Part II: Divided we fall when unity is impossible
Walter was a talented student — he made good grades except in physical education — as well as being a gifted singer. He was impressed by his mathematics teacher, Mr. Westland, who was young and a graduate of a prestigious university where he had earned an M.A. He had a hard time dealing with some of the black students who complained that blacks weren’t good at math because God hadn’t made them to work with numbers. Professor Westland gave them many examples of successful black mathematicians but they shrugged and said they should get extra points because of their “disadvantaged” condition and long-term suppression by white people. In fact, that’s what Mrs. Grandfield had told them: blacks should be treated differently because of past discrimination.
In a moment of frustration, Westland said that mathematics didn’t recognize any other truth except the rules and theorems that great thinkers had devised. He insisted it was a “universal language” that people from every country could learn. He mentioned names like Leibniz, Euler, Kant, Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and several others that many of the black students didn’t know anything about. “Yo, Mr. Westland, these are all white dudes from a long time ago. There ain’t no chocolate brothers in this group.”
Westland said that very few blacks went into mathematics or physics; however, he knew several black mathematicians who were teaching at universities in America. “If they could learn math, then you could too. You just needed to apply yourself and study hard,” he expounded. The black students rolled their eyes and made faces of disgust.
“You sayin’ that Mrs. Grandfield is a liar…that she don’t know what she’s talking about?” Westland tried to mitigate his comments but one of the blacks with ear piercings and tattoos stood up and challenged his teacher. “We’s different, boss man. White men do good in math and the sciences but they can’t jump! They’re no good at sports…real sports like football and basketball. They don’t have no rhythm. They can’t even dance. They sit around and play chess and things like that.”
“Most of them don’t have what it takes to pleasure a woman,” D’Jarleen Brooks interrupted and the blacks began to laugh. She got up and shook her buttocks in a suggestive manner. “Black men know what it takes to give us a thrill!” After this demonstration, the whole class erupted into laughter. Westland tried to shout over their outburst but they only cried out louder. He walked up and down the aisles trying to make them sit down.
“Hey, take you’ hands off me, honkey man. We’s privileged, you don’t know that? I can do what I want and you can’t do a damn thing about it. Black folks are just no good at math…and all these equations and bullshit don’t mean a thing to us. Chill, baby, chill!”
Walter sat near the front of the class and watched as Mr. Westland grew angrier and angrier. His face became pink and he finally tossed his textbook at the tattooed black in the back who was leading the disruption. The obnoxious black student caught the book and threw it against the chalkboard as hard as he could. “You want somethin’, cracker? I can take you apart, little man. I’m gonna get a lawyer and sue you. “
At this moment, the classroom door opened and Mr. Withers, the black principal, entered the room. “What on earth is going on here?” he shouted in turn. “Sit down, everyone one of you!”
“He done it! He called us dumb niggers because we can’t learn mathematics. He tried to hurt Jalen with a textbook.” One of the students pointed his finger at Westland who was disheveled and panting.
“All right. That’s it for today. No more noise, you hear me! Mr. Westland, I want you to come to my office. The rest of you are in study hall. Mrs. Carter will be your study hall tutor for the hour.”
Walter witnessed Mr. Westland being led down the hall to the main office. The black students had gathered around Jalen and were congratulating him for being a bad ass. “You Whities,” he said looking at Walter and two other white students, “you got to give us some slack. We’re victims of your discrimination. You racists, dudes. We are special people. If you act up, we’re gonna whip your ass.”
After the math class study hall had ended, an office assistant came to Walter’s next class and asked him to follow her. When he entered the main office, he saw Mr. Westland, Mr. Withers, Mrs. Grandfield, and two other assistant principals sitting in the inner office. The principal asked Walter to sit in one of the chairs across the room.
Mr. Withers, the principal, got up and closed the office door. “Walter, you’re a good student and we would like to ask you a few questions about what happened today in math class.” Walter noticed that Mr. Westland looked dejected — surrounded by a colleague and the assistant principals. Mrs. Grandfield gave Walter a disparaging look even though he was one of her best history students.
Walter was asked to relate the events of the black students’ rebellion in class against Mr. Westland. He did his best to say that Mr. Westland had tried to answer their complaints about having to learn math but Jalen and other black classmates kept on saying that they couldn’t learn math because of past oppression and way they were made.
“When Jalen objected to Mr. Westland’s argument, did Mr. Westland throw his textbook at him?” The principal’s voice seemed incredulous.
“Yes. But he was really upset by then.”
“I’m sorry I did that,” Mr. Westland interjected. “I just lost it.”
Withers held up his hand and continued with the questioning of Walter. “Did Mr. Westland ever say that black students had not been victims of white oppression?”
“Not like that,” Walter replied. “He said that there were black mathematicians and some even taught at universities.”
“Did Mr. Westland openly criticize Mrs. Grandfield’s statement about the historical effect of oppression on black youths?”
Walter was not at all comfortable with these questions. He felt they were trying to make Mr. Westland into a racist who couldn’t identify with black issues.
“I don’t think he mentioned Mrs. Grandfield. I’m pretty sure he didn’t.” Walter’s voice took on a defensive tone.
“All I said was they needed to apply themselves more. I understand how their personal experiences can have a negative impact on learning.” Once again, the principal waved Westland silent.
