there’s a fire on evergreen street

and summer’s rolled out like a rug over the city. The days are so short and cool now everything August stood for has mostly faded. The trees hunch over the pavement, illuminated by the alternating flash police lights. Somewhere within there’s a fire—I can see the trucks—but there’s no smoke to sniff at.

A night without sirens in Chicago is like a day without cicadas, like a car with one headlight missing, or a man in baggy jeans whose hands aren’t in his pockets. Chorlton was quiet. The loudest sounds whirring out of the darkness were the purrs of passing cars and the occasional pub quiz. In Chorlton, Sam and I slept with the windows open and no birds stirred us; even dawn tiptoed when passing over our eyelids.

But it’s not Chicago without sirens, even in Wicker Park. On both sides of the street, silhouettes stand in square yellow windows. Two fire trucks drum past and turn left. It’s quiet. There are a few police vans, still flashing; a man and his son walk by, the man saying “Yes, it’s a little fire truck,” and neighbors saying to other neighbors “Mayhem strikes Evergreen Street!” with a wink and a laugh.

A woman in a white cardigan and lounge pajamas hugs herself against the chill, loitering at her gate on the corner. I stop, peering down the bend in the road. Beyond her there are two police officers on either side of the pavement.

“Is it blocked?” I ask her.

She glances over her shoulder, “Oh no, those are just cops.” And she turns back into her yard.

How do I communicate both the ease and wariness I feel when I see the police? I’m a Good Person. I always put my bags on the floor of the bus or the train to free up a seat. I say “Bless you!” I tip. I use crosswalks. I pay my taxes.

But people who look like me get arrested all the time. People who look like me fill American prisons. People who look like me get stopped at airport security. People who look like me get beaten and mauled, get shot for pulling out wallets, for asking for help, just for walking home. Statistically, the news won’t let me forget: people who look like me are more likely to hurt and kill each other. But sometimes, it’s the ones who are supposed to protect us who hurt us. Sometimes it’s the Good People. And the people who look like me are often casualties.

I walk toward the cops looking down at the sidewalk. Innocent people, I’ve been told, have nothing to fear. But I’m nervous, still, of being stopped, being interrupted. All those people—they could have been me. I don’t always look like a Good Person.

The officers don’t even glance over as I pass by. I guess I’m on their side for today.

As I turn off Evergreen and toward the park, I start thinking about the woman in the cardigan, how she said, “those are just cops.” It hitches me up.

It’s not that I don’t know what she meant by it. I’ve just never thought of them that way.

(I want them to be afraid every time they see the police that they might get arrested.)


Amadou Diallo, 23-years-old, was shot 19 times by four New York City police officers in February of 1999. What was initially believed by the officers to be a gun was actually his wallet.

Kimani Gray, 16-years-old, was gunned down by Brooklyn police officers after leaving a party in March of 2013. The sole witness states he was unarmed.

Video footage from a March 2013 arrest showed Omaha police officers beating 28-year-old Octavius Johnson with excessive force in response to a parking violation. After an investigation, six officers were fired.

Jonathan Ferrell, 24-years-old, killed by North Carolina police officer responding to breaking-and-entering report in September of 2013. Ferrell had crashed his car and was seeking assistance from a nearby house.

Renisha McBride, 19-years-old, shot in the head by a Michigan homeowner after knocking on his door in November of 2013. McBride was seeking help after crashing her car earlier that morning.

“I want them to be afraid every time they see the police that they might be arrested.”
Quote from Police Chief Russell Mills. Howard Witt, “Louisiana shooting puzzles witnesses,” Los Angeles Times, 17 Mar 2009. Accessed 7 January 2014.

Continue reading » can we get real for a second? – an interview with james t. green
This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.


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