It is 1981 and I am walking down Court Street in Brooklyn with a friend of mine named Charlie. We hear angry voices behind us yelling and screaming. We turn and see a young black man running his heart out down the center of Court Street. He is coming towards us and maybe 20 angry young white male teenagers are chasing him. The young black man who looks to be in his twenties runs past us, his face lit wild with terror.
Voices scream, “Get that fucking nigger! Get that nigger!”
I tell Charlie get to the other side of the street, lets stay with this.
We are running on either side of the angry crowd of young whites now, watching what happens. Some are carrying sticks, pieces of two-by-four. One carries a piece of rebar about the length of a baseball bat. I am hoping the young black man gets away.
They catch him and the angry young white boy with the rebar slams it across the back of the young black man. He crumbles to the ground. He tries to get up but another angry young white breaks a piece of wood across his back. The young black man now wobbles upwards, but he is downed again when a bottle smashes across his head. There is blood everywhere now. He is on the ground screaming.
“Please God don’t kill me! Please God! Please God! I have a wife and children! Please God! Please God don’t let them kill me!”
I lock eyes with Charlie and motion for him to call the police. I move fast into the crowd, reaching the young black man through a barrage of kicks and punches. There is a pause in the violence, a sudden quiet, the angry mob not knowing what to make of me. I pull the young black man up into my arms and hold him against a parked car so it shields him on one side. I shield him on the other.
We are surrounded by anger and hatred, the white teens reach past me to punch him and I push him down out of their reach. They are the clean cut Italian boys from the neighborhood, I am the long haired one with an earring and beard. I know I am a look they are not used to, a look they are wary of. Ignorance is not bliss. Sometimes its an ally. One boy reaches in and I drive my hand into his throat, pushing him back into other boys and glare as viciously as I know how. I know they must think I am willing to kill one of them.
Again some surge forward and try to reach past me and punch him. When this happens, I push the young black man back into a crouch , keeping him out of reach and firing hard vicious words like bullets back into the the pack of angry white teens. A pack that is now nothing more than a single rage-filled being: seething, pulsing, breathing as one, dripping with hate.
I say, “The fuck you doing? You really want to kill him? You want to go to jail for him? You want to die tonight?”
One reaches in again and again I drive my hand into a throat. Our eyes meet. I know if this mob explodes into us I will have to damage or kill someone quickly. Suddenly a big Italian man joins me in protecting the young black man. He is older than all of us, huge and burly and powerful, no nonsense. His presence nearly stills the mob completely. Later I find out he is one of the powers in the neighborhood and deeply respected by all.
Police units arrive and take the bleeding terrified young man to the hospital. I thank the big Italian man. He says, “Hey, I hear him say he got a wife and kids. That’s all I gotta hear. The man’s got family.”
The police say they are taking the young black man to Long Island College Hospital. The police are from the 84th Precinct, the same precinct that will save my life three years later.