As kids, we used to wave at police cars passing by. All my mom’s brothers and sisters lived near us in a small Inland Empire town called Fontana, about 40 minutes east of Los Angeles and anything interesting. Realty was cheap but everyone took pride in their lawns, and at Christmastime we strung lights from house to house. Three of our neighbors were cops. They all came over for barbecues.
When I was eight or nine, my neighbor shot and killed a teenager on the street outside of our house. The kid was a “gangbanger.” The day of the altercation, he and some other gang members attacked our neighbor, Mr. Sanchez, kicking and beating him after he caught them tagging his fence. Jeff Greer worked for the LAPD; he was off-duty when he intervened. He told them to stop. The kid pulled out a handgun. Jeff was faster.
I liked Jeff. He was a nice man. When our dog wandered out of our backyard, it had been Jeff who returned him. I used to play with his daughters; they were “one of the nice black families on the street”—that’s how I remember them. They had a rottweiler named Sheba and their house always smelled like potpourri.
That night, our quiet neighborhood was loud with sirens. When my mom came home from work, she pulled back the curtain to reveal a sea of police cars outside as dazzling as a Lite-Brite. Gram turned on the news the next morning to see people in outrage about what had happened, people I’d never seen.
A month after that, the Greers moved away. They were getting threats. I started playing inside. We got older. We stopped waving at cop cars, and the cops stopped smiling at us.
Two years later, we moved back to Orange County.
Dad said, “It’s not safe here anymore.”
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This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.