The walls in our house didn’t have MoMo sucks dick sprayed on it, and there were no gang stars. No writing, just pictures of family, and a Jesus clock. You didn’t smell pee or weed when you walked in the door, just potpourri and maybe some fried chicken. We weren’t pretending that we didn’t live around crack addicts, or that people didn’t get beat up and shot just floors below us in the playground. We kept all of this in the back of our minds as we walked around our apartment, drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows and playing Sorry or UNO.
What went on in our apartment was our business, and what they did downstairs was theirs. When the sweeps started, though, the police didn’t seem to notice that we lived in a different world.
I stayed in the bed for a minute after I heard the banging, scared of who might be on the other side. Our wooden door rattled against the its frame. I didn’t want to get up, but when mama rushed past my door in her robe, I hopped out of bed and ran after her. Meechie, who sleeps like a drunk, didn’t get up and follow me. When mama yelled “Who is it?” we heard someone say “Puh-leece.” She opened the door, and before she could ask “What seems to be the problem, officer,” they pushed past her, filing into our house fast and loud like the Red Line el. Some of them kept moving, turning the corner and going down the hall without permission. Mama yelled as she tried to follow them, thinking about her sleeping son. They were on her quick. “Ma’am, stay right there,” they said, stopping her like she can’t move around in her own home. Mama ignored him and moved again, but this time he grabbed her arm. I’m on him, quick. “Get off of my mama,” I said, kicking him in his shin, not really thinking.
Their uniforms were clean and starched. Their faces were bologna pink.
I got this feeling like somebody had come bursting into the bathroom just as I’m stepping a foot out of the tub, wearing nothing but water. It was the middle of the night, and since I’d hopped out of the bed without dressing for company, I was standing in the kitchen in a T-shirt that barely covered my thighs.
“Who lives here?” one of the officers wanted to know. “Me and my kids,” mama tells them. And I hate that she even mentions us, ’cause they all looked over at me. I pulled on the T-shirt, praying for length. I tried to run to my room so I could put on some clothes, but then they all started yelling at me to “get back here,” and “Hey!” but the command of “grab her,” got through somehow, and I was pressed up against one of them, my T-shirt even shorter now. “Let me go!” I screamed.
“Put my child down!” mama commanded. She used that voice that made me do anything she said, but her magic wasn’t working. None of our house rules were working. It was like the police had brought their own rules. Rule number one: stay where you are. They went through our stuff, even lifting cushions like Meechie did when he looked for spare change. Mama tried to get to me, but another officer blocked her.
“Where’s the other one?” someone asked, calling my brother the other one, as if he weren’t a person.
Mama, with panic in her face said, “In his room.”
“His” was the word that sent them zooming to the back of the apartment. Mama tried to follow, thinking about her son. One officer said, “Ma’am, stay right there,”
One guy, who looked real young, got stuck guarding me and mama. He had his hand on a little black gun.
When they kicked in Meechie’s door they didn’t see what I saw: a smart-mouthed comedian who was tired of being chased home and picked on after school because of he wouldn’t join the gang. He was not a thug who deserved to be thrown into the cinder block wall or choked by hands that probably went from raw chicken pink to fuchsia from the pressure. They saw the picture on the door with the tombstone that had RIP to friends who’d been killed on our block, classmates he had pencil-popped with at Farren Elementary. What did the other stuff on his door, the pictures of rappers and ads with half naked women say to them? When they saw him did they decide that he had to be guilty of something? I don’t know how they got Meechie up from his twin bed, but I doubt they ever said “We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
We were both scared, and when we heard him coughing our eyes got big, and our upper bodies moved in his direction, but that gun had control over our feet. He snatched the gun out of its holder and pointed it at us. “Calm down,” he said, like he was talking to dogs. “Now, can I put this away?” he asked us, and I hated him. He wanted an answer, and me and mama, probably hating ourselves at the same time, nodded.
When they all came through, walking in a line, we saw Meechie in line too. They wouldn’t let him put on a shirt, so his bare bird chest was exposed.
His face was hard, and his mouth, the one that impersonated Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford and kissed mama before school was twisted up and mad. They had even handcuffed him. “Where you taking my son?” mama asked, tears in her voice and eyes.
“Ma’am, he’ll be at the station on 51st and Wentworth—I’m sure you know where it is,” he said, before walking out the door with a boy I couldn’t recognize. We stared at the brick wall, sprayed up with too many things to read. We had never been to the station. Meechie hadn’t ever been to jail. It didn’t matter what had not happened in the past, the door had been opened.v