I wasn’t expecting my walk home to be like this at all.
“I just called the cops on a group of young black boys. I feel horrible.”
I’d just entered my house and was getting to ready to tell my sister and mother about what just happened to me walking home from the train, when my sister blurts out those words to me.
“Why? You were helping someone. What if they killed the boy, how would you feel then?” my mother replied.
Right now, I’m feeling a bit disheveled and visibly teary-eyed. My heart is pounding. I feel sad. A slow, aching type of sad.
Let me rewind a few minutes.
It’s about 6:45PM and I’m about two blocks away from home. A cop car races past me and joins a cluster of other cop cars that are parked near a group of apartment buildings up ahead.
“Oh no, what happened now?” is what I’m thinking to myself.
As I get a little further head, the scene is much clearer.
About four black boys are sitting down with their backs against a fence, feet drawn in front of them, and their hands in their laps. I can’t tell if they are handcuffed. Two cops are standing over them.
“Excuse me, can you please walk to the other side?” asks one of the officers.
I realize what’s happening. These boys, who couldn’t have been more than fourteen are about to get arrested. I stop for a second and turn to look at the boys in their faces.
I see a range of brown, fear leaking from their face. To me, they look like babies. What are they doing on the floor? What did they do in the first place? I shake my head so they can see me and give them the “there’s more to life than this” look.
I walk a few feet ahead to where another cop car is and I say to the officers, “Isn’t this a shame? Young black boys getting arrested.” I must have annoyed one of the cops because he replies, “I thought you had something important to say. As you see, we’re in the middle of an investigation right now.”
Oh, I get it. What I’m saying really isn’t useful to their “investigation”. I mutter a quick, “It’s just on my mind” and keep it moving.
I walk about fifteen more feet and stop. I’ve been trying to hold back the tears from when I first looked at those baby faces. I’ve been trying to hold back the tears but I can’t hold them in anymore. I turn around. The boys are still lined up along the fence.
I start to cry.
The lights on the police cars flash. My vision is blurred from my tears. The lights look purple.
A cop approaches me. I see his badge twinkle in the light. He’s Black. I wonder, “What made you become a cop?”
“Are you okay?”
I reply, “No.” I then go on to tell this cop how much seeing those young kids lined up on the floor affected me. I tell him that because of the work I do now at my job (and did in college), I’ve been to prisons. I’ve seen firsthand the life once you’re booked and sentenced.
If I had a little brother, they could have been my brother.
I saw those boys’ lives flash before my eyes, but I didn’t see success. I saw more handcuffs. I saw prison fences. Orange uniforms. Black men. Lots of them.
I told him that coming home from work to see this was like shooting a bullet into my heart. It’s not what I wanted for my community. Why are these kids allowed to be out here getting in trouble? Where are their parents? I told him I didn’t know what they did, but the fact still remains these are little boys. It hurt me deep.
He sympathized with me. I apologized for my rambling. We parted ways.
I had to talk about this. I tried calling my best friend. No answer. I called a woman I know whose son was in prison. No answer.
By this time, I’m home. I sit in my couch in the living room for a while and then walk to the kitchen where my mom and sister are.
“Oh my gosh, guys…. I just had an emotional breakdown,” I start out.
And then this is where the story first began.
My sister, unusually loud, says, “I just called the cops on a group of young black boys. I feel horrible.”
She tells me the story. She’s on her way home from work and she sees a group of boys chasing another boy. The group is holding up traffic on the main street. Cars and pedestrians are annoyed. The group crosses over the busy intersection.
They’re attacking another boy. The mob starts to take off their belts and repeatedly whip and stomp the boy.
“I was scared. I called the cops. By the time the operator was on the phone, they told me someone was on the way. A cop got there and tried breaking them up. I asked the operator if she needed me to stay on the scene. She said no.”
By the time she reached home, she asked a group of young children who were passing by if they had seen what went on. The children told her that the boys were a part of a Haitian gang called “The Gate Boys.” Then, they saw some of the members of that gang coming their way and said they had to go.
For the next few minutes, my mother, sister and I had a brief conversation about what had just happened. My sister talked about the lack of social and emotional supports that are provided to kids in urban communities such as ours (Orange, NJ). I talked about wondering what’s going to happen next for those boys. She knew my sister did the right thing by calling the cops but she couldn’t understand why we were so affected by it.
How angry would a group of fourteen year-old boys have to be to beat another young person in such a manner? Think about the peer pressure. Maybe even the psychological term “group think” at its best.
She really felt bad that she had to call the cops on the boys.
I couldn’t help but to think of those baby faces I saw as I walked home. What’s next for them? More than likely, they’ll be sent to the town’s holding cells for juveniles. Charges may (or may not) be pressed. They may be shipped to a juvenile facility.
Will they be angry? At whom? The cops? The boy? Their parents? Themselves?
I don’t know. Walking home from the investigation scene, I had this feeling come inside of me. A feeling of injustice for those kids.
From the story I was told, they did something wrong, but I couldn’t help but feel this deep pang in my body for what comes next. For what will be repeated. Over and over again.
My mind flashes to the face of one the boys lined up on the fence. I’d seen him before. I’m coming out of the corner store. He’s walking up to another guy his age. They do an elaborate handshake, and I think to myself “baby gangbangers.”
I wanted to go up to the boy and ask him what he thought of himself. What his dreams were. If he thought he could actually achieve them.
But, I didn’t. I walked past him.
It’s crazy how things come full circle.
Now back to that second where our eyes lock again and that same thought crosses my mind. This time, I want to walk up to all of them and ask them these questions.
But I don’t.
My heart pangs, and I realize that maybe one day I will get that opportunity to do so.
Then, I think about the work I already have in my arsenal. The beginnings of what could be important work for my community. My Princeton Senior Thesis: Policing in Orange New Jersey, my documentary Lost Boy.
I don’t know what today meant for me, but I was compelled to write about it and share.
I don’t know if I’ll ever save or help a brown baby face, but today showed me just how much they need it.
This is not about whether those boys were guilty or not. It’s about our future and what we can do to positively affect it.
So why am I ending this with a sigh instead of a smile?
Rana Campbell graduated from Princeton University in 2013 with a degree in Sociology. She is currently completing a one year fellowship at the Vera Institute of Justice in NYC, where she works on the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project. Rana is also a freelance content and branding strategist, specializing in copywriting/editing, branding strategy, and email marketing for growing businesses. Fun fact about Rana: Her favorite color is Turquoise and she loves a good workout mixed with dancehall music. Her interests include inner city community building, portrait photography, and fitness blogging. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @rainshineluv. For more information, visit ranacampbell.com.