I followed a trail of blood up the concrete steps as Deja vu overtook my thoughts.
I’d been here before, just a few short months ago, doing the same exact thing, following a trail of blood to an open front door.
As was the case then, on this night there had been another call for shots fired heard coming from the street.
A trail of blood, an open door and no body to be found.
Just like last time, the person was taken to the hospital by a friend, so we wait to hear from the hospital when they make their mandatory call about somebody coming into the emergency room with bullets in their body.
As I was checking the house for another injured or dead person, I couldn’t help but notice that the house was exactly as it had been before.
There was no furniture in the living room and there was trash all over the place. Paper plates with leftover food and cigarette butts littered the kitchen counter. The upstairs was where the televisions and furniture were kept. When you live in fear of drive by shootings, upstairs is the safer place to spend most of your time.
As I was leaving the kitchen, my eyes were drawn to the floor by a cockroach scurrying over a button, the kind that you can pin to your shirt to announce things like, “I voted” or “I gave blood!”
This button had a picture of Michael Brown on it and the words “Justice for Mike Brown” or some similar message around the photo.
There was something queer about the button being on this particular kitchen floor on this particular night, surrounded by roaches and drops of blood and dog shit as well.
I shook my head and left the house satisfied that nobody was dead or injured inside.
Just outside of Ferguson, life is going on.
The shootings and robberies and burglaries and car accidents and domestic incidents are still happening, and people are still calling for the police to come help them.
People still need our help, and we’re still providing it.
I’ve received many messages from people around the world asking me if I’m alright, asking whether or not I’ve been in Ferguson.
I am fine and I was up there for a little bit, yes, though not on the front lines of the chaos.
There seems to be a perception, outside of this area, that it’s a war zone here, that the whole region is in shambles.
I can see how a person might think such a thing. I mean, God forbid the national media folks take their cameras outside of the immediate area where all the trouble is happening to see that life is still being lived by decent folks, even just outside of Ferguson.
Just outside of Ferguson, here in St. Louis, I watched as several black kids played basketball in the street. They were the same kids I had watched playing ball several weeks ago.
The were playing with a basket that had a net attached to it. That’s a novelty in the city.
Several weeks ago, however, long before anyone knew who Mike Brown was, I watched as they bickered and argued and almost got into a fist fight, as young boys sometimes do, over whether or not a shot had gone through the rim or not.
“It went in,” I said from the car.
“Awe, NO WAY!” The defending boys protested.
“You need new glasses,” one of the boys shouted in jest.
He was probably right, but the ball had gone through the hoop, I was sure of it.
“And you boys need a new net,” I replied.
I got a call right about then and had to go. As I drove off, one of the boys asked me if I’d get them a net. I promised I would and left for my call.
A few days went by and I’d forgotten to get the net. I felt bad, so I drove around North St. Louis looking for a basketball net. Unbelievably, it’s difficult to find such an item in the area where I patrol.
Poverty and crime aren’t great assets for areas looking to woo businesses, so I had to venture into the County, towards Ferguson, ironically.
On a Saturday morning, I finally went to a Walmart and bought several nets. I went back to where the boys had been playing and got out of my car and started to walk to the netless rim.
As I was walking towards the rim, a man in a red Camaro parked right in front of the basket put his hands out the window and said, “I ain’t doin’ nothin’ wrong, officer. Just waitin’ on my girl.”
It’s sad that he assumed I was headed to him, but I get why.
“I didn’t say you were doing anything wrong, partner. Carry on with your day,” I told the man.
Thankfully, the rim wasn’t set at the 10 foot regulation height, so I could reach it without having to balance on something.
I started to put the net on the rim and the guy in the Camaro got out and walked over.
“You bought that net?” He asked.
“I certainly didn’t steal it,” I joked. “I told the kids I would bring one a couple of weeks ago, so I’m making good on my promise finally.”
“Awe hell, that’s really cool.” He said.
He came over to the rim, grabbed the other side of the net and helped me put it on. We shook hands, thanked each other and went about our days.
As I watched the kids playing basketball the other day, one of the boys asked me if I was the cop who bought the net.
“Yep. It’s been a few weeks now and I’m still waiting to hear somebody say thank you.” I was just being sarcastic, but I’ll be damned if every last one of those little buggers didn’t immediately say thank you right then and there.
I was given the honor of a couple of shots with a ball that had no air in it and proceeded to chuck an air ball and what I believe is still called a brick before hanging my head in shame and leaving the kids to their game. I looked to the porch and got a smile from one of the adults, maybe one of their moms, and I smiled back. Smiles are small victories to me. They probably laughed at me, but if they did, they had the courtesy to wait until I left, at least.
The boys weren’t concerned with what was going on in Ferguson because they were too busy being little boys.
Most of the other people I’ve dealt with aren’t consumed by it either.
The Subway clerk was still friendly and didn’t spit on my sandwich.
An old woman took my hand in a parking lot and asked to pray with me. I’m not normally into such things, but in times of crisis, being open to anything can only help. She asked Jesus to lift me up and help me be just and fair and to remain safe as I do God’s bidding.
I don’t know about all that, but I was glad for the prayer. She was the second person to ask if they could pray with me in a week. It hadn’t happened, that I can remember, in the fifteen years prior I’ve done this job.
I’m still responding for calls about accidents and shootings and assaults and everything we always deal with.
Life goes on, even when there’s chaos.
Crime never takes the day off, and may even become worse when there’s chaos.
Still, I am responding and I am helping and I am hoping, just like I believe the citizens are, that the mess in Ferguson is resolved soon.
We hope all this violence isn’t for nothing.
Something has to change, and change for the better.
Shame on all of us, if we let this pass and we don’t become better people for having endured it.
That’d be a real shitter.
For my part, I’m going to just keep doing the best job I can.
To start, I’m going to buy a basketball and fill it with air.
I’ll bring it to some boys who have a basket with a net, but no air in their ball.
It’s a little thing, but it’s something I hope will help to build trust and healing and keep them from growing up scared of the police.
It’s the least I can do out here, just outside of Ferguson.