“Well, as a white person, you are not qualified to comment on the struggle for respect and equal rights that African-Americans have endured for centuries,” Mrs. Grandfield stated as she wagged her finger at Mr. Westland.
“That’s not fair, Mrs. Grandfield. I’ve been very supportive of minority students. I’ve even helped them after class.”
The principal interrupted. “Mr. Westland, I suggest we have a personnel conference about this matter. I’ll see you at three-thirty this afternoon in my office. Thank you all for your attendance.”
In the hallway, Mr. Westland was talking on his cell phone as Walter walked by. His voice was muffled and he had his back turned to hallway traffic. He was suddenly brushed — almost jolted — by one of his black students who didn’t apologize. Westland looked at the student walking away and shook his head. His fingers were digging into his palms with nervous distress. Walter suppressed an urge to try to comfort him. This was not the time for that. He hoped Mr. Westland would be able to keep his job because he liked him a lot. He was a top-notch math teacher. Mr. Withers seemed very annoyed with Mr. Westland’s behavior; Mrs. Grandfield obviously didn’t like his attitude and his criticism of her black students.
Walter noted that none of the high-level administrators were white at the junior high. Mr. Westland was one of about ten teachers at the school who were white. According to Walter’s uncle, fifty years ago there had been only a few black students at the junior high and none of the teaching staff were black. The general area had transitioned from white to black in just a short period of time. Many whites had left the area because of immigration and the loss of good-paying jobs at the steel plants.
What was happening to Mr. Westland was the result of demographic and cultural changes. He was young, white, enthusiastic, and committed to being a good teacher. His strategic flaw was not being able to adopt the black “victimization” perspective on life. He still believed in hard work and fair play; he hadn’t accepted the concept of “proportionality” and equity: equal results for everyone of a certain ethnic group. In his somewhat “naïve” world, Westland believed that rewards were given to those who competed in an open and fair manner and not to participants who didn’t try to do better. There were winners and losers in life. It was nature’s way of promoting the very best for the good of all.
Walter headed for his gym class. He didn’t dare bring up his racial problems with Mr. Graffenreid today. He felt more than ever entangled in a spider-like web of contradictions and people who were intolerant of all form of dissent. He was hoping that Mary Jean would get in touch. He desperately needed someone to talk to and discuss his dilemma.
After dinner that evening, the phone rang and Leopold answered. “Yes, he’s right here. Just a moment.”
He motioned to Walter and said Mary Jean was on the line. To have some privacy, Walter went into the den to take the call.
“Hi, Sis. Thanks for calling back.”
“What’s up? Is everything okay?”
“I was hoping you could help me with a problem…” Walter’s voice dropped off. “Maybe give me some advice.”
“That sounds serious. What kind of problem?”
Walter knew he couldn’t get his sister involved in something that might put her in danger or affect her reputation. He was hoping she could refer him to someone who could steer him to an organization that counseled young people in “dysfunctional” relationships.
Walter took a deep breath and continued: “I’m sorry to get you involved but I’ve been hassled by a group of black teenagers at school. They’re the ones I got into a fight with at the soda fountain. I was hoping you knew of some organization where I could get some advice about how to handle this situation.”
“Wow! Luckily the blacks I know at school are pretty decent folks. I’ve never had any problems with them. A few guys have made passes at me, but I’ve let them know that I’m not available. One of the reasons is the way they dress and talk. That’s not my style.”
Walter’s heart sank. If she couldn’t help him then who could?
“Walter, now that you mention it, there’s a young minister at our church who’s involved in community service. He’s a youth minister, kinda. He’s connected with some of the back churches downtown. You might give him a call — or I can call for you. Have you mentioned this to mother — or maybe the assistant principal at school?”
“Momma tried a while ago, but nothing happened. The principal is trying to make whites adjust to black life styles. He’s really a left-wing guy who favors blacks. Your minister friend sounds interesting. If you think he could help, could you call him for me?”
“Sure. By the way, could you volunteer to sing during one of the services at church? You don’t have to work at the shop on Sunday, do you?”
Walter answered that he would be glad to sing with the choir if invited. Mary Jean would get back in touch as soon as she had spoken with the youth minister. “Be careful,” she warned. “Just do your best to avoid these bad guys. Don’t fight with them. I don’t want you to get hurt.” Walter felt better and said he would wait for her call.
It turned out that Jalen was one of the gang leaders in town. Some of the shopkeepers in the area had complained of black teenagers, wearing masks, who rushed into their stores in the evening and emptied the shelves of goods that were then sold on the black market. The police were investigating but no arrests had been made. The security cameras had captured the picture of a tall, slender black robber whose arms were heavily tattooed. Walter was almost certain the thief was Jalen when he saw the picture on television. He didn’t say anything to his classmates or the police. To get even, Jalen would come after him in a vicious way. Gang members punished people who “ratted” on them to the police or local authorities.
That evening there was a special on television about black mothers who had lost a child (or children) to gun violence. They pleaded for the guilty parties to come forth and turn themselves in to the police. As they talked, they started to cry and pictures of the victims were superimposed over the bereaved family members. It was truly a heart-wrenching scene; however, Walter knew that no black gang member or drug dealer would ever “rat” on his own. This would put their own lives in immediate jeopardy as well as their family members. There was a code of silence (what the Italian mobsters call “omertà”) that pervaded the ranks of black gangsters and eye witnesses of black crime.
