom” she isn’t.

Thursday came and went with only the usual noise from next door. And the one not so nice noise when the mother of a twelve year old would not let her daughter back into the house until she hammered at the door for almost forty-five minutes. By the way, it was already 1:45 AM. None of this can be construed as normal.

Last night I had to go out at 3:00 AM and ask for a bunch of teenagers to please move from in front of our house. One of them said, “I live right there.” Another grabbed him by the arm and told him where I lived. Then he changed his story, but no one moved. There was a party on the corner at the college boy’s apartment. I went there and they got the teenagers to move.

One of our neighbors who works past midnight told us she is not afraid of the teenage boys who sit on that porch. She’s afraid of what they say to her. Things like, “Wouldn’t you want a piece of that---“ and “I bet she has some moves on her” and “I wonder what white --- tastes like.” She has complained to the police who have asked her to purchase pepper spray. Then they said: “If you don’t like living here, why don’t you move?” We’ve heard the same thing, too.

It’s Saturday, the weekend of the 4th. We’re planning to celebrate the three day holiday downtown here in Jeff. I just hope the only fireworks we get to see are the ones planned at the fireworks show Tuesday evening.