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, August 30, 2006

Court--Jefferson City, Missouri

August 30th. I had to go to city court. Me and a hundred others--mostly people of color or people with obvious needs. It's amazing that a town of forty-thousand with four-thousand African-Americans had so many African-Americans in the courtroom. I'd say over half. Good ole boys? Of course not.

So I arrived at 5:15, my evidence with me in two bags and I organized all of it again while I waited and the room filled up to standing room only. The bailiff gave his bailiff speech. We stood when the judge entered who explained that this was not a trial, but an arraignment. If we pleaded innocent, we would have a trail date on a later day. (And I felt stupid for being there. Hadn't the arresting officer said he would be at the court to testify about the problems next door? Hadn't he said I would be found innocent and she guilty? He had to have known this was not a trail.) Then we waited for the prosecutor to call our names. He went through a lot of people who jumped bail first. Then the prosecutor went in an order I can't really explain. Most people were there for driving without seat belts or for having tinted windows. One man plead guilty to defecation on a city street. A hundred-five dollar fine plus court costs.

Then they called me. (If you have been following this blog, you know the lady next door filed a disturbing the peace against me after she threatened me and cursed me out, etc. etc. etc.) He asked my name, I gave it, he searched for the file, and he began to read it. It became painfully apparent this was the first time he saw this file. He asked me to remain standing--but over there, please--and called on two others before he came back to me.

"I'm dismissing this," he said. "I'm dismissing her too. You have to learn to get along with your neighbors."

I wanted to tell him everything that happened, The cut phone wires. The constant cursing. The major fights. How the gangbanger wannabees use 324 as a safe house. I almost did, but he looked at me and said, "You're dismissed."

I left. My wife had shown up only a few minutes earlier. She got up and we walked out together.

My neighbor hadn't been called yet, but two of her children were nearby. They gave us the finger and one of them made a threatening gesture with her fist. I thought, peace has come to an end. I was wrong. When we arrived home, everything was quiet.

Except for the back door of their house where seven boys snuck out when the teenage daughter's mother returned.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Party and Police--Jefferson City, Missouri

OK, OK. So it's been much quieter here. We've started working together and our neighborhood is better. Not perfect yet, but better. Next door they're even coming out without their red shirts. The back door is still open and boys and men still sneak in through there...

The college boys on the corner had a party. They followed the rules. They told all of us. And it was a quiet party. Oh, they came from everywhere. You couldn't find a place to park and people even parked in the alley, but there was no problems other than a few drunks that got a little out of hand.

The party began around ten and I sat on the front porch. In the period of an hour, a police car went down the block an average of once every two minutes. You read that correctly. Thirty-one squad cars came down the block, two parked on the corner for extended periods of time and four officers walked the block more than once. We were under siege and nothing illegal was happening (if you don't count the cars parked in front of the fire hydrant or blocking the alley).

Furthermore, for the first time, the gangbanging wannabee house did not piggyback on the party. Everything there was too quiet.

My question? Why can't the police be as vigilant when the gangbangers are gathering?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Excitement--Tuesday night, Jefferson City, Missouri

Sometime's you have to eat your words. Tuesday morning I wrote how everything was going so much better and then--10:30 PM--I'm on the phone with the video store, Hastings (a store I really like by the way) when suddenly we hear a crunch and a crack and police sirens everywhere. Someone--he was captured two blocks away on Cherry Street--ditched his SUV in the alley next to our house, rushed through our yard, and totally demolished our wrought iron gate and latice woodwork by the entranceway.

Can't tell you where he went next, but I do know the police asked me to check out the open cat basement we are beginning work on and to inspect another property where I, by mistake, left a door open. Flashlight in hand, I investigated, saw the destruction--more for me to fix (and I haven't even written about all of the exciting work I've done on the houses on Ash Street like rebuild porches and clean out basements and put up ceiling fans). This time, though, a police officer came to me and said he was ready to do a search. Guess I misunderstood. I thought they asked me to do the search. Since I already did one, they made only a cursory look around.

Twenty minutes later, everything was quiet again.

Then--an hour later--my son says someone's in the yard, so here I go again to see what's going on (armed with a flashlight). This morning we saw the broken gate, destroyed woodwork and some clothing left behind when the suspect made his escape.

This is a small town. Might even be in the paper tonight.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tuesday, August 22nd--Jefferson City, Missouri

Nothing happened over the weekend. Nothing. We were amazed. Everyday for the past few days red shirt people began to congregate on the gangbanger wannabee’s porch, but nothing happened. I guess I’m too amazed.