If word got out that he was investigating the gang members in his class, he would be subject to the same punishment and brutality that their ilk would receive. He had to be very careful about what he said and did.
He remembered that he had read a short, heavily documented booklet called “The Color of Crime” that was published by the American Renaissance editorial staff. Using FBI files, they listed a large number of felonies including murder that were chronicled by racial status. Young blacks had the highest violent crime rating of any other ethnic group. This data was also reported in Philippe Rushton’s taxonomy of black criminality. Every night on television there was a “police blotter” of shootings and murders that were almost universally black in origin.
Walter knew some black students at his junior high that weren’t involved in violent acts or antisocial behavior. Some of them, especially the football players, seemed to be fine people. Maybe that was related to having the coach as a surrogate parent telling them what they could and could not do. Most of the black athletes were not dangerous, but they couldn’t avoid the influence of the sociopaths in their midst.
Maybe he could bring this up with the youth minister when they met. He had to know how to deal with these undisciplined young blacks that were making his life miserable.
“E pluribus unum” (“One out of many”) was America’s national motto but was this slogan still viable some 250 years later after the founding of our nation? How could a country with tens of thousands of immigrants flowing illegally across its boundaries each year ever be a cohesive group of citizens? He had been taught in civics class that immigrants were smoothly integrated into American life and were in due time divorced from all aspects of their countries of origin. According to immigration experts, by the third generation they would become fervent believers in American values. A functional knowledge of English would be required for this fusion to take place. If diversity was such a unifying force, then why was there so much division and hostility among ethnic communities?
Everything Walter was dealing with was emblematic of the famous “salad bowl” theory of assimilation. Immigrants were clinging to their own language and ethnic strongholds; they were packed into homogeneous groups where there was little need to assimilate with the general population. They were reluctant to break away from their old customs, languages, and ways of thinking.
“E pluribus unum” seemed now a distant goal for a proud nation. Jalen and his black hoodlums were flawed products of several centuries of attempted integration into American society. What would America’s future be when more than 160 nations had emptied their discontents, criminals, and impoverished families onto American soil? What type of world was his generation going to deal with? These were questions that Walter couldn’t answer.
He felt, as a white teenager, very vulnerable to the hordes of strangers that had settled in his city. The Asian kids were no problem; they were cooperative and seemed to be happy to be new Americans. His experience with blacks had been negative because they didn’t really appreciate the good things they were given at school and at home. If they just worked hard and seized the chance for improvement, they could do a lot better in life.
Complaining about what happened many decades ago was not productive. The protestors were only intensifying the problem, not offering a viable solution. Their rallying cry was “We’ve got a long way to go!” Walter never heard other minorities, especially Hispanic, ever use this slogan. They knew that back home in Guatemala or El Salvador life would never be as good as what they enjoyed in America. Among the thousands that were deported, most of the migrants tried to sneak back into the United States where life was so much better. Many of them were successful in these multiple attempts at re-entry.
A meeting was finally arranged with Walter and the youth minister at their church. They agreed to get together Wednesday before choir practice so Walter could rehearse for Sunday service where he was supposed to solo with the choir. The youth minister was Johann Vorblein, a South African activist who had been expelled from his country as a college student for promoting Afrikaner political interests against the Mandela government.
Mary Jean hoped that Johann, given his experiences with hostile blacks, could give some useful advice to her brother. Johann gave the impression he could possibly help Walter in this situation.
On Wednesday afternoon, just before choir practice, Johann welcomed Walker to his small, unpretentious office at the church. Walter didn’t know much about Lutherans except they were a major protestant faith in German-speaking countries. The Lutheran church had a strong following in Pennsylvania and other states where German immigrants had settled. Because his mother was Baptist and his father Lutheran, Walter had very little contact with religious denominations…although occasionally they would attend church on Christmas and Easter.
Walter felt that he and Johann would most likely hit it off, given his previous experience in South Africa. Prior to their meeting, Walter had checked out the history of Johann’s country on the internet and found it fascinating. The Boers were descendants of the Dutch or Flemish early settlers. They spoke Afrikaans which is a Dutch dialect and fought against the English and indigenous tribes, especially the Zulu warriors, to preserve their autonomy. They practiced apartheid or racial segregation for many years after the Second World War until it was outlawed in 1994. Thousands of Boers or Afrikaners left South Africa after black-dominant governments were installed. They settled in Kenya and other African and Western countries; a small number even came to America.
Johann was a tall, blond individual with a mottled beard and piercing blue eyes. He shook Walter’s hand in a friendly manner and asked him to sit down. Walter noted that he had retained a slight Germanic accent.
He briefly repeated what Mary Jean had told him about Walter’s trouble with black teenagers at his junior high school. He stopped for a while and asked Walter to tell him what had been happening in his own words. At first Walter was hesitant to tell him everything but Johann seemed to grasp the racial tension that had provoked these incidents. After about ten minutes, Walter had recounted his story in some detail, especially his fear of Jalen and the black gangs that had terrorized both students and local merchants.
“You seem to be faced with a racially explosive situation,” Johann commented.
