is sitting in a booth in a suburban Baltimore restaurant holding forth to his white buddy about what the police should have done to nip the misbehavior of enraged Baltimore black folk in the bud on Monday.
It was about an hour before Tuesday's 10pm curfew was set to fall on the city. It was before the helmeted and shielded riot police, waddling like plastic-swathed insects, began firing smoke bombs and pepper bullets at the line of defiant protestors who refused to leave the intersection of Pennsylvania and North Avenues, a corner a few blocks away from where I lived some years ago.
For about an hour there in the curfew-less suburbs, in the booth next to mine, the two 40-ish white guys, chilling out in business suits with their jackets off, chatted expertly about what black kids need: fathers at home to lay down the law, cops who will dare to stand up to them, a lesson in consequences.
It is hilarious, in a wrecking-ball sort of way, to listen to some white people declare what they know about black people. White people who have never been jacked up by cops for being white, who have never been followed by store security guards for being white, who have never been denied an apartment or a decent mortgage for being white, who have never stood a higher chance of conviction in court for being white, and who don't even need to think much about the fact that they are white unless they are around a bunch of people who are not.
The ironic thing is that alongside their cluelessness about the Baltimore Police Department's record with black people, these two shirtsleeve cocktail-hour experts hit on some obvious truths: black male kids in poor prison-siphoned neighborhoods do need male, as well as female, examples of power and self-love, and they need as much guidance and discipline as any kids do.
But what poor black kids need more than anything, which privilege-bubbled white guys are so well-shielded from seeing, is simply to not be treated as niggers.
I don't mean niggas in the cocky black (and in the white-playing-black) sense. I mean niggers. In the perennial Mississippi whipping-post sense. In the face-jammed-onto-a-cop-car-hood sense. In the move-your-black-ass-along-or-else sense. In the okay-fuck-it-I'll-be-the-fearsome-creature-who-you-expect-me-to-be sense.
White guys don't get served that dish in the cafeteria.
The two white fellows finished their meal and their talk and collected their suit jackets and left. Someone changed the channel on the TV up on the wall. A TV reporter was counting down the minutes to curfew while the camera held on the line of demonstrators at North and Pennsylvania. The protestors did not move. A young guy rode a bicycle in a repeating circle. A politician in a baseball cap said inaudible things to an interviewer. Then the countdown hit curfew. Then it was 10 minutes past curfew. Then 20.
Then, suddenly, smoke erupted from canisters fired by the line of police at the line of unyielding protestors. "Police enforce curfew," read bold letters on the screen. A reporter talked about pepper bullets. The smoke billowed, enveloped people and storefronts. Some civilians emerged from the white clouds clutching scarves and handkerchiefs and others seemed to just disappear without a trace.
In the suburban restaurant it fell quiet. The occasional hushed "Oh, my God" replaced the jocular small talk and the confident declarations about perps and fault. We all watched the screen as the first of what will be a solid week's curfews fell on our city -- if you are on the street after 10pm and not en route to work or an emergency room you are subject to arrest -- and we held our mouths quietly open, we handful of strangers whose looks have landed us on one side or another of the smoky divide..
Miles south of us at the corner of North and Pennsylvania, people were going to jail, were being sick in the smoke, were running, were not running, were going home, were going somewhere else. Soldiers and police were claiming stewardship of an entire city on our alleged behalf. Our technocrat mayor, corporate-smart but street-inept, was mouthing robotic instructions, trying to read from the manual, to hoots and jeers from all sides. Our state's new amateur governor, who won in November because he played a better fake populist Republican than his opponent's version of a fake passionate Democrat, was shrugging and blaming the inept technocrat mayor. The head of the Maryland National Guard assured reporters that what Baltimore is undergoing is not martial law because, she helpfully explained, the military is not officially in control. President Obama issued some of his trademark oral vapor, telling us, amid the militarized occupation of our city, that we as a nation need to do some "soul-searching." Well, thanks for that, Commander-in-Chief.
Tomorrow morning it will get light again, and as we walk or drive or bus through or past the police-and-soldier-patrolled city where as yet unspoken things will have happened entering Lockdown Day Two, a lot of us -- including any of us who pretend to know -- will be trying to figure out where we live.