From time to time in this blog, though not in awhile, I publish an excerpt from the memoir I am working on. I am closing in on the end of this task, a scary and emotional proposition. When writing the following piece, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. In fact, when it got to the part where the young man is begging for his life, I had to get up and leave the writing table. I did not return until the next day. It is striking to me how one can have a memory, much like something on a shelf, and manage its presence with some semblance of composure, yet, when you write the memory, you take it down from the shelf and live it. And then there is little shelter. Anyway, thank for for taking the time to read this, and I hope your life and the life of your loved ones is going well.
Peter S. Kahrmann, April 7, 2008
It is 1981 and I am walking down Court Street in Brooklyn with Charlie, a friend of mine. We hear angry voices behind us yelling and screaming. We turn and see a young black man running his heart out down the center of Court Street. He is coming towards us and he is being chased by maybe 20 angry young white boys, mostly teenagers. The young black man who looks to be in his twenties runs past us. His face is lit wild with terror.
Voices scream, “Get that fucking nigger! Get that nigger!” I tell Charlie get to the other side of the street, lets stay with this.
We are running on either side of the angry crowd of young whites now, watching what happens. Some are carrying sticks, pieces of two-by-four. One carries a piece of rebar about the length of a baseball bat. I am hoping the young black man will get away.
They catch him and the angry young white with the rebar slams it across the back of the young black man. He crumbles to the ground. He trys to get up but another angry young white breaks a piece of wood across his back. The young black man wobbles upwards and is downed again when a bottle is smashed across his head. There is blood now. He is on the ground screaming. “Please God don’t kill me! Please God! Please God! I have a wife and children! Please God! Please God don’t let them kill me!”
I lock eyes with Charlie and motion for him to call the police. I move fast into the crowd, reaching the young black man through a barrage of kicks and pounches. There is a pause in the violence, a sudden quiet, the angry mob does not know what to make of me. I pull the young black man up into my arms and hold him against a parked car so it shields him on one side. I shield him on the other.
Some in the angry mob try to reach past me and punch him. When this happens, I push the young black man into a crouch so he is out of reach and aim hard words back at the crowd, now nothing more than a single rage-filled being: seething, pulsing, breathing as one, dripping with hate.
I say, “What the fuck are you doing? You really want to kill him? You want to go to jail for him?”
One reaches in again. I shove him back hard and our eyes meet. I know if this mob explodes into us I will have to damage or kill someone quickly. Suddenly a big Italian man joins me in protecting the young black man. He is older than all of us, huge and burly, powerful, no nonsense. His presence nearly stills the mob completely. Later I find out he is one of the powers in the neighborhood and deeply respected by all.
Police units arrive and take the bleeding terrified young man to the hospital. I thank the big Italian man. He says, “Hey, I hear him say he got a wife and kids. That’s all I gotta hear. The man’s got family.”
The police say they are taking the young black man to Long Island College Hospital. The police are from the 84th Precinct, the same precinct that will save my life and take me to the same hospital just three years later.