Well, one thing. A teenager came onto the porch and the parent asked him to leave. “We don’t allow cowards around us,” she snapped. Of course, her entire family (and this includes her) were wearing red shirts.

He gave her a surprised look. (He is sleeping with her daughter after all.) Can it be she doesn’t know? Can it be the back door stays open all night for him to sneak in and out?

“You didn’t help my daughter when she had that fight.”

“Why would I?” he asked, and I looked up from my work on the porch because he said each word with perfect diction. “You shouldn’t start anything you can’t finish.”

There was silence. He sat down on the stoop. Everyone went inside leaving him and the teenage daughter alone.

School started back and a lot of people went. Not everyone. A lot of children here are home schooled. When the school day ended, our neighbors came out—and yelled and fussed and generally insulted the students coming home from school. But nothing happened. By eleven o’clock at night, everything was too quiet.

OK. There will be a big party on the corner this Thursday. I’m installing lights to spread out over our porches. (Took them down when I began working on the front porch.) We are seeing an increase in teenagers walking down our street, but that’s all. No big thing really. Most of them aren’t even wearing red shirts.

Passed out the August newsletter, but we have received absolutely no feedback yet. (Well, it’s been only a day.) I’ll see if I can’t post it up here later.

Guess I’ll write more on Friday if I get a chance—but you know what?—maybe I won’t have to because maybe, just maybe, the block will follow the rules we proposed and everything will be under control.

Friday, August 18, 2006

HANGING IN THERE--Jeff City, August 17th

OK, so the block is a bit quieter. Still the neighbors back door is open and teenage boys sneak in and out of there all night long (even though one boy wallked out the front door about 8 this morning).

Do we have gang activity back?

Don't know, even though the momma next door comes onto her porch every night at the sametime wearing a red shirt and is soon surrounded by teenagers also wearing red shirts. There's a lot of cursing and other noise. ("He took my gun from me and I'm gonna get it back no matter what," one boy yelled. But this is the only crazy thing we heard.)

During the day it's always 90 and today they claim it will break a hundred. Friday night. Interestingly enough, when I met with the city (more on that later), they thought the college boys on the corner were the biggest problem. We let them know the truth.

It does seem now that the biggest problem house--the red shirt open door in the back house--did lose their Section 8 status. How are they paying rent? They're not. The landlord dropped by yesterday to make arrangements, was not allowed in, talked on the porch for awhile, and left.

Friday night? We'll see if the red shirts develop into anything or not. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ash Street Block Club Meeting

I know. I know. This is a month late, but only yesterday did I find out some of the Corner Boyz and Street Hustlers walked up to some of the residents on the street and asked them if they were going to go to the meeting. Intimidation. Still we had a decent turnout. Below is the minutes and first newsletter for the Ash Street Block Club Association--July's meeting--even though it's a month late.

By the way, with the exception of the gangbanger house, everyone is abiding by the suggestions made in this newsletter.

Ash Street Block Club Association (est. 1996)
320 Ash
Jefferson City, Missouri 65101

Minutes for the meeting held on July 13th, 2006

The meeting was called to order at 6:00 PM. Present: Jerry Lewis, business owner; Ann Hoffman, property owner; Sam Donehue and Jamie Jo Gallan, business owner’s representative; Deborah Wymbs, property owner; Kim Davis, resident; and Michael Brownstein, property owner.

A brief overview of the purpose of the Ash Street Block Club with a listing of comments from area residents was presented by Michael Brownstein. A number of surrounding businesses let us know we have their support and assistance.

Then we had a discussion on the vandalism in the area including graffiti, the loud noise (loud talking and loud music) late nights, and problems with teenagers and other visitors who do not live on the block.

Three rules were proposed and passed unanimously:

1. When a property decides to have a party for adults (everyone is over 18 years of age), they should notify their neighbors about the party (dates and times). This rule does not apply to parties with individuals under eighteen. (Their parties must end before curfew so everyone can get home safely and the party goers should always be on the host property’s premises. In this way, adults can supervise and chaperone effectively.)
2. After 1:30 AM, if the adult party is still going, control it back into the hosting house. (This rule does not apply to juveniles.)
3. Adults with children (children are defined as individuals under the age of eighteen) are deemed responsible for the behavior of their children and their children’s company. This includes graffiti, tagging, vandalism, destruction to property, etc.

Two pieces of advice were also unanimously accepted:

1. Respect your neighbors/respect each other.
2. If there is a problem, discuss it with the individual the next morning, if possible.

If anyone has any issues, suggestions, compliments, rumors, complaints, please feel free to contact Ash Street Block Club Association at 573-893-2019.

