Tuesday, June 24, 2008


As I watched from across the street, I couldn’t hear either the cop or the driver of the black ’49 Buick. I knew it was a brand new Buick because of the holes in the fenders. I couldn’t make out exactly what the driver said to the cop but I knew it wasn’t good. Then the cop raised his baton as if he was going to strike the car. Surprisingly, the driver, a young dark-haired man, probably from the neighborhood, then quickly rolled up the window and looked away from the cop toward the sidewalk, deliberately ignoring the policeman. Oh, man, I thought, trouble. Then the cop yelled, “Get outta the car, jaboney!” I wondered if the cop was Irish. The young guy behind the wheel continued turning his back on the cop.

My friend, Gino, lived on Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue, between Carroll Street and Garfield Place, upstairs over a small printing shop. That section of Fifth Avenue was a mixed neighborhood but populated mostly by Italians. Usually, I used to wait for Gino in front of the shop as I didn’t want to bother his mom and dad during dinner. On this particular summer evening I had come over earlier than usual so I parked myself in front of the shop and watched the cars and people go by. We were teenagers then and neither one of us could wait for dinner to be over with so that we could hit the street.

Now in New York City there are really two Fifth Avenues. The one that most people are familiar with runs north and south splitting Manhattan in two. That’s the tony one that most people know, the one that has the upscale shops, the Public Library with the two lions out front, and the museums. The other Fifth Avenue, not as ritzy and certainly not as famous, runs through the western sections of Brooklyn, from Flatbush Avenue all the way to Bay Ridge.

Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue, where the shop was, was usually bustling, with lots of cars and shoppers because of the many stores on the street. On that same block there was a Trunz pork store across the street, a pastry shop on one corner, and a movie theater called the Garfield on another. Because I was usually early I would walk over to the shop and park myself outside in front of the doorway while Gino and his family had dinner.

Across the street, a man and a woman with a baby carriage had stopped and were watching the action near the Buick. I noticed that there were others, a group of young men were also watching and walking slowly towards the car. With his baton the cop began tapping forcefully on the window of the driver’s side of the automobile, yelling for the driver to lower the window and get out of the car. The driver did not respond but continued to look away and said nothing. Gradually a small crowd had formed and a precinct car from the 78th, with two policemen, drove up and double-parked in front of the shop directly in front of me.

I could see across the street the cop was trying to open the locked car door. The crowd grew. The new policemen jumped from the car and ran across the street. They talked with the first cop and the crowd grew noisier . Finally, one of the new cops swung his baton and smashed the car window, sending glass on to the driver. One cop unlocked the car door, and all three grabbed the driver. The cops pushed the man to the ground and cuffed him. One cop then proceeded to unlock and swing open the door. “Hey, stop, stop,” a woman in front of the pork store yelled. The angry crowd inched closer to the action and encircled the cops. Someone threw a bag of groceries at the cops. It hit one of them and it fell to the ground, spilling milk on tomatoes and bananas on to the sidewalk.

One of the cops broke through the crowd and ran toward the patrol car that was parked directly in front of the shop. I clearly heard him radio for help while the crowd continued to harass the other cops across the street. The cop that had radioed for help then ran into the crowd swinging his baton. I watched as another young man punched the cop that was holding the driver from the car. A teenage girl took a swing at one of the policemen. They grabbed her while shoppers continued to yell. I thought for sure this was a riot in the making and I backed up against the door ready to enter the shop if things got any worse.

Soon, almost within minutes, a large busload of cops, probably their emergency squad, came roaring down Fifth Avenue, sirens and bells blaring loudly. About a dozen men in blue jumped from the bus, and with shields and batons swinging, forged ahead into the crowd. The men booed and the women screamed. The cops from the bus swung their batons not caring who got in their way. People began running along Fifth Avenue away from the action until the street in front of the shop was almost cleared. Then a huge cop looked directly in my direction and he rushed towards me. I quickly opened the door to the shop and darted inside, out of breath and my heart pounding in my chest. There I found Gino and his parents standing statue-like watching from the window. “Are you okay?” Gino’s mother asked.

Finally the cops cuffed three others besides the driver and shoved them all into patrol cars. As teenagers on the corner we had always heard that the local police were sadistic and would take you in ”the back room and beat up on you”. I wondered about the young driver.

Soon the bus and the patrol cars drove off leaving an empty street. In minutes, a city water truck came and washed the street in front of the shop, splashing water, wetting the pavement between the gutters. And as if nothing had ever taken place, as if there had never been an incident, I watched shoppers go in and out of the stores and Fifth Avenue was ours again.

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