I grew up in late 60's - early 70's
in Philadelphia when violence was everywhere, and folks had to know where and when they could walk alone. Between the race
riots, Vietnam War protests, assassinations, and the explosion in organized crime and drugs on the street, it seemed like
everybody hated everyone else. It was all about turf: where you could walk in the neighborhood, who had rights, and what gang
you belonged. I grew up on Regent Street, southwest of center city below 58th Street and west of 30th Street Station and the
River. We had a yard and a two-storied house. Hard working parents, who taught us to be respectful of everybody, no matter
their color or background, raised me. Sometimes as a kid, I worked as a laborer on side jobs next to black guys,
and by the end of the day we all ended up a pale grey color from the cement dust. I never understood the whole race issue
because I was taught to ignore it.
There was a gang in
my neighborhood called "Dirty Annies" named after a store where the gang hung out. I wasn't sure if I was a wannabe
or not, but an incident one day sealed the deal for me; I would not become a gang member. One of my classmates Bubbles Morone,
just a neighborhood kid, was stabbed to death by a black gang for no apparent reason; he was alone and helpless. The mob violence
is pure random hatred, and it made me angry.
A bunch of
us went looking for revenge, on who I never knew, for we never learned who stabbed Bubbles. Shit, I didn't even really know
him. He was in my grade at West Catholic, but other than that, I didn't know him. What was I thinking? I started heading home.
I was alone, roaming the streets and searching for God knows what, when I was confronted by 400 young black guys coming down
Cobbs Creek Parkway. They were picking up chains and any kind of makeshift weapon they could find. I ran to find the other
guys and told them to get the hell out of the neighborhood, but I was too late. By the time I found them, the throng was closing
in on us. We ran to a church at 58th and Chester Ave. This was it; I knew we were going to die.
The cops arrive. Two plain SEPTA busses pulled up, and the Boot Cops emptied out and formed
a skirmish line between us and the crowd, which the news reported as over 500 by that point. The Boot Cops (the Highway
Patrol) didn't wade into the crowd or shout; they just stood their ground. We froze and watched as the cops did their
stutter stepping, a half step at a time. The sound of their boots hitting the asphalt in front of them made the walls shake.
They moved into a "V" type wedge and kept going forward, with the "V" getting larger and larger. The crowd
parted like the Red Sea. No injuries, no nonsense but a lasting memory and a turning point in my life. I wanted that respect.
Some say it may have been fear, but I believe it was the professionalism that the crowd couldn't deal with; they knew those
guys weren't going to put up with any nonsense, no matter who you were. It was like watching an expeditionary force; they
came, they saw, they removed the threat, they left. They won the battle by acting and moving as one, no emotion, just a job
Ok, I was in. Where did I sign up?