Michael Brownstein, Ash Street Block Club Association

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Cole County Fair, Jefferson City, Missouri: Confederate Clothing is not a Heritage Statement

We went to the County Fair on Saturday night to see the demolition derby. One of our neighbors has been blasting the block with noise and smoke for a few weeks now getting ready and we felt we had to go to support him. So we parked our car, walked a quarter of a mile to the front gate, and another block to the arena. We were on time. There were a lot of good seats left. Forty-five minutes after the scheduled time, it started. Then the stadium filled. (Guess the regulars knew it never starts on time.)

But this is not what I want to write about. Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by the Confederate flag. Men wore them as scarves on their heads, patches on their pants, as shirts, t-shirts, all over their body. We even saw one tattooed with the flag--and it was only because he wore a skimpy t-shirt exposing it. Women wore them as scarves, shirts, skirts (though this was uncommon) and as jewelry.

One man's shirt said: "If this flag makes you uncomfortable, then you made my day."

I guess I made his day, but not for the reasons he thinks. I was uncomfortable because Missouri fought for the North. Grant was the general in charge. When the South tried to regain the state, it got its butt whipped. So I was uncomfortable because it was obvious this man didn't know his history. Furthermore, he had no understanding of how the large landholders disenfranchised the poor whites by making them feel better than the black slaves. (At least the slaves had food to eat.) Both groups were victims then and both have been struggling since for economic freedom. (Keep in mind more non colored people receive government assistance than people of color.)

I was uncomfortable because of all of the beer around me--cups and cups stacked high as if they were a sign of greatness. I admire great thinkers, great writers, great doers. Drinking beer until your beet red faced and sweating is not my idea of greatness. And here's one observation that scared me: Every individual with any Confederate symbols on their person also held a cup of beer. There was not a single exception. Unfortunately, from the extreme redness of their faces, they were also getting incredibly drunk. So, yes, I was uncomfortable because my family and I had to smell this incredible alcholic stench no matter where we went.

And, yes, I was uncomfortable for the reason he wanted me to be uncomfortable. A quick look around the fairgrounds showed only a handful of people of color. But it also showed only a handful of people who looked like they were in Disney World. In other words, he was wearing this shirt with this slogan because he was comfortable with his surroundings. He wore it for what it was: a symbol of racism. A symbol that he was proud to be a racist. And everyone around him and with him were a support group. Now I'm told he may have worn it to show off his heritage. OK. Like a NAZI wearing NAZI symbols because his daddy fought in the Great War and it was a part of his heritage. Or a member of the KKK wearing a hood in public because his grandaddy wore one when the landownwers empowered him to attack people of color (but did not offer him food for his family or a job; but, yes, you can be a sharecropper) because that's his heritage.

OK, I've said it.

Now I don't know this man. He may not be a racist. But then again, if you're with someone who is a racist and they start bad mouthing a race and you remain silent--well, I'm sorry--in my eyes your silence condemms you as a racist, too.

Forty thousand people live in Jefferson City and about four thousand are of color. A visit to any of the state buildings reveals a great absence of people of color. Oh, they're there: as janitors, landscapers, etc. But they have no real presence. If you stand on High and Broadway at the closing of business, you will see a steady stream of non colored people. Oh, my mistake, there may be one or two people of color. We saw none.

At the County Fair, all of the people--and there were lots and lots of them--wearing Confederate clothing and/or other Confederate decorations appeared to me to be totally comfortable. Totally at home. We went to the County Fair to see our friend in the demolition derby and came home with a new understanding of some of the undercurrents and values of a town that should know better.

By the way our friend came in second.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Keystone Cops: August 5th, Jefferson City, Missouri, 3:00 AM

Our neighbor down the street had her door kicked in. It was one of those heavy steel doors so it took the intruder a few times to break it open--four or five. The door didn't dent, of course, but everything that let the door lock flew a few yards into the room or splintered along the door frame.

She knew the intruder--it was her estranged husband. He ran into the room and asked her for a match so he could smoke. She told him she was going to call the police because she couldn't believe he actually kicked in her door. He told her he had fixed the door the last time it had happened and he would fix the door again. She called the police. He ran into the basement and she locked him in. (There's actually a padlock on the door on the apartment side.)

She had to call the police twice. It didn't matter that she said my ex-husband just kicked in my door. It didn't matter that she felt her life was in danger. It especially didn't matter that she felt safer since she had locked him in the basement. (But then again he had kicked down a steel door, hadn't he?)

