Close To Home: Two Charlottesvilles

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I grew up all over Charlottesville, Va. My first memory is of me in a stroller on 5th St. SW and Dice St. and someone with a blurry face getting into a cab. On Ridge St. I peed on a bookshelf when I was five-years-old because my teacher made me stand and face it for talking too much during nap time. I built club houses on Hardy Drive’s 812 section, busted my lip in Forest Hill Park, and stayed over my best friend’s house playing video games so long that when I was finally riding my bike back home to Rock Creek Road, my mom was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill in her robe, slippers, and curlers in her hair.

I led forgotten revolutions at a High School on Melbourne Rd. and talked about the lyrics to All About The Benjamins in a treehouse on Amherst St. before turning a riding lawnmower into a go-kart that would never run. If my once-deepest fear of losing my sight ever came true, I’d go home to Charlottesville, and buy a car. I can navigate the city that well. Even as a blind man, I’d point to the exact place in The Projects where the police ran to stop me as a 10-year-old with their hands on their guns to ask why I was running from them, when I was really running toward my little cousin in a game of tag. I can take you to my old barber who was accused of rape because, as history and science shows, all Black men look and sound the same. He was released when they found he was telling the truth. Downtown is where our big library is, and in the basement is the machine that will pull up all the old copies of our local paper, The Daily Progress, and if we do a search, we’ll see how almost every incident of racism and racial injustice in the town never made it to the paper. If necessary, I’ll explain how things like that get justified so often, even the victims thought what the cops were doing was right and just part of the job.

There are two Charlottesvilles and I’ve learned them both.

Before computers were in every home and because Kappa League existed, I spent my free time at the University of Virginia, talking to strangers in chat rooms, collecting age, sex, and locations, and being the “cute little brother” of some of the coolest guys on the planet. at 12-years-old, being with these cool kids on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s Academic Village, I felt a million miles away from my folks’ place on Henry Ave., or my grandmother’s spot in The Projects; both only two miles away. Here, Black boys aren’t being chased down by cops without reason, I thought. Hell, the cops didn’t make me nervous when they tapped me on the shoulder. All they wanted was to tell me to watch out for the biker. This was a different world. On these grounds, I learned to talk to women, build websites, and become the Black exception.

Sharing stories over the last few days with family who’ve been around the town much longer than me, and friends like Nikuyah Walker, you hear about how often the Virginia ABC Police, and of course the local police, have been throwing black men and women to the ground for decades at Foodmaster on Ridge St. and in front of Estes on Cherry Ave. If I behave like the cool kids in that part of town covered by the magical bubble, I’d be exempt from having my head bashed in, I thought.

Martese Johnson is my brother from another mother. We have the same ten men in our lives, motivating us to achieve in every field of human endeavor. As a young man, I’ve helped shape some if his thoughts, and he’s inspired me in countless was in return. We’ve laughed, chanted, partied, and discussed relevant issues. I love that man. We’re brothers. I want to tell him how important this moment is before it slips by and the world, especially Charlottesville, is no longer looking.

The world is now watching as Charlottesville officials pretend this is new. They pretend Martese isn’t the umpteenth Black man this has happened to since 2015 has begun, and they hope the other men don’t come forward. These other Black men won’t come forward because no one recorded their mistreatment, and they’re convinced that because they loudly protested their arrest, what the cops did to them was somehow proper. In Martese’s statement, he mentioned a “community of trust we’ve worked so hard to build.” I need him to push that. I need him to ask about the other men who look like him who were also bloodied and stitched; those Black men who don’t sit on Honor Committees, but are just as honorable. We’re still afraid to show our lives out of fear that these lives somehow justify mistreatment. They don’t. Understanding this is understanding why Rosa Parks made the news and Claudette Colvin didn’t. Rosa didn’t even mention her. All I want is for the question to be raised to start the conversation.

When I go home now, I’m in the same places. I sleep in Garrett Square, stop by Amherst when Whitmore’s home, go to Fellini’s and drink with Kim, and hit the streets with Nikuyah to discuss local Black politicians with their hands in the pockets of white politicians, and the state of education and welfare. The lines are blurred for me now. I haven’t stayed home long enough to know if I am the Black exception with unknown, unlimited resources that will show their face when I find myself in trouble like I once believed I could become, or if I’m just another Black man from Charlottesville who’ll get beat, harassed, followed, and have his character assassinated quietly, while media ignores my calls.

If there was a goal in place to keep the two Charlottesvilles apart, Martese was the wrong Black man to bloody. To build this community of trust, a community that’s made its way into town-gown conversations but not into reality, the exception must speak up for the rules. All it takes is the question.

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14 thoughts on “Close To Home: Two Charlottesvilles

  1. As a 30 yr old white male who has lived in charlottesville most of my life and I know two different charlottesvilles. One is where I can trust people and one is where the trust has to be earned. And you can guess where the second one is. I’ve been robbed outside of garrett a couple times in my life. In high school I was constantly trying to be intimidated by people whenever I was in gym or tried out for the basketball team. I got sucker punched in the mouth at a downtown bar by someone from hardy and then ended up being the one arrested by the police for disorderly conduct. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a number of black friends in the area, probably more than most pf my peers, so I do my best not to hold animosity and treat every person the same at all times. I just wanted to share some of my experiences on how it’s not all good out here for every white man in this city. And then you say how your barber was accused of rape, well there was a black serial rapist in the area who the police didn’t have their dna. Young women could not walk at night and feel safe. Once that got solved, we had the serial killer who turned out to be a black ex high school football player. On top of that you’ ve got people being murdered every year and at the end of the day, a black man held the murder weapon every time last year and many subsequent years. Garrett and hardy have gotten better recently but I remember when you couldn’t walk around those areas with an expectation of safety if you were white. So things are definitely not perfect on the other side as you say that is policed either so you act like the cops are the only ones that are out of line in the fabric of society but there is a lot to be said to explain why it is tough for them to be fair and balanced in regards to skin color and location in every civil interaction. So you talk about trust, that is definitely at the center of all this. Everybody wants to be able to trust. And I want to be able to trust that a post like this can be taken with an open mind and not instantly be labeled a racist because I do not hold prejudice any more than you do which is based on experience rather than the color of someone’s skin.

