Hight Noon in the 'hood,
Its a predicament
that Robert must confront on his own. He knows it, and his antagonists
know it. They all know that the police are not the main players here,
the ones to "get cool" with; rather, the "beef" is
between Robert and the drug dealers. These are the people with whom he
must now achieve a new understanding. They are testing his mettle, probing
for weakness, to see if he is the same old Ruck (his street name). Much
suggests to them that he is not. Above all, he is now on parole and thus
must watch his step in dealing with people the way he would have dealt
with them "back in the day," or the old days; moreover, his
close association with Herman is something of a liability on the street.
Robert has been going through a gradual transformation,
shedding his "old skin" and identity of Ruck and taking on his
new identity of Robert, or Rob. His former street cronies constantly address
him as Ruck, while the decent people of the community, people he is getting
to know better, address him more consistently as Robert.
If Rob resolves the current tension and passes
the test, he will be much stronger than he was before, garnering juice,
or respect, and credibility from others he meets on the street. Bear in
mind, Rob already has credibility and respect from many of the decent
people who know him and what he has been up against; many are cheering
for him, the celebrity of the neighborhood. It is the street element,
specifically the local drug gang, that he must now impress. For his part,
Herman understands that he must not fight this battle for Rob, that Rob
must fight it for himself. After all, he will not always be with Rob.
Choc is Robs main opponent in the contest for the corner in front
of Ms. Newbills. He grew up and has been living in the area for
a long time, and, as was indicated earlier, Rob helped raise him and introduce
him to the drug trade. Chocs mother still lives in the area, just
a few doors away from Robs store.
Soon after taking control of the store, Rob
confronted Choc about his drug-dealing activities. He said, "Listen,
Choc, this has to stop. If you want to sell drugs, go somewhere else.
You not gon do it here. Go sit on your mothers step and sell.
Dont sell in front of my business." Choc responded, "Why
you want to [keep us from selling drugs here]? You know how it is. I got
to eat. I got to make a living, too. Why you want to be so hard?"
Rob answered that he also had to make a living and that the drug dealers
were hurting his business. They could sell somewhere else; they did not
have to sell on his corner. Choc responded that this is where his mother
lives: "I grew up here, so I can do what I want. Ill die for
this [corner], cause I got to eat. And aint nobody gon
stop me from eating." Rob asked, "Is that how you feel?"
Choc bellowed, "Yeah!" "All right, Im gon talk
to your mama about it and see if she feel the same way."
people in the neighborhood are aware of the present tension around the
corner by Ms. Newbills. A beef has been created and infused with
a certain social significance. People want to know what is going to happen
next. Will Rob back down? Or will the boys back down? Either way, the
result carries implications for the community and the local status order.
Core elements of the code of the street are heavily in play: Can I take
care of myself without going to the authorities? Do I have enough juice
or personal power to do what I want? The metaphor of a chess game is not
lost, as both Rob and Choc consider their next moves, with everyone anxiously
looking on. Ostensibly, it is between them and nobody else. In fact, it
is over who is going to rule the community in the long runthe decent
folks or the street element. The struggle over the corner may be viewed
as simply one battle in a war.
In trying out strategies for winning, Rob offered
a scenario of what he might do in regard to Choc. He said, "Im
gon go tell his mother, that if I crack him in his head he wont
be selling drugs there. Now, there are three corners that he cant
sell on: where I got the fruit stand, where Ms. Newbills place is,
and in front of the library or gym. He can go over to the vacant lot where
the gas station used to be. Ill tell him, You can sell over
there because my customers dont come that way, but he knows
that place is in the open, and Captain Perez [leader of the local police
precinct] will get him if he do that. You cant sell on any
other corner. But since you are gonna sell anyway, go over and sell on
the vacant gas station lot." Rob knew that setting up business
there would put Choc in the open so the captain could see him, and everyone
knew that the captain was not to be trifled with.
Choc then sent five others of the local community
to warn Rob, as a way both of getting the message back to Rob and of obtaining
feedback on the situation and drumming up support: "Rob is gonna
find himself with some problems" was a common sentiment. These five
people, one by one, came back to Rob his first day on the job at Ms. Newbills
and told him what Choc had said "that he will find himself in some
problems." And they would inquire of Rob, "Whats going
on?" or "You closing down drug corners, now!" or "Choc
feels some type o way about all this [hes mad]."
Herman and I were at Ms. Newbills on Robs
first day as the proprietor of his new business there. Rob made us cheesesteaks
and then came and sat with us. It was clear that he was not himself. He
was somewhat agitated, and his street antennae were on high alert, as
he glanced back and forth at the front door, studying everyone who entered.
Suddenly he said, "Did you see that! Did you see that?" Herman
asked, "What?" "She nodded her head, gave a signal to somebody,"
replied Rob. We looked up and saw an older woman standing in line to pay
for some soap. She was facing the street. We noticed nothing out of the
ordinary. But Rob was very concerned. He seems to have thought the woman
might be alerting someone outside that we were here: if they wanted us,
here we were. This turned out to be nothing.
People entered and left. One person after another
warmly greeted Herman, including a man who planted a kiss on the side
of his face, with obvious affection and appreciation. Herman answered
politely, indicating what we were up to that day: "Were having
a Little League practice this evening at six. You got any equipment, a
ball, a bat, anything?" The man answered affirmatively: "Yeah,
I got something for you. How long you gon be here?" "Until
you get back" answered Herman. The man then left the store and in
about 10 minutes returned with a baseball bat and a ball. We were very
pleased, for the youngsters with whom we were to practice this evening
needed this equipment to start up their games.
Soon we received our food and soft drinks. People
continued to enter and leave. It was clear that our presence was the support
Rob needed. He relaxed, and we had easy talk for the next hour and a half,
at which point we left. Every minute we were there, we were putting the
word out that drug dealing would not be tolerated on this corner. Herman
felt strongly that the young men who were coming and going were letting
others know that we were there and that we were committed to being there.
And that was what Rob needed on his first day at Ms. Newbills.
After one man left, Herman said of him confidently,
"Yeah, he know Rob will hurt that boy [Choc], so why mess up Robs
future by sending Rob back to jail for killing this nut. Hes putting
Robs word out, that Rob is here to stay." The man was a crack
addict named Johnny Brown, a mechanic"the best there is when
he can stay off that stuff." Brown is like a neighborhood courier
who knows the latest about the neighborhood: "He know everything,
including the shooting last night." He will also get the word to
the neighborhood that another day has passed and that Rob has not been
chased out. Everyone is watching, expectantly, taking in the drama. The
atmosphere is something like that of High Noon, in part because
there were shootouts on this busy, lucrative corner in the past. The stakes,
financial and social, are high.