The police came five minutes after she called the second time. (Or fifteen minutes after the first call. The police station, by the way, is only four blocks down the street.) Two squad cars. One had a searchlight on as he slowly went down the block to her house. At the broken door, both officers stopped dead in their tracks. They looked over the damage. "Is he drunk?" one of them asked.

"A little," she answered.

"Where's he now? Is he still in the house?" the other asked.

"No," she said, "he's locked in the basement."

"Does he have a weapon?"

"No, just follow me."

She led them to the basement door, unlocked it, carefully walked down the stairs, and when she got to the bottom, turned to point out to them where he was hiding. When she turned, they were not behind her. She could not believe her eyes. She thought they were on the stairs going down step by step with her. But, no. They were still at the top of the stairs by the door.

"It's safe," she said then. "He's gone. Must have broken down the back door."

"You're sure?"


They came down then with their large flashlights on even though the basement was well lit. He was gone. He had broken out through another door, much flimsier than the first, but still a door.

They told her they would contact her when they found him. He drives a pink Lincoln--one of the classic models. He had been drinking. The police know him by name. No one has made contact with her yet.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Missouri and the new files on Ash Street

Ash Street must be fairly special. A few weeks ago we received all of the information on two of the houses on Ash Street. It was almost the size of a phone book. We received a lot of documentation on two households—including one where the parent called up on herself over and over again.

I can’t get my kids to go to school.

My daughter ran away again.

A boy is trespassing and I want him off my porch.

The boy I wanted off my porch yesterday. It’s OK for him to be on the porch today. (To the police:) So why are you bothering him?

My son jumped out the window and ran down the block.

You get the message. She called about bats in her house so often, the police finally sent a request not to animal control, but to DCFS. Even when she didn’t have phone service, she found ways to call and complain about her children. And much of it is a public record.

Now we have the files for all of the other houses on the block—including ours. It’s even thicker than those two—but not by much. Amazingly, only a handful deal with the house that allowed the gangbanger wannabees to hang out there and cause all kinds of problems until all hours at night. Most of it cannot even be tied to that house. You have to see some of these files to believe them.

I’m in a lot of them. They have a write up with my name on it for the captain of the police department to contact me to learn about gang signs. They have a place about me getting calls from people in Jefferson City while I’m in Chicago because they are so terrified, they are afraid to call the police. I find myself having to call the police for them.

I have to buy a scanner so I can scan all of these documents onto this blog.

My wife and I have separated them by address and put them in order by date. One house—315 Ash—made a complaint to the police because an unknown person threw garbage into his yard. A complaint made on 327 Ash claimed there was a loud party, but when the police arrived, the house was black and no one was around. (I should let you know the police arrived two minutes after they received the complaint.) There’s a complaint about a giant alligator walking down the street and there’s a complaint about the length of a leach and there’s a complaint about—well, I’m sure you get the jist of this.

Are there complaints about gangbangers and wannabees? Knife fights and disturbances? Damage to property and disturbances of the peace? A few. We thought we could use these documents to get absentee landlords to correct their behavior. We thought we could hire a lawyer to help us out. Now all we think we have made a mistake. Have you ever looked into the inside of your neighbors? With these papers, unfortunately, we have.

August in Jefferson City, Missouri

It was a hundred degrees outside for the last week, but I think we may be in for a break today. Haven't been outside yet. Been working hard on getting these old houses up and running, No big thing--but I'm scaring myself cause I'm able to work outside for hours and hours and I can take it. Didn't know this was possible.

Tuesday night was neighborhood night out, but we didn't do a thing. Our neighbors, though, decided to have a party--they thought neighbors night out meant bringing to the block all of the usual suspects who caused so many problems. It didn't work. Only a handful of people came by. They were loud at times, but mostly the hosts were embarrassed.

One conversation:

"So where's the party?" a Corner Boy asked.


"Then where's everyone?" (It was already nearing 10:00 PM.)

"Don't know, but they'll be here. You know I run Ash Street."

There was quite a bit of laughter and hooting from the Corner Boyz after this statement.

"Then why don't you come out in the daytime? Why do you only come out at night?"

"This is my street."

"Then why are you scared to come out?"

"They should rename this street after me."

"How can you run a street when you're afraid to come outside?"

"They should name this street Tanya Street."

I guess she didn't get the point. The Corner Boyz left, none returned, and by eleven only one boy remained on the porch, but he grew tired of the cursing little girl--she's nine--and her mother who seemed to want him--very badly--to take her oldest daughter--she's sixteen--inside for sex, drugs or beer or maybe all three. He didn't take the bait. In fact, he was so disturbed by the mother's apathetic and pushy behavior, he left.

By 11:30, no one was on the porch.