“I guess you could call it that,” Walter mumbled in reply.
“I assume you’ve contacted the principal and your mother has tried to deal with the authorities about this harassment,” Johann questioned. Walter nodded and said that without proof and administrative support, nothing could be done.
He was certain that Jalen was the head of a black gang but he couldn’t prove it in a judicial sense: black criminals, especially underage gang members, would never be arrested for their acts if they played it “cool.” It was traditional if not obligatory in the black community to keep quiet about matters that dealt with gun violence or other serious felonies: car theft, drug dealing, acts of violence against women, etc. If you were caught going to the police or turning someone in to the authorities, you would put your own life in jeopardy. “Hit men” roamed black neighborhoods and gunned down turncoats who had not been loyal or who had betrayed gang tenets. Almost every weekend in large cities, downtown shootings and murder were very common. It was beyond the control of law enforcement.
According to what he had heard and read, Walter stated that it was a cultural issue: young blacks did not have fathers at home to serve as a role model; their mothers were trying to fend for their children and themselves. Many of them worked at menial jobs that kept them busy the entire day. They didn’t have time to attend school meetings or sporting events their children participated in. As a rule, the “fathers” of these children contributed very little if anything financially to their support.
There was little if any stigma in having children out of wedlock. “Welfare babies” were very common among young women, especially blacks. Many of the children had different fathers who, in most cases, abandoned them after childbirth. The stability of the black family had disappeared after 1965 when government subsidies were given freely to black women to help them out in raising their illegitimate children who lived in low-income housing. More than any other influence, this creation of dysfunctional families had led to black children with no moral or civic guidance. As a result, the gang, more than the traditional family, was their nexus of identity and togetherness. The streets were their playground. School-run activities were an afterthought.
Johann nodded sympathetically as Walter detailed his personal experiences and the current status of black families that were more and more headed by single mothers.
“When I was a young student in South Africa,” Johann interrupted, “there was a similar situation in Soweto, an enormous black suburb or township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. In 1976 there was a massive student revolt in the township because the Afrikaners wanted their language, Afrikaans, to be used in all forms of instruction. Afterwards, there was a lot of disruption and conflict between the police and protestors. In 1986 there was a massacre of Soweto inhabitants; this eventually led to a change of government. In 1994 apartheid or racial segregation was outlawed. As a result, my family and I had to deal with racial hostilities of the worst kind.” He paused for a while and added, “I guess Mary Jean has told you that I was declared “persona non grata” or undesirable on my passport because of my ministry with the Afrikaner community. What is happening now in America is similar in a sense to the South African political division. If you identify with the conservative government and former rulers, you are considered to be disloyal to the current regime. I can’t return to South Africa, but thank goodness my wife, Wilhelmina, is able to visit with family or return at any time.”
Walter listened and said, “How does this help me in dealing with these thugs? I don’t have a gun or any way to defend myself. If I try to fight, I’ll probably be cut up or killed.” Walter started to get impatient with references to South Africa that didn’t seem related to his problems.
“I earnestly beg you not to revert to acts of violence,” Johann said. “This only aggravates an already difficult situation to deal with.”
Walter thought about Gregory and his militants who trained for the next revolution. Violence was the only way they knew how to handle frustrating or threatening situations.
“I think you know my father is in prison for drug dealing. I don’t want anything bad to happen and see myself put in jail.”
“Walter, I think we’re running out of time. Why don’t you go to choir practice and I’ll be in touch concerning an alternative measure that might be helpful.” Johann stood up and showed Walter to the door. “It’s been nice talking to you and God bless.”
Walter left the meeting with the impression that Johann came from a totally different culture. In a country where blacks were the dominant political force, both demographically and economically, their representatives set the rules and regulations for interpersonal and legal relationships. Although English and Afrikaans were the major languages spoken in South Africa, many residents could also converse in Zulu or other tribal languages. How did this relate to what he was experiencing at school?
That evening the phone rang and Mary Jean was on the line. “Hi, little brother. The choir director was really impressed by your rendition of ‘Amazing Grace. He also praised the way you handled the Lutheran hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God.’”
“Thanks. It was a lot of fun singing with the choir. They really sounded good.” Walter noted that the choir had only one black member — a heavy-set man with a very deep bass voice who also did solos. Although the church proselytized for new adherents, very few blacks were members of the Lutheran faith.
“They thought you were really talented as well,” Mary Jean answered. “The reason I’m calling is for Johann. He told me that he had arranged for a meeting with Reverend Peterson of the black Evangelical Episcopal Church downtown. He thought that if you could get together with him, maybe he would have some useful suggestions to help you with your problems. Reverend Peterson is the head of a non-violence group of black pastors who are trying to talk some sense into these hot-heads who are doing drugs and getting involved in gun violence in their neighborhoods. Are you okay with trying this approach?”
Walter hesitated before saying anything. He had heard about these initiatives taken by black ministers and concerned parents in the black neighborhoods. For the most part, they hadn’t done anything positive to stop all the violence. It was almost impossible to reason with the drug dealers and fatherless youngsters who lived in the street and pledged loyalty to their gang. “Well, I guess we could give it a try,” Walter responded. Mary Jean seemed very pleased at his answer.
