The verdict

Published 2:34 pm Wednesday, August 7, 2013

By Clarence Foster

It boils down to this…Did the perpetrator feel threatened? Many times over the years via radio, television, movies, telephone, etc., you’ve heard the words, “I think I’m being followed.”

An expression of alarm, perhaps dread, a feeling of some sort of violation. Maybe the pace quickens: escape, evasion. Ambush?

Perhaps we can all agree that being followed on a dark street is discomforting and just may prompt some sort of reaction. That the follower has armed himself is especially telling.

Much has been made of the black mindset in such an instance. Let me speak broadly. I spent considerable time of my early adult years in the streets of late-night Brooklyn. The sound, the fury, the edge. No car, and usually no funds reserved for public transportation. All was devoted to four or five beers from my choice of two or three nightclubs (of many) within three quarters of a mile radius.

A proud and able walker from the backwoods of Southampton County, I thought nothing of such distances. [I remember a conversation some 15 years ago with two middle-aged women reminiscing over their 1960’s 2 a.m. walks from Franklin and Fulton’s 521 Club, Arlington and Fulton’s Arlington Inn and Classon and Fulton’s Elk’s Lodge, to their dwellings on Lafayette Avenue, distances of nearly two miles. These old streets, the western flanks of Bedford/Stuyvesant, were, in these times, more bark than bite.] Yet it was never clear what might happen along the way. The turn for home, fraught with apprehension.

Bad, dangerous people are just that. They and the wannabees are known to arm themselves. And the wannabees are spreading like wildfire.

Young folk like it out there. Lights, sounds, action! Bells, whistles, balloons! A glorious rite of passage beyond the withering gaze of Deacon and Sister Brimstone.

I remember mumbling to myself, particularly after a scolding (or worse), “I’ll be glad when I get grown, so I can get outta here!” These late-night streets were indeed outta here. Now, older and wiser, I’m happy to say, I’m back in here.

Now, here’s the thing…Some of us have always been followed. Let me tell you a story.

The summer of ’62, when I was 17, I spent 10 or 12 days in Bamberg, S.C., working watermelons with my uncle the broker. It was a time of extreme possibilities, both positive and negative. It was such a time that familiar progress (medicine, home improvements, transportation, etc.) over the most recent 50 years is probably no more impactful than the previous 50 years. Heroes were marching, things were happening. [Yet today, still in the afterglow of that millennium ballyhoo, we flinch from the cold death throes of a recidivist past, and look on in wonder (as the old flags speak their volumes) at a virulent anti-government vitriol, not heard, not seen since the mid- to late 1800s.]

I would have breakfast in the kitchen of Ziggy’s Route 301 motel restaurant. A few nights found me in Hirk Carroll’s (a local black entrepreneur) front street café. My uncle and I had rooms in the spacious home of his sister, a Mrs. Bartlett.

I would leave the café, on foot, around 11 p.m. A circuitous route around a white neighborhood. Such a venture at this stage of history, at this time of night, was hardly different from those Brooklyn adventures. Nevertheless, the last of these nights, I decided to risk Americanism, and fully avail myself of the civil liberties of the public roadways.

About 75 yards along this more direct route (shortening my journey by about a quarter mile) and into a celebrated Americanism, I found myself followed by a patrol car.

He followed for two or three minutes, and then pulled up alongside. There was something like: Where are you going? Where are you coming from? Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here? Who are you staying with? An intimidating old catechism of control.

I was well aware of the possibilities. Already a fairly frequent reader of the news. [Only my second encounter with the police. The first, a rookie driving infraction of the previous year.] None of it was much different from a possible encounter with Deacon and Sister Brimstone except for one thing: History. We’re expected to learn from it. We remember.

My effort at speaking clearly and carefully was soon met by a mocking yes, yes, yes and no, no, no. There would be no warm reception for visitors. The obligatory yes sir(s) and no sir(s) ultimately freed me, and I was allowed to go on my way, away from the dark shadows of history.

By this moment in time, the summer of ’62, things had moved forward, and onward. And will continue to do so…in spite of the Zimmerman verdict.

CLARENCE FOSTER is a resident of Southampton County and a 1963 graduate of Hayden High School.