City Hall Anti-Violence Rally: Let Me Walk With My BrotherMay 21, 2009 at 12:45 am | Posted in Lowell | 6 Comments
Tags: Lowell, Tavaryna Chouen, UTEC
UPDATE: The Lowell Sun’s Police Line Blog by Robert Mills posted a couple videos from the rally. I embedded one of the spoken word performances at the end of this post, and you can click here to see the other two. (At the 2:12 mark of the middle video, look for the sexiest bitch in Lowell on a leash held by a dirty hippy. Thanks to Robert Mills for posting these.)
Yesterday afternoon, Ashlee strapped Nola Jane into her hippy-mom papoose device, and along with Lucy the Dog, we attended our second peace rally/vigil thingie in as many years.
The event was organized by members of the United Teen Equality Center, in response to last week’s murder of 17-year-old Tavaryna Chouen.
As with the first vigil, held after a gay man was savagely beaten downtown, I didn’t know what to expect or why I was even going. I generally recoil at such demonstrations, but even after a weekend of relaxation, I was still quite angry about Chouen’s death, and I wanted to be around other people who were equally angry.
We walked down Moody Street through the public housing projects, and Lucy the Dog decided to take a dump right next to two women who were loudly threatening to rip each other from fat-laden limb to fat-laden limb. Apparently, minutes earlier, one of the women had walked in on the other whilst she was boning the first woman’s husband. They were both hideous monsters, and it’s a wonder that either of them ever got laid by anyone, much less the same man. He should be given a medal of valor for performing such a noble charity.
We tried to swiftly pass the ladies before they brought out the heavy artillery. But Lucy had made an uncharacteristically soft, shall we say, bowel movement. So, as the two women exchanged their “bitch this’s” and “bitch that’s,” I stood by unassumingly, trying to pick the shit up with a Quizno’s bag, but instead just smearing it all over the grass.
Meanwhile, Ashlee walked ahead unfazed, threading the needle between the crazed ghetto queens, with one hand over Nola’s head and the other raised in a dismissive ‘talk to the hand’ gesture. She is cooler than Trombone Shorty sitting inside a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine.
When we got to City Hall, there was a decent crowd, comprised mostly of Lowell teens and UTEC organizers. I’d guess it was 150 people, but it may have been 18; I’m horrible with numbers as they relate to measurements or quantities. If you told me, for example, that I walked 400 yards from my apartment to City Hall, I would believe you. And I would also believe you if you said that I walked 4,000 or 40,000 yards from my apartment to City Hall.
I can say with certainty, however, that the weather was indisputably gorgeous, which made it a challenge to maintain the simmering rage that had brought me there in the first place. It was like a pleasant reunion, seeing some of the friendly faces who had helped with Ashlee’s Lowell Teen Portraits show last fall, including two of the teens that she worked with, Kim and Eddie. I also got a delicious oatmeal cookie.
In the same week that Chouen was killed by bullets intended for someone else, and in the same week that her “friends” dumped her lifeless body on a Suffolk Street curb, UTEC learned that state budget cuts could put an end to its Lowell Teen Coalition program, which, according to the Lowell Sun, “has reached hundreds of city youths, ages 13 to 20, getting them into after-school programs, arts, gang-prevention programs, and putting them to work organizing anti-violence activities.”
Thus, some of the signs and speeches at the rally called upon investments in peace and, more specifically, support for the threatened programs. But most of the language was geared toward the Chouen incident and the urgent need to “Silence the Violence.” Three teens addressed the crowd in a commendable fashion, though none of them displayed the level of aggression that I personally yearned for. I realize it was an anti-violence rally, but I wanted blood, goddammit.
I wanted someone to stand up and give a booming FUCK YOU to the entire thug culture. I wanted an unmistakable, middle-finger-raised, FUCK YOU to the gangs and the absent parents and third-world lowlifes roaming the streets at all hours of the night, cursing and fighting and wreaking havoc. I wanted the good ol’ fashioned, WE’RE MAD AS HELL AND WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE! THIS IS OUR TURF NOW, FUCKERS. AND WE WILL NOT TOLERATE ANY MORE OF YOUR BULLSHIT!!!
Of course, I didn’t really expect this, especially from three kids trying their best to suppress their nerves and deliver their statements. But I wanted it, nonetheless.
Following those speeches, City Manager Bernie Lynch spoke, and then a fourth teen stepped forth for some ‘spoken word.’ As she took the microphone, I braced myself because I can’t stand that spoken word shit. Perhaps I’m out of touch and just not cool enough. But for me, spoken word always sounds bloated and self-important and…oh, I don’t know. Just silly, I suppose. And coming from the mouth of a teenager, I expected something even more atrocious. For if you’ve ever spent five minutes talking to a teen, you know that even the best educated among them are barely literate.
But this chick blew the doors off. I wish I’d brought my video camera or had taken some notes, because it was an impressive display – both her delivery and her words. There were crescendoes and decrescendoes, and then an abrupt, sad conclusion with a few lines spoken to God by the voice of a mother whose son had been killed–something like, “Why couldn’t you take me? I wouldn’t feel nothin’. I’m already dead.”