“I’ll tell Johann and he can make the arrangements,” she said. Walter knew that nothing really beneficial would come from this conversation with black ministers, but it was worth trying. He wasn’t a racist but he suspected that black culture wasn’t something he could ever identify with. It was always a one-way street: the white guys had to adjust to black habits, no matter what society and the legal system declared to be good behavior.
Jalen and his followers were gangsters or thugs. They would never compromise their values or life styles to accommodate “white” regulations at school. Walter came from a broken family; he didn’t have any money or friends in positions of authority who could step in and help him. If he used force or physical threats to defend himself, he would be held responsible for what happened. Things seemed to be upside down.
Walter impulsively called his mother at work but she was too busy with customers to say anything. If he were a little older, Walter would quit school and take a bus to Chicago where Aunt Mildred, his mother’s sister, was living and stay with her. She would certainly send him back because she had three children herself. He fell asleep and had dreams of grizzly bears chasing him in a forest.
Dr. Peterson was a large man, about seventy years old; he had been pastor of his church for many years. He was partially bald and there were tight-knit graying ringlets on his temples and the rear of his head. He looked distinguished and very much used to telling people what to do.
Reverend MacKensie, his companion, was about the same age, shorter, and had shaved his head as many blacks did. He fidgeted a lot and had a very deep southern accent. Johann knew them both well since he did missionary work with a battered wives group that their churches sponsored and financed. To save time, Johann had filled both pastors in on Walter’s situation. The purpose of their meeting was to find an effective way to help him avoid violent confrontation with gang members who were making his life miserable.
“Walter, let me say that we are delighted to meet you. We are also very sorry that young teenagers in our community are harassing you in this manner,” Dr. Peterson began. “I’ve discussed your dilemma with Reverend MacKensie at length and we think we may be able to help.”
“I know Dr. Withers at your junior high school and would be willing to intervene if necessary on your behalf,” Reverend MacKensie offered.
“That would really be nice,” Walter replied with a glimmer of hope. “I’m grateful for anything you could do.”
“One of the problems, Walter, is that you don’t seem to have anyone who is willing to go to the authorities and file a formal complaint,” Dr. Peterson continued. “I know this is not something that a young boy like you can do on his own. Have you tried talking about this with your male relatives?”
Walter didn’t know exactly what to say. Uncle Leopold viewed Walter as someone he inherited and was raising as a family obligation. He had hinted that Walter needed to deal with these blacks by complaining to the administration. Walter was almost an adult and these responsibilities were burdens he needed to deal with on his own. However, Walter knew that he would be targeted for revenge if he took this initiative. His life would be in danger if he got the gang members in trouble.
Gregory at the body shop was not someone who would sit around and “discuss” the situation with an adversary like Jalen. He had been in combat and knew that violence was the only way to deter people from bad behavior. Walter’s brothers were too young and detached to be useful. There was only his mother and a few faculty members he could turn to, but this would get them into serious trouble with street thugs. Jalen and his followers were not going to listen to any minister or even school administrator; they would do what he, as their leader, wanted…use force and intimidation to get their way.
“I don’t think I have anyone in my family who can help. My father’s in prison and my brothers are teenagers themselves.” Walter felt his voice start to crack.
“Young man, I will certainly put you on my prayer list. On Sunday, I will remind our congregation that violence is never the best means of resolving conflict in our lives. We should simply ask what would Jesus do in this case?” Dr. Peterson had raised his arms to invoke heavenly grace.
“Yes, I would certainly do the same,” Rev. MacKensie echoed the comments of his colleague. “The spirit of the Lord will guide us along the way. We need to pray for a resolution but also to change the evil ways of those who oppress or torment their neighbors,” Rev. MacKensie continued. “It’s possible we could interact with the parents of these children and see if they can deter them from any violence. We have volunteers who do good work in the neighborhood in trying to convert these misguided souls.”
“Walter, I’m glad we’ve been able to offer you some spiritual guidance in your struggle for justice. As you know, we’ve spent our lives in an ongoing struggle for racial justice and legal rights against those who sin against us. Let the light of God and his baby Jesus shine upon you in your quest for a fulfilling life. I’m certain that Rev. MacKensie will also bless your efforts and keep you close to his heart.” Dr. Peterson placed both hands on Walter’s shoulders and invoked the Holy Spirit. He bowed his head, as did the others, in a fervent prayer for Walter’s safety and success in his undertaking.
With a broad smile, Dr. Peterson announced that he was expected at an elders meeting at the church. Both pastors shook hands with Johann and Walter and wished them well.
As they walked out to Johann’s car, Walter thanked him for his willingness to help. “It makes a lot of difference to have people support you,” Walter said, staring at Johann. “I really get lonely.”
“We all face sooner or later times like these that seem to be overwhelming,” Johann replied, “but there is always a solution. Just open up your heart and let God show you the way.”
As Walter got out of the car at Uncle Leopold’s house, he couldn’t avoid the feeling that Johann and his black colleagues had little more to offer than prayer and hope. Juvenile street gangs were like packs of wolves that roamed unfettered, knowing full well that armed citizens would rarely if ever use their weapons against them. The spirit of the Good Lord would not change their craving for a life without commitment and power. Why were some blacks and white delinquents like this?
