American Me. A brief history of violence

By the time i had turned 30 I had gotten either arrested or beat by the police so many times in Wisconsin that I had grown quite accustomed to it. There was never an occasion nor an occurrence that my family thought the police had ever done any ill will. It was always that I was the one who had to have been bad or been too militant. For the most part, as a youth coming up i had always been getting into trouble at school and in the neighborhood so as I grew up getting into some type of trouble was just normal. In my elementary years it seems that I was misunderstood which lead me to at some point reject authority.

I grew up a student in the Chapter 220 Program where the idea was to ship Black and other minority children from the inner city areas out to the suburban area schools. So from Kindergarten up until the 10th grade I went to a primarily white school in an all white school district. Needless to say we were never first priority in learning and conduct. More like student social experiments.

I learned how to administer violence during my years as a child growing up on 64th & Kaul on Milwaukee’s north side where stepping outside required you to know how to fight. My first neighborhood fight that I can remember was when I was 5. This was my first time going outside by myself and I was pretty excited. I remember mama greasing me up and getting me dressed and the last thing she told me before I went outside was not to let anyone mess with me. Sure enough, as soon as I went outside to attempt to play with the neighborhood boys a boy my age walked up and said “I don’t like you.” Then an older kid looked up and told the younger kid to “beat him up!” And with that command the smaller kid commenced to punching me which caused my nose to bleed. Me, I cried and ran off back upstairs to the house. I think I was more confused than scared. I really had just wanted to go make friends. I had never been in any real fights except for fighting with my older sister but that was different! I thought my first day out to play would be a little different. Anyhow, I ran upstairs only to find my Mother glaring at me and she said “boy if you don’t go down there and fight back I’m gone whoop yo ass.” So, after getting my bloody nose cleaned up and after being given a fearful dose of confidence I walked back down the stairs and back outside. I walked back over to where the boys were playing and I approached the boy and told him “thats why yo mama ugly!” And as soon as he approached me to reply I started beating on that kid with blind fury. He may have gotten me the first time but I warmed his ass up that time! Besides I feared my Mother more than God and I was NOT about to go home to a butt whooping. Not today! After “winning” the fight on the streets I ran back upstairs, a little more bloody with tears in my eyes but this time I shouted “Mama I won!” And that was my introduction to the neighborhood.

Sometimes during the summer evenings gang fights would break out in the streets in front of our house. We would be told to stay out of the windows but curious children always get a little sneak peek. The mornings after we would go outside exploring always finding things like broken glass, sticks and bullet shell casings. You know, regular kid stuff. This older guy who lived a few units down came outside in a blue tank top swinging nun chucks while singing Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting”. For some reason that part has always been hilarious and stuck in my head. All i knew was that he wasn’t about to take shit from anybody. And that was that. Occasionally as we would all be playing in the back yard a fight would break out. Once I witnessed one of the older Black boys bash a White kids head in with a broken table leg. I forget the reason why it all happened to be precise, however it was a brutal memory that stayed with me for awhile and left me quite bothered. All of these things in a way laid the foundation for violence within my psyche.

Elementary school started off on the wrong note for me. One day one i got in trouble for pulling a kid off of the climbing bars because he skipped me. I thought that was only right because coming from where i’m from thats what you do! However, the kid cried about it and told the teacher and i had to sit out for playtime. Bummer. Later that week a girl asked me not to sit by her in her pretty pink dress because she thought I might get black on it. She was serious. I was confused. The teacher made me move. Regular kid stuff in Greendale at Highland View Elementary in the eighties I assume. Maybe I internalized these things. What I do know was that soon I was the kid most on timeout for fighting. The teachers whistle to break up fights was soon my curtain call. From K5 to 6th grade getting outright suspended, in-school suspended, having my desk removed from class, getting sent to the guidance counselor or getting sent to the office was a norm. In the third grade I once punched the gym teacher in the gut for snatching me up the wrong way but i still feel very right about that. By the time I reached the 7th grade I had already experienced my fair share of school fights and street fights. I was seasoned and really didn’t take much of anything from anyone. I was kind of big for my age so fortunately i didn’t have to experience getting bullied nor did I bully. I stood up for the kids who couldn’t fight. I was a cool guy. 

My first police brutality brush was in the seventh grade at South Ridge Mall. We were kids shopping and joking around before our first school dance. The mall cops accused us of loitering and told us to leave. We had made purchases so we weren’t loitering is what I told the cop but he insisted to harass us. So me, being me a wise, smart mouthed 13 year old with heart looked up at the cop and said “look at this fat motherfucker, looking like he gone do something”, as we we were being walked out of the mall by a group of security guards. As we walked and left a car pulled up and a guy in plain clothes jumped out and tackled me. As he tackled me I was rushed by the remaining officers, beat up and dragged through the back hallways of the mall. From there I was taken to a room and tossed from wall to wall like a sack of potatoes. After being detained at the mall for a while I was taken and booked at the Greendale jail precinct which was just a stones throw from my school and the dance that I was supposed to be attending.  My Mother eventually came to pick me up, we talked to the cops, I received my first disorderly conduct ticket and we drove home quietly. That initial occurrence left me shell shocked. I came to grow and get over it however the stigma of me being bad just stuck around.