    • I typically don’t respond to anonymous postings, “dave,” but your logic is ridiculous. You’re saying that because there was a black rapist, a black murderer, and back people who beat you up, the cops are justified in their actions? Let’s take a look at all the stats. Whites far outnumber blacks in Cville for rape cases and murder cases. Let’s not forget that just because it doesn’t get reported doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Take a visit to your local police for that info. Let’s use your logic on a larger scale: we should ALL be afraid of white men in that case. You should have open dialogue with Your few black friends. They should be happy to help. Id gladly talk with out outside of this post if you want.

      • I have gone back and forth trying to figure out if I was going to put my real name or not, but I am concerned after looking at your Facebook and seeing what you put on there and that your supporters are ready to harass and bully (or worse) me and/or my family if I were to put my full name out there or link my facebook. I will say though that you don’t know me, but we have a number of mutual friends and I did use my real name. Obviously, everything that I said would happen at the end of my post, happened. My words totally fell on deaf ears and it was a waste of time. I do at least want to say a few more words to defend myself and at least try to explain my reasoning.
        I wish there was some way that I could help you and others to not feel such hate and resentment, but obviously that is not going to happen through having a fair discussion that doesn’t end up in a persecution pissing contest. I feel like you have twisted my words a bit or are trying to infer what I am saying, I at least want to emphasize that no innocent person deserves to be targeted. But yes, people do mean things, often out of fear.
        I definitely get what you are saying when you say, we should ALL be afraid of white men in that case in terms of juxtaposing it. That is definitely a good retort. I do see where you are coming from with that comment. And we have definitely been apologizing for it for many years. Trying to do the best we can to rebuild race relations I believe as a whole with those who are willing to accept it. We have collectively desegregated, voting rights, jim crow laws abolished etc. Now we have a black president because 43% of white people voted for Obama in 2008 and 39% voted in 2012. Hopefully, weed will soon be legalized everywhere which should cut down on a lot of unreasonable arrests and searches. So long story short, it just feels like even after all that, a lot of people, like yourself act like none of it has happened and things are just as bad as they were in the 60s and before.
        Which brings me to why I commented at all. I see you commenting on friends of mine posts and so you make it definitely known where you stand in regards to things and it is certain that you will be sure to stick up for someone of your fellow race no matter what the charges are or what the situation is if the person on the opposite end of the situation is white. And so that is where it definitely hurts me to see people acting like that to where I feel like no matter what people say or do or how hard they try, that will always be the case. I saw that someone had shared this on my friends list and so when I read it I just felt compelled to comment because I just wanted to enter into a dialogue because I was hoping to try to shed some light on the way that I know some of my peers are feeling right now in regards to these issues.
        As I said, I do have many black friends (almost to the point where they outnumber my white friends) so for you to act like it is a few is rather condescending. In fact the night I got sucker punched (and no, I wasn’t being ignorant, he said I bumped him, I apologized and then when I turned back around that’s when he hit me), I was in the bar with a black friend of mine who ended up going to jail with me because he was pretty pissed off after what happened and the police just didn’t want to hear it. They just wanted everyone to leave or be arrested. And I have had discussions, sure, but none of them are out here spreading what I consider to be hate and resentment like you are so there is no reason for me to take the discussions to this type of level with them.

      • I read the first couple of lines in this previous response of yours and stopped. No need to read the rest since the conversation is certainly one sided, I’ll just assume you’re saying everything I knew you’d respond with, to which I’ll respond:

        Now i see exactly why racism is still an issue in Charlottesville and the rest of the country. Because there are people, exactly like you, who are unable to see their own inhumanity and flawed logic. Reading the first few lines and the last sentence in the previous post, I’ll assume you feel what you’re saying is proper. I’ll assume you’re an idiot and don’t realize that you just accused me of doing exactly what you’re doing while I’ve remained in a logical and educated play.

        Good day Dave.

  2. Yep, I’m the idiot and you’re a genius. You know that someone is feeling outclassed when they start with the name-calling. PEACE!!

  3. I immigrated from Scotland in 1969. I had a thick accent, but i was still a white male. As I move into my elder years I do think back to my childhood. I was an outsider but still not as outside as those who were born here and whose skin was darker than my own.

    I am an old marijuana grower and activist from the early 80’s, a twice convicted drug felon who spent 18 months in prison. Still when i come to town, a collared shirt and a nice pair of pants and I am treated with complete deference. i joke with my liberal friends that to enjoy white privilege you must dress the part.

    My childhood and the present world i live in is filled with racism. It does exist, though i am only a spectator. I have been arrested multiple times. I have never been thrown to the ground or manhandled. I have never had a gun drawn on me.

    I have two children I am trying to teach about the responsibility of privilege, to use the privilege of birth to make a better world for everyone, not just a better world for themselves, or those who look like them, or pray like them.

    Denying racism or complaining about being picked on by a person of color is just more racism.
    Martese Johnson is my brother too. As long as he is singled out for the color of his skin, the world is not a safe place even for a person as pale as me.

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