Walter had no sympathy for them regardless of what had triggered this anti-social conduct. If his religious faith couldn’t help or offer solace, then what was his best choice?
Monday afternoon, while he was working at his uncle’s body shop, Gregory asked him if he would like to get a snack at a nearly Waffle House. Although Walter had some work left to do, he accepted Gregory’s invitation.
“You look a little down in the mouth, singing man. Trouble at school?” Gregory had a way of cutting to the chase when talking to Walter.
“Yeah. It’s the same old thing with a black gang who’ve been harassing me a lot. I’ve been seeing people to get advice.”
“I remember you told me about this,” Gregory answered. He stopped and stared at Walter for a good ten seconds or more. “Look,” he continued, “I know you’re not a violent type of guy, but let’s be honest. These niggers are going to put you in the hospital and much worse one of these days. You’ve got to have a way to protect yourself.”
Walter looked down at the table and nodded his head. “Yeah, you’re right. But I don’t know anything about guns. I don’t even know where to get one.”
“I can help you there, singing man. If you really want to get a weapon, I know people who sell these items from the trunk of their car. You don’t have to fill out any forms or have your picture taken.”
“Isn’t that illegal? I’m only fifteen. I don’t qualify for owning a rifle or a pistol.” Walter envisioned his father in his prison garb sitting in a cell. He also remembered that his mother had said how pitiful he looked during their visit.
“It’s only illegal, as you say, if you’re caught using it. There are ways to modify a weapon so the police can’t identify it.” Gregory had put his hand on Walter’s arm as a sign of encouragement. “I like you. You’re a good kid with a lot of musical talent. But you’re going to let these barbarians suck all the life out of you. You need protection.”
“Where would I put it? Who could show me how to use it?”
“You’re looking at your trainer right now. I can give you lessons at our range on weekends. We can solve the storage problem easily.”
“I don’t know, Gregory. Suppose Uncle Leopold finds out what I’ve done?”
“I’ll tell him you want to train with us and we lent you the weapon for that purpose.”
“I’m still not sure. This is a big step for me.”
“Do you want protection or not? These blacks carry weapons because they know they’re raw meat without them.” Gregory emphasized his point by tapping on the table. “Get smart, Walter. Don’t put this off too long.”
Later as he lay in bed, Walter could feel tears of frustration run down his cheeks. He could see Alberta’s face and hear her singing a Spanish folk song. Who really cared for him? He longed for another life where he didn’t have to live in fear.
He had a fantasy of going to school with no black gang members, no minorities who chatted in their native language as they moved through the halls, and his father would come home as usual from the steel mill with his clothes covered with grime. His brothers would be arguing while they watched a baseball game on television. Mary Jean would be talking to a friend on the telephone, giggling and covering the receiver at times when she shared something personal. As though a curtain had fallen between fantasy and reality, Walter would fall asleep, knowing full well that tomorrow nothing would be different.
Mary Jean was in her junior year at high school and she had started dating a good-looking fellow, Wallace McDermott, who was taking college prep courses at the local community college. He intended to transfer to the state university when he graduated. He would then be a junior in the business program. His future looked promising; he had a deep crush on Mary Jean and she found in him the type of individual she had dreamed about.
Walter had met him briefly and liked him a lot. He and Walter would listen to jazz music sometimes; Mary Jean would ask her brother to sing some popular songs but he would refuse under the pretense he didn’t have the musical scores. Walter’s mother was not too pleased that Mary Jean seemed to date Wallace exclusively. She was at an age when she should be having fun and dating a variety of boys before committing herself.
Wallace had heard about Walter’s problems with the black hoodlums at school. He told Walter that he knew how bad it could be because he had experienced the same thing in junior high. Luckily, the police had arrested the gang members and that had solved his problem.
Walter listened to Wallace but remained silent. This was something he had to deal with himself, according to Gregory. Music was the only distraction he had for the moment. He began to attend choir practice on a regular basis and that gave him a feeling of belonging to a good-hearted group of people. He was even invited to sing at some events in the area. Occasionally, when she was free, his mother would come to hear him perform. She was certain he would have a career in music in some capacity. She remembered how her own mother had a beautiful voice and sang solos for her church choir.
For a few months, everything seemed to go better; Jalen and his gang members were still tormenting him, but he had learned to ignore their taunts and go about his life. There were days when they seemed to lose interest in bothering him.
One evening, Wallace and Mary Jean, had been to the movies and were walking through a commercial mall, hand in hand. Wallace had made an off-handed comment about looking at rings in one of the jewelry stores. Mary Jean had chuckled and said that she wasn’t quite ready to get serious but she would be interested just the same.
As they were strolling through the store, going from one aisle to another, there was a loud crash. The door had been forced wide open, the glass shattered and a bunch of black youths, masked and dressed in dark clothing, burst into the store with axes and heavy sticks. They pushed the customers out of the way, smashed the protective thick glass over the jewelry display, and swept everything into large bags.
The manager sounded the alarm bell and ran toward the door to stop the thieves from escaping with their loot. A tall black teenager, with visible tattoos raised his stick and struck the manager full force, dropping him to the floor. The others ignored the body and rushed for jewelry counter, smashing the counter glass as they went. Jewels and precious stones had scattered all over the floor in the wake of this attack.
