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Dead Nigga Blvd.

By Kathy Y. Wilson · April 4th, 2002 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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The air is different there. I finally walked to Republic Street near 13th Street. On Good Friday afternoon, I saw for myself the fading shrine marking the spot where Timothy Thomas, 19, scared and running for what would be his life, died of gunshot wounds and too many traffic tickets.

Like a crystal, we've held Thomas' life up to the light and turned it every which way, hoping the prisms would refract and give us Magic 8 Ball style answers. Whose fault was it: the runner or the shooter, the system or the oft-arrested delinquent, the mother or the son, the media or the reader?

The homeless call it home. So do strained families, crack addicts and slingers, manic street preachers, doomed and transcendent children, lives in decline and those on a twisting track to Nowhere.

No one really belongs there. Yet they all do. Their predicament is ours.

There's no place for pitying. There is room for consideration.

There are places where -- even and especially as a black person -- race doesn't guarantee carte blanche. Indeed, it's how the Negro navigates the terrain that gives him entree.

Regularity helps. Residents of places like Republic Street know immediately who does and doesn't live, work or do business there.

I was the Tour Guide in need of a tour guide.

With April, a fledgling documentary filmmaker, I walked some of the neighborhood. I've known it as a passenger during drive-bys of bottom-feeding Negrodom. I've seen it early in the morning and late at night from car windows. I've passed through on its main streets and as a pedestrian I've come up against its borders.

Passers-by take a whiff of us and alter their behavior. As a journalist, I've seen and respect that distrust. But I get to leave.

As we turned north on Republic, we entered what appears to be a movie set, like the crumbling buildings were held upright by stilts and made of fake facades.

Before we reached the U-shaped locale of the shrine, a man, mouthing something without speaking, slumped on concrete steps and sucked wildly on a cigarette. Farther along, a woman leaned on a tricked-out car.

There was a three-story-high tenement. In my sanctified imagination, I saw German immigrants chasing children out to play, hanging laundry over its railings and throwing dirty wash water onto the street.

Several people leaned over the railings. They observed us, neither warily nor with familiarity.

As we drew closer to the shrine, hidden from the street by narrow walkways formed by a low brick wall and an abandoned building, an effeminate older black man wearing large glasses, dentures and a baseball cap grasped a wire fence with one hand.

He leaned lazily across the sidewalk and said a friendly "Hello" as we passed. I glanced back at him and realized, with the slight nod of his head and arch of an eyebrow, he was sending signals to someone somewhere.

"Here it is," April said abruptly, as I almost walked past it. There was no more anxiety, and I relaxed.

It's cooler in the U of the killing ground. It feels like a sanctuary, and I understand why, in desperation, someone would run to this spot. In darkness and perfectly still, it is a hiding place.

In a corner where two low walls intersect, there's a rusted shed. Along these walls there are messages from mourners, street artists, well-wishers, insiders and inciters.

RIP Tim, then an arrow pointing to: 13th cop's killed my friend

"Please place rubbish in cans," reads a sign above it.

Against the shed sits a weathered and tattered makeshift shrine, similar to those at sites of car accidents.

Let's keep this clean for Tim.

God was hear that night with him

they left together (Be safe)

There is a child's shoe, bricks, toys, faded and broken plastic flower arrangements and a copy of Revolutionary Worker with the headline, "The New Situation and the New Challenges." How prophetic.

Three wreaths and several burned-down candles adorn the shrine. To the right there's a large watercolor of horses romping in water. Handwritten messages have been scribbled across it.

Show them you love them

To the Mother's whose son's are still living

you are D-vine

13th RIP Tim Miy Nigga much love

And on a far wall by itself: You pigs. An arrow points downward to the message: Fire kills

We spent enough time in the alcove for us both to get pictures -- mine mental, April's on videotape.

Backtracking, we ended up on 12th Street at Vine. The block was hot.

The warm weather seemed to agitate and excite. Throngs of blacks -- mostly men -- paced, gathered, shouted obscenities and greeted one another in the bombastic language of black love. Some of them leered, some spoke and others locked gazes.

Trudging north on Vine Street, odors and sounds rose and fell. It was noisy. Pissy. Busy.

A police helicopter buzzed overhead. I looked up, trying to make eye contact with its inhabitants.

We walked on, making our way to Main Street. The natural electricity dissipated, and the anticipation of happy hour, Final Friday and hobo-dodging Yuppies made for a more easily digestible environment.

I left the shrine with no deeper understanding of anything -- of boycotts, cowboylike cops, fleeing black teen-agers, the ghetto or poverty.

The shrine will soon go the way of Timothy Thomas' blood. Then where will we be? Looking for Easy Street?



Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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