Back in the day, we hung out on the street corners of Astoria as a crew. It wasn’t always the corner of the block you lived on. I, for one, hung out in front of Richie Pizzeria, nearly a mile a way from my house, because that’s where my boys were. Every night, you’d find us—me, Melo, Jimmy Blazed, Eric, Mimu, Tommy Brillo-head and whoever else dropped by–pooling our money to get as much cheap beer and party favors as we could lay our hands on.
When we’d get a little rowdy, the neighbors would call the cops on us–and, back then, the NYPD didn’t play around. They’d drive by the corner once, and once was enough. “Take a walk,” they’d shout. And walk we all did! We’d make it seem like we were being obedient, but all we did was move on to a different block to continue our juvenile delinquency. Everyone knew if those Cops had to come back again, someone, probably the slowest kid in the crew, was getting hit with a nightstick or getting served a good old fashioned knuckle sandwich.
One night Tommy Brillo-head had a little too much homemade Italian wine and yelled back at the Cops, “why don’t you go fuck with the N-word’s in the projects?” Rookie mistake. You never wanted to make the Cops get outta the cruiser, and Tommy paid for it with his head. One of the Cops had a billy club and let Tommy feel it. It opened up his head something nice. But did Tommy go to the hospital? No. Did Tommy make a civilian complaint? No. Tommy took off his T-shirt off, wrapped it around his bloody skull like a wounded warrior, and joined the rest of his band of brothers as we moved the party to the park at P.S. 10.
We were the sons of immigrants. Our parents both feared and respected the Police. We feared and respected our parents. When talking to the Cops, we’d say yes sir, no sir, and I’m sorry sir and you never sassed them. If the Cops had to escort you home that meant you were getting two beatings: One from the Cops and one from your parents.
The upside was, Cops rarely arrested teenagers. Not for loitering, drinking, or smoking anyways.
One day I cut school and was hanging out by Nathan’s, which was right next door to the 114th Precinct. I was smoking a little something with a couple of girls, when the Cops rolled up behind us. I never even saw them. The joint was still hanging out of my lips when it got smacked out of my mouth by one of the Men in Blue. The Cop asked me some pedigree information and pretended to write it down; the other Cop threw me in the back of Police car and drove me home. When my mother opened the door, she started smacking me right in front of the Cops. She never asked why they had escorted me home. She just started smacking me. I could’ve been hit by a car, jumped, mugged…anything. She never asked, she didn’t have to. She knew I was up to no good.
Did I like getting smacked in the mouth? No, it was embarrassing. Did I like being out of some weed? Not so much. But that Cop saved me a trip to Spofford Juvenile Detention Center. And if he hadn’t, I may never have become a New York City Police Officer ten years later.
During my time on the force I never put my hands on a teenager, although I did have to arrest a lot of them. I retired recently and looking back, I can’t help but wonder if some of those kids might have had an easier go of adulthood if they’d gotten a swift whack of the ol’ billy club instead of the lasting cuff of an arrest record.
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