Co-op City ~ What did you experience?

Last week I wrote about how Co-op City influenced and shaped who I am today.  The sheer amount of people who were interested in this discussion was mind boggling.   I was essentially inspired to add-on to the blog in order to bring to light some other realities of living in Co-op out of fairness for those of us who experienced difficulties of growing up in Co-op.

We were all sitting behind one of the “Triple Cores” I think it was Richie and Blanqui’s building on a laundry vent that we huddled together on in the cold of winter and of course the conversation was about when the hell we would get out of Co-op.

Co-op was an island that was wrapped by the city.  It was different from living in Manhattan or even living in the Bronx.  We could easily find ourselves in the Bronx but Co-op certainly was something different.  We had everything you would need all in shopping centers that we could easily walk to from any building.

With all that we had access to and all of the people we knew some of us wanted to escape.  I know I felt there was a world outside that I didn’t know or experience.  In my last post, I was thinking about the positive and peaceful aspects of Co-op relative to the world I experienced when I left.   That wasn’t to say that Co-op didn’t have its fair share of problems including hate.   My point was that there was more harmony and acceptance of a person for who that person was as an individual as opposed to because they were black, white or other.   This brings me to two short stories that I feel I should share on behalf of those who mentioned to me that I didn’t necessarily paint a clear picture.

While there were many time that we fought as kids and dealt with some issues related to being different, there is one story that I want to share that some of my close friends observed while I was at Truman high school and ultimately led me to leave Truman for a school in the South Bronx.  truman high

I don’t really remember what happened during the day, I think it was a normal school day and I was just doing my thing being the cool and most popular kid on the planet that I was (just kidding).   I walked out the back door of the school towards this long line of steps.  I saw some of my friends and waved to hook up with them.   The doors coming out of the school were big metal doors with a big long metal bar on the inside, a lot of kids would kick the bar to open the door, I guess it was the cool thing to do.    The door would fling open and make a loud noise.    That is what happened on this day.  I naturally turned around to look and within a few seconds I was surrounded by a bunch of guys. ( Note, the friends I was referring to that I was waving to and walking towards were all girls.)

They started pushing me around and tripping me.  I didn’t want any trouble and I just wanted to leave so I started to try to negotiate my departure.   Then it happened, I knew I wasn’t going to get out of this when I heard “You know.. your people made us slaves.”   I looked to my right and I saw a young man named Sean that I was an acquaintance with sort of friendly over the years, never any problems and he looked me back in the eyes dead on and said “I am sorry Howie.”  The girls ran up the steps and tried to intervene but it was too late,  I was trying to fight off 5 guys by myself and unfortunately for me I left my Chuck Norris instruction book at home.   I was getting kicked in the back while two of the guys were holding me up and I yelled ” I had nothing to do with slaves, I’m Jewish!!!”

“Oh that’s worse.. ”

I couldn’t shake them off and I think at some point Marilyn, Blanqui, and Helen (forgive me if I forgot someone) pulled me out of the fist storm I was in.   I wound up in the hospital that night with a fractured tail bone from them kicking the crap out of me.   I think the worst part for me wasn’t the beating, it was that Sean didn’t have it in him to stop them or help me.  I couldn’t win that fight but I wasn’t going to lose without trying.

Yeah, it sucked but I still don’t think it was a racial thing, I always felt it was just something else.   There are plenty of stories like this that we can share and talking about it is good but I would rather focus on the fact that the girls who were my best friends were also black, hispanic, white and other.

~~Segue

One of the other memories that I want to share with you is of a kid named KC in Section 5.

We had to sit in the car for hours to wait for a parking spot, sometimes we would fall asleep in the car double parked.  This night my mother and I were in the car.  We drove around for a while, you would drive in circles hoping that someone would leave.  We came down this street.

section5No place to park

On the right side, you can’t see it from here, there was or maybe still is a security booth.   I don’t remember what year they put it there but it was sometime around 1989.    So, mom and I were in the car and we saw a car speed past and turn right almost make a full 360 degree turn.  The gun shots went fast.. it was automatic and we didn’t even see it.   I can’t remember what time of night it was but it was early enough for a lot of people to be outside.

A crowd gathered around this young man home from college.  I think two people were shot and unfortunately I only remember the initials KC and the name Kevin.   I didn’t know him but we met his mother, she was holding her son dying in her arms.    The police came before the ambulance and the crowd yelled and screamed and pointed to the police 45th precinct if I remember right. “They went that way!!!!” pointing to the left up the street.   “Get them!!!”   The mother was holding her son in her arms with people screaming and I don’t remember what else was happening because I only remember his mothers face and the police driving the opposite way that the people told them to go.

Unless someone can correct me, I heard that he died.   I don’t know what happened to him though from an authority of any kind.   I just remember what I saw.   He was black and the people who shot him were black.   I don’t think that mattered much to me or mom we cried just like everyone else.

As others I am sure could tell you Co-op had a fair share of problems especially when the young man from Howard Beach 1986 was attacked and ran from some white men out into a street and was killed.   It was an unfortunate series of events including street fights and unprompted attacks of which I can’t easily quantify.

I have a lot of memories from my youth in Co-op but in my mind’s eye and from my perspective there was more love, peace and understanding from Co-op City and no known boundaries on friendship unless people created those boundaries themselves.    Sure, I experienced hate and there were questions about culture but it was more subtle and more often than not children knew about cultural differences and consideration early on.

Later when I went to school in the South Bronx I first experienced a lot of hate or disinterest but within a short period of time, I was accepted for being Howie.

What did you experience? 

2 Comments

  1. I had a bad experience too, I was jumped by a bunch of girls that claimed they thought I was giving them the middle finger which I would never do at the age of 11, I was beat up so bad, I had sneaker prints on my face! Thank God Todd Sherman went and got the police officer from the election room, that probably saved my life. I never thought this was motivated by race. Then Mitch Hochhauser and Al Mingione came to my rescue and all 3 have been my heroes ever since! One thing that was a racial issue that was brought on by my own naitivity was there were 2 girls who climbed a tree and I was pudgy and could never climb anything, so I guess I was envious and stupidly said joking “oh look at the monkey’s in the tree” Well I swear on my life I had no idea what that meant to them because I was so hidden from the hate and would have said it to any person in that tree black or white. I don’t remember the girls name, I think it was Hillarly but she punched me in the stomach so hard and I guess in her mind I deserved it, but in my mind, I had no idea what I did wrong until I was older. Funny thing is though that the girl who stomped on my face for no reason at all because she knew damn well that I didn’t give her or anyone else the finger ended up being murdered years later! I happened to be at my Mother’s friends house in Co-op and picked up the Co-op newspaper and there the story was! It was like 25 years later! Talk about Karma! I’m just sorry for her that she stayed on that destructive path and that’s how her life ended! For the most part though it was a great place to grow up and I’m glad I can teach my children not to hate because there is so much in this world and I would never want them to grow up like that!

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