Wallace had pushed Mary Jean to the floor and covered her with his body. She was whimpering softly as Wallace tried to comfort her. The blacks were yelling obscenities and telling everyone to stay where they were.
A lone plunderer, unprovoked, swung his stick at Wallace who had raised his arm to protect himself. There was a dull thud and Wallace dropped his arm in pain. “How about that crack, cracker!” his assailant screamed. Another black ran by and kicked wildly at Wallace. His foot missed and slammed against Mary Jean’s head. She rolled over writhing in pain. “That’s two cracks for a cracker twosome!” The black howled in glee as he ran for the door.
Once the blacks had fled, their bags filled with expensive merchandise, mall customers began to trickle in to see the damage. Women were crying, clutching at their children who were screaming in fear. Others were exiting the store in disarray. Bleeding from the head, the manager was doing his best to comfort those lying on the floor.
Wallace stood up and called for help. His right arm was dangling by his side. He bent over to check on Mary Jean who was moaning and holding her head. Her hands were bloody from the gash on her cheek. Wallace handed her his handkerchief that she put over the wound. He noticed that his forearm was swelling and very painful. “Could someone please call 911?” he shouted. Mary Jean, seeing Wallace’s arm, exclaimed, “God, Wallace, you’re hurt!” Her blouse was now soaked with blood from the deep cut on her cheek. Wallace pleaded again for help and sat back down, feeling a little woozy. Mary Jean was holding a rag to her face that the manager had given her. She slumped against Wallace and began to weep.
After what seemed a long time, the police arrived, cordoned off the area, and began to gather information from bystanders. The paramedics soon got to the mall store and started to treat the injured customers. Seeing Wallace and Mary Jean covered in blood, a medic cried out, “We’ve got two people who need immediate attention. Let’s have some stretchers over here.” A police officer got their names and addresses before they were taken away.
Walter and his mother were notified by the hospital emergency unit just after eleven o’clock; when they arrived, Mary Jean was under sedation because her face was being surgically treated. Wallace was in the I.C.U. having his arm reset and placed in a plaster cast.
When Wallace and Mary Jean were able to talk, they were taken to a recovery ward. A few reporters tried to get close but they were pushed away by police officers who were questioning the victims. Mary Jean’s face was heavily bandaged and she had been given pain medication that slurred her speech. Wallace was surrounded as well by the police with his parents hovering nearby.
Walter and his mother stood outside the recovery room and viewed what was happening through the heavy glass window. Walter tried to say something comforting but he was overcome by a feeling of anger and vulnerability. His mother said over and over, “Why did they do this to my sweet baby…why?”
Uncle Leopold, who had driven Walter to the hospital, patted his mother on the shoulder and asked if he could take her home. She shook her head and said she would stay with Mary Jean until she was better. Mary Jean’s biological mother should be notified, Leopold thought, but she lived in California and, ever since the divorce, had not had a lot of contact with her daughter. He could handle that later when Mary Jean was out of the hospital.
Walter hugged his mother before they left. She whispered, “I’m so glad you were with me. Please take care of yourself.” Walter tried to hide from his uncle the tears that were running down his cheeks. He was becoming a man and grown men didn’t cry…at least not in public.
Walter had a very restless night and when he slept, he imagined how Mary Jean must have been treated during the attack at the mall. He felt exhausted and confused. What was he going to do? These sewer rats (Aunt Harriet’s words) were thumbing their noses at law enforcement and the academic system itself. They seemed to have no regard for human suffering or any restrictions on their antisocial conduct. They knew, as juveniles, that if they were arrested and went to court, they would receive, as youthful offenders, only a minimum sentence.
Walter had read that in certain liberal cities, there were no bail requirements; felons were released on their own recognizance and instructed to appear in court on a given date. Many of these criminals fled the jurisdiction.
The headlines of the local paper read: “Smash and Grab at Goldboro Mall!” The TV morning news featured the attack with dramatic security camera footage of the ransacked store, dazed shoppers, and stretchers being loaded into ambulances. The faces of the teenagers had been whited out because of their age.
What seemed obvious, however, was the image of a tall teenager — masked and covered with multiple tattoos — who was directing his comrades through the store and swinging a club violently at the same time. Walter was convinced this was Jalen’s gang at work.
Leopold told Walter that, if he didn’t feel like going to school, he would be glad to call the principal and explain what had happened to his sister. Walter, however, insisted that he would okay; it would do him some good to stay busy and keep up with his studies. Nonetheless, he would like to give Johann a quick call to let him know what had taken place and how Mary Jean was doing.
When Walter called, Johann’s wife, Wilhelmina, answered and said that her husband would be busy attending several meetings and wouldn’t be free until around three-thirty this afternoon. However, she would give him Walter’s message and he would try to check on Mary Jean at the hospital. She was very sorry to hear about this incident and would pray for her full recovery. Walter put down the receiver, disappointed, but he realized that Johann led a very active life and wasn’t always available.
At school, a few of his classmates commented on the Smash and Grab attack. Walter had little to say other than his sister was in the hospital and doing pretty well. He noted that Jalen was not in history class or anywhere else on the grounds that he was aware of. Some of the blacks that hung out with him were also missing. They were probably trying to sell their stolen jewelry.
