Over the weekend I had a startling revelation: I’ve become desensitized to violence. By that, I don’t mean I’m violent. Short of a fight with a girl when I was in seventh grade, I’ve never been in a physical altercation. No man other than my father has ever laid a hand on me, and short of another time when a once-good friend jumped in my face, I’ve never been the direct target of any real physical harm. But it occurred to me on Monday when I was running from a fight that broke out at the West Indian Day Parade that violence has always loomed, that it looms more often than I should find tolerable.
When I was 15, I went to a friend’s graduation party in his family’s pool house. The band was playing, the party was rocking — 300 people in a space meant for 50 — and some friends and I were dancing on a table to avoid being smooshed against the sweaty crowd below. I don’t know what happened, but suddenly fists were flying, the crowd was scattering, the band stopped playing, girls were screeching, and I was standing there stuck on stupid staring at it all. A guy I knew was on the floor, crouched in the fetal position in the middle of a group of … boys, really, kicking him wherever their steel-toed boots landed. A guy friend snatched me off the table and tackled me to the floor to keep me safe.
Skip ahead. It’s December 31 and I’ve borrowed my best friend’s cousin’s ID to get into the Taj Mahal, a warehouse-like go-go club where Junkyard Band is bringing in the next year. I get the inkling that I probably shouldn’t be there when the security woman checks the underwire of my bra, and then asks me to cross my legs and bend over in case I’m carrying weapons. Maybe this is standard procedure. I don’t know; it’s my first go-go. I’ve only heard JY on tape from PA Palace, so there is no turning back. At some point, I notice that the band has incorporated the refrain “one fight, good night” into each song because fights, stabbings, and shootings are so prevalent. D.C. is the Murder Capital, and the city lives up to its hype.
Nothing bad happens inside, but when we exit at 2 a.m., it is lit up like Christmas on the street outside the club. White and red lights flash from the plethora of ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars lining the street. Four of five people have been shot. We hear the news by word of mouth and say only, “That’s crazy” before heading to IHOP on Benning Road to trade tales from the night.
Fast-forward. I’m living in New York. It’s Saturday night and my friends and I are bored out of our minds. We call around to find out what’s poppin’ because we’re industry heads and don’t go to clubs on weekends. That’s for the bridge and tunnel crowd and people who don’t know better. We actually pay to get into some party on the West Side. I’m wearing a blue tee that reads “I Love Black People” and end up chatting up a well-known actor because he likes my shirt. There’s a familiar pop, pop, pop. I can’t remember when I learned to recognize the sound, whether it was that time I visited Hampton with my god-sister or partying at Eastern Shore’s homecoming. But I know what it is distinctly when I hear it. The music abruptly halts as the whole room scatters. My girl and I are huddled together in a corner with our friend, a guy, blocking us. I can smell the gun smoke.
We finally make our way up the stairs, when the speakers drop the beat to the song of the moment and everyone turns around to head back to the dance floor. There were shots, but no one fell. The party goes on. We look at each other with wide eyes and move to the side headed up and out while the rest of the party descends back to the main room.
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