That’s not at all verbatim, and in fact it’s probably way off. But the sentiment was along those lines, and she spoke the words with a tired and defeated inflection. Then it was over, and after a brief silence, we applauded. It was quite effective. Yet it made me sad, when I still wanted anger.
From City Hall, we walked as a group to Suffolk Street, to the spot where Chouen’s body was left. The organizers stressed that this was to be a SILENT walk, and in the moment, I started to get annoyed. Fuck silence, I thought. Fuck quiet. Fuck vigils. Let’s get fucking LOUD!
But as we walked in unison, with police stopping traffic along the way, that silence proved to be quite profound, at least for me. Because I could not talk to Ashlee or anyone else about anything, including how angry I was, I got even angrier. We were all forced inside of our own brains, with nothing but our thoughts, which in the context of the day, tended toward Chouen and the insanity of her death and the implications for all of us should such violence continue.
It felt empowering to walk with all those people. We were our own anti-gang gang, and in such numbers, who would mess with us? I was proud of how many teens were not only present, but were also holding handmade signs and looking genuinely concerned. This was not just some trendy cause du jour – a time to hang out and get interviewed by reporters and feel important and special and loved. Several of the kids walked hand in hand, and some were even crying.
I was struck by how many there were, with such varied backgrounds. My inability to comprehend numbers surfaced again, as it seeemed like, with so many kids wanting to stop violence in Lowell, it should simply just stop. How could they possibly be outnumbered? They took up an entire street! But of course, for every one of them, there are ten gang-bangers who are not quite ready to lay down arms.
At the spot of Chouen’s death, there was a moment of silence and more tears. Members of her family were given flowers to leave at the side of the road. This was a little awkward to process, as Chouen had apparently been in and out of foster homes and was living with a boyfriend in Lowell, instead of her mother, who was now drowning in tears on a curbside that she would never forget yet had never visited before last week. She looked young for a mother of a 17-year-old. And under those circumstances, with no first-hand knowledge of their relationship, I didn’t want to judge her. Perhaps I’ll screw Nola up so badly that she’ll flee and wind up dead on a sidewalk too. But I’d like to think that as parents, we can prevent such things.
In any case, we again walked in silence back to City Hall. Near the old Battambang supermarket on Merrimack Street, I saw Mayor Bud Caufield walking through the crowd like a lost child at a mall. He smelled of a very musky cologne, and I was surprised by its power. I didn’t brush against him or anything, but there was a distinct smell of old white politician as he passed. He may have been scheduled to speak prior to our walk, as he seemed to be apologizing to people and he looked a bit frazzled. But once everyone reconvened at City Hall, he gave a speech that I found as surprising as his powerful scent. In the old codger, I saw a bit of the rage that I’d been craving – or at least the closest thing that I’d get on this day. It may have been total bullshit, but he looked moved by the turnout, and he made it clear that there was no place for such foul shenanigans here in Lowell.
He still could’ve been angrier though. At one point, he started a sentence by saying, “One of the greatest songs ever written…,” and I was sure he was about to cite something embarassing like John and Yoko’s “Give Peace a Chance.” But one of the greatest songs ever written, according to Bud, was “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” And, Bud says, “let it begin with me.” That’s helpful and all, but neither Bud nor me are the guy who’s walked by my home twice in the last two weeks, yelling, “I’ll kill you, nigger, don’t fuck with me! I’m gonna kill you, nigger!” I’ve got my peace shit covered, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the problem. (Incidentally, an interesting sidenote about Mayor Caufield: City Hall sources confirm that his other favorite songs are Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” “Duh Huh” by Rapping Duke, and Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” A softie at heart!)
The rally concluded after another spoken word performance that was, again, impressive, leading me to think I should reconsider my anti-def jam throwdown stance. The girl wore a T-shirt with a picture of her brother, who she said was shot dead in Lowell two years ago. While she spoke, a cameraman from Channel 7 focused in on lil’ Nola Jane, her eyes bugged out and her head poking out of the papoose like a confused turtle. What was this crumbling world that we had brought this child into? I pondered over this, and then I looked at the Channel 7 reporter standing next to the cameraman, and pondered over how I’d like to molest her. I didn’t really expect to. But I wanted it nonetheless.
We had a nice walk back home, with none of the drama that we’d encountered on the first leg of the trip. Even though I didn’t get as much righteous rage as as I’d hoped, I felt a little better for at least having attended. After getting settled in the house, I surfed the web and went to Richard Howe’s site, where he’d written a post about the Chouen murder. The first and only comment was left by a guy named “Right in Lowell” and said, “This is what happens when you have a MELTING POT!!!!! Kind of gets out of control.”
It’s not unusual to read such an assinine comment on the Internet. But I wanted to punch this guy right in the throat. There were so many ethnicities represented at the rally, and they all wanted to work toward getting things under control. And I couldnt’ believe that someone’s first reaction to the murder would be to write such a stupid thing. That shit made me pretty fucking angry. And here I remain, pretty fucking angry.
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