Here in Baltimore, we call older members of our community with commonly known endearing nicknames: OG, Oldhead, Big Homie, Unc, Big Ahk. “Go head big brotha, you got it” is what I said this morning to a black guy about three times my age. I was on my way to a meeting in Washington D.C. called by my bosses, probably to scold me for taking the past few days off. Yesterday, especially, I chose to stay in Baltimore to help ensure the safety of my beloved multi-ethnic city, instead of being present for an audit at work. “Naw lil brotha, you can go ahead and get on first, my leg is killing me” he retorted immediately. I pushed through a smile, despite the trauma inside from the past few days I was experiencing, and said “Elders always first” with conviction.
The train doors closed, and I slumped in my seat, sort of the same way dope fiends sprawl out across benches in Baltimore that read “The Greatest city in America.” My head raised and so did my curiosity. “What up with your leg big bruh?” I asked. He erupted, “man the Baltimore Police beat the (expletive) out of me three years ago! Stomped my knee out of place!” I slumped further in the seat, my back was almost level on the seat cushion. I sat there stupefied. Here I had been on the streets of Baltimore ushering kids into their houses, marching for peace, and reverberating the need for blacks to protect each other for the past four days, thinking I was making some real progress, and a random Unc on the train was a victim of the same violence three years before, the same violence that ended Freddie Gray’s life!
In a whisper, I pleaded “you’re lying to me, please tell me you’re lying to me.” He rambled, “Brother! I got a 2.5 million dollar case on them jokers man. They beat me up three years ago for filming another guy getting his rib cage shattered by a few cops.” Before I fell completely off my seat, I snapped my body up, and leaned in within nine inches of his salt and pepper beard. “Three years ago? Police beat on you three years ago and you’re just settling the case?” This conversation was loaded with black rage, frustration and enchantment now. The six million dollars the police department of Baltimore has paid in fines for brutality is about to tack on 2.5 million dollars more.
“But what did you do?” I blurted, but thinking inside my head that it was obvious: darker pigment equals bruises and bullets. I remember reading how Eric Bradner for CNN wrote that “blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.”
He carried on: “I ain’t do a (expletive) thang! I’m a proud owner of a family plumbing company and have been teaching plumbing and HVAC for over 40 years to young guys just like you. I just happened to see the folks wailing on this dude and I started filming.”
Cops haven’t particularly enjoyed being filmed, but as of late it’s been really volatile. Three years ago I would’ve missed the memo too. “They told me to put my phone down and I said no. That’s when they stomped me out on the pavement like roadkill,” he mumbled.
I told him how I’ve been in the thick of it the past few days in Baltimore.
Then, the train sounded off the “Stadium Armory” notice, and his face sunk as he said he had to go. Walter, he told me as his name as he was getting up, added, “Take my card we’ll talk again for sure,” and left the train.
I know that in Baltimore, Big Homies like Walter love when younger ones are “involved.” But just what was I doing out there? If Walter and I would have stayed together for a few more stops, I would have shared with him more of what I witnessed just in the past four days alone, literally on the front lines of the city of many generations in my family, the only place I know as home, Baltimore. I would have shared the overwhelming feelings I have of PTGD (Post Traumatic Ghetto Syndrome). And maybe ask his wisdom on how to make sense of it all.