In his mind, he wanted revenge but that required violence and Walter wasn’t prepared for that sort of response. However, he knew that Gregory could show him just what to do with little danger to himself. In fact, he became more and more obsessed with making Jalen suffer and seeing his gang members go to jail.
After school, the brother of a friend from school gave him a ride to the hospital. As he approached the entrance to the emergency room, he saw Johann Vorblein leaving the building. Johann expressed his sympathy to Walter and hoped the police would quickly arrest those responsible for the assault. “We will pray for you and your family,” he stated. “We’re very sorry for this tragic occurrence.”
Walter watched Johann walk across the parking lot and get into his car. Like all servants of God, he could only invoke divine intervention in an emergency when bad people did criminal acts. Unfortunately, praying was not going to be of any use in the weeks to come. Jalen and his followers were immune to compassion or religious atonement. As sociopaths, they only wanted easy money, freedom from constraints imposed by society, and power.
When he entered Mary Jean’s room, his mother was sitting at her bedside. She looked very tired; Walter guessed she had not slept very much. “Good,” his mother uttered. “You’re here.” She reached out for Walter’s hand. “Mary Jean is sleeping right now, sweetheart. I think she’ll be all right. She’s still sedated. The doctors are optimistic about the gash on her face. It shouldn’t leave a bad scar.”
Walter squeezed her hand; she reached out and drew him closer. “I hope they can catch the wild animals that did this to her,” his mother said in a harsh voice.
“How is Wallace doing?” Walter asked.
“I really don’t know. His parents checked him out late last night. He’s recovering at home.”
Walter made a mental note to see if uncle Leopold had any news about Wallace’s condition. He was going to tell his mother about the news coverage but he stopped: it just might upset her even more.
“Can I do something to help? Have you had anything to eat?”
“I’ll be okay. There’s a cafeteria just off the main lobby. By the way, a man with a German accent stopped by a little while ago to ask about Mary Jean. He seemed concerned.”
“That’s Johann, He’s the youth minister at the Lutheran church. He’s been helping me as well.”
His mother’s face took on a fierce look. “These black teenagers are jackals. Why do they act like this?”
“I wish I knew, Mama. They’re getting more and more dangerous,” Walter said louder than usual. “Everybody says we should get along together. We’re taught to love our neighbors as ourselves. Politicians are preaching unity and giving money to people who never really suffered from discrimination. It’s crazy.”
“I feel for you. Just try to do the best you can. Please don’t confront these thugs. I can’t have you get hurt now.”
Walter did his best to reassure her but he needed to talk with Gregory and see what, if anything he could do to avenge this savage attack. He remember a poem by Rudyard Kipling that he had read in last year’s English class, “The Ballad of the East and West” (1899).
“East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.” When two cultures are so different, the only unifying force that brings people together is violence or mortal combat. All past wars have ended with the hostile parties joining together economically in the aftermath of battle. The American “E pluribus unum,” sees humanity as good-hearted and welcomes newcomers who are willing to sacrifice their own national identity to blend with the values of their adopted country. The black teenagers and potentially wayward youth have decided not to compromise and “act white” to achieve success. This polarity had been going on for some time; in fact, it was getting worse for the inner city youth.
Walter would sometimes listen to conservative podcasts. The choice seemed to be “surrender” to intimidation (federally sponsored and financed) or be imprisoned or exiled for resisting the “narrative” of the governing elite: diversity is morally justified and equity makes all citizens the same in life. The podcasters would assure their listeners that black renegades were not going to prevail. Affirmative action and other race-conscious programs were no longer effective; they were stale ideologies whose day had come and gone. No one should give in to the liberals’ demands. They weren’t playing fair by natural or human law. Walter knew he was too young and weak to make a difference but he could just say “no.” A lot of other people felt the same way. Why did he have to follow the rules that favored minorities and ignored the needs of the majority of Americans?
As a conservative youth, Walter was tired of being pushed around and told what to do by people he despised. He was comforted by the fact that some seventy-five million liked-minded voters had given Trump their approval in 2020. The future could be reshaped by bold political activism and courage. In school he also learned that Abraham Lincoln, in addressing the Illinois State Assembly just before the Civil War, had famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Walter’s teacher had emphasized that Lincoln believed the country he knew and loved was coming apart. Its unity depended on consensus and compromise. Racial antagonism was shredding the thick membranes or social glue that held everything together.
Walter recalled that Mr. Donnelly, his English teacher, had written on the board: “Cohesion or Division; Democracy cannot survive in multiple units.” At the time, Walter really didn’t understand what that meant. Now, he saw how cohesion or togetherness was being destroyed by multiple divisions into cults, indigenous communities or “tribes.” National unity was not a salad bowl of differing points of view. It was the willingness to accept and obey reasonable laws that applied to everyone.
Walter would sometimes go back to the poetry textbook from his English course and reread the “The Second Coming” by William Butler Years, the great British poet. He was particularly impressed by the following quote:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It took him a while to grasp the real meaning of Yeats’ words but now he understood. The “worst” in times of great disruption will prevail if the best don’t do something to stop its dominance. The Left pretends to do good while the worst are being coddled by the misguided inaction of the Right. Mr. Donnelly was right. You can’t just sit around and hope for better times.
He needed to see Gregory at work and get his advice.