My next police brutality experience occurred when I was 19 in Racine, WI. Which was seemingly a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding lead to me being pepper sprayed and detained. We were all at a popular spot called the “Chartroom” off of the lake. I tried to get in with a wristband but it didn’t work so I had to wait outside which was no problem because people were outside kicking it anyway. Someone called the police and they came to question me and told me to leave. I had mentioned that the person i came with was inside and in order to leave I would have to have someone go get him. They let a friend of mines go look for my other friend as we waited. Immediately i knew I was getting arrested because of all the back up that had been called. I re lit my Black & Mild (which i smoked then) and so soon as I inhaled I was doused with pepper spray and put into a chokehold by another cop. I was soon wrestled to the ground, hog tied and detained. I guess lighting a cheap cigar is a sign of defiance and resistance. I was taken in, booked and spent the rest of the night in the cramped Racine County Jail. My homies picked me up and bailed me out the next morning.

I hadn’t stayed out of jail or trouble but I did maintain to NOT get my ass beat by the police for about 5 years but at the age of 23 them boys came knocking again. I was once again in Racine but this time I was no longer a resident, I was just passing through. My guy Duane was in town for his Fathers funeral and I had dropped him off to see his uncle in Racine. To make a long story short I was driving back home to Milwaukee and decided to to take 16th street through the hood which was a very bad decision. As I was driving I was pulled over for a faulty headlamp and while that is a minor offense I did not have my drivers license on my person. As the initial officer approached he asked me “Where is the marijuana?” My reply was “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I then knew again that they were up to no good, so after having been denied to have my id looked up by the officers I stayed in my car and made some phone calls for help. While on the phone my car was surrounded by officers and pepper spray was doused in my vehicle with me in it. As I reached forward to open the vents I heard a loud crash accompanied with the shout of “He’s reaching”, and then a boom as my windows were being busted out. I was then grabbed so hard by the police officers that my shirt was ripped clean off of my back. After another attempt I was pulled out of my car through the window and wrestled o the ground by about 5 officers. From that point they commenced too beating, choking, kicking and tasing me. The beating was so brutal that at one point after having been choked while having my head continually bashed into the concrete I passed out. For all general purposes I had thought that I had died and was on my way to heaven. Everything they say that happens then happened to me. I started to drift away or so it seems towards a light and flashes of my own life appeared as images. The last image was the face of my then 1 year old son and I heard the question “Who will raise him?” After that I immediately came back to and with a huge gasp for air awoke to seeing my mother screaming asI raised my face from a pool of my own blood. I had no real clue how long I was out cold. All that I knew that when I came back around I saw a gang of officers with worried faces backing up slowly from my limp body. I couldn’t move a muscle and everything was numb. Soon after I was carted off into the ambulance but the EMT’s and transpired to the hospital with shards of glass stuck deep in my face and mouth. I tried hard to fight that case but eventually lost and was given a few charges and a year of probation. Some justice.

My last physical brush with the police was in 2012 right before the Christmas Holiday. I was driving my cousin Tyesha to pick up her van from her children’s father while he was at work at Woodman’s (a grocery store chain). Woodman’s is located in Menomonee Falls which is a predominately white municipality but I had no reason to be alarmed as I had an up to date driver’s license. I pulled into the parking lot of Woodman’s to be followed by an unmarked security vehicle. No problem as I was just dropping my cousin off to retrieve her car, so after doing so I parked and waited for her to return. After she returned I made sure she was alright and I pulled off out of the Woodman’s parking lot and as soon as I made a right turn out of the lot I was pulled over by the police. This shit was different though. As the officer approached I had already had my drivers license to give to him but he insisted that I get out of the car. Now I know better than to move before having my identification run so I refused. He then tried to reach into my car so I started to roll my window up so that he couldn’t reach any further into my car. This move obviously frustrated the officer so his next resort was to ask why I had open marijuana in the car. I insisted that there was no open nor visible marijuana in the car and after even looking around my car and in the back seat I asked him “What are you talking about?” This officer insisted that there was a bag of marijuana in my back seat when clearly there was none there. I told him to call a sheriff which I’m not so sure he did but after a time, again my car was surrounded by cops. They even went as far as to put strip spikes in front of my car in case I attempted to pull off but I’m not that dumb. After surviving one gang cop beating I knew a few tips on how to survive another one. So, being that I didn’t want my car damaged I opened my car door and let myself out. Again, as soon as I got out of the car I was grabbed and wrestled down by a group of police officers. All the while screaming “I’m not resisting” I was getting kicked, punched and put into a chokehold to the chorus of officers screaming “stop resisting arrest”. After attempting to go completely limp I fell to the ground and was cuffed and simultaneously tasered. Getting tasered absolutely sucks but I developed a personal method of holding onto my self and resisting the pain. After the debacle I was pulled up and tossed against my car. I begged the officer to let me see the marijuana in which he said he had found and he drug me to the rear of y car to reveal a small bag of high grade marijuana in the middle of the back seat of my car. I damn near laughed in his face because the marijuana he showed me and said was in the back seat of my car was so good it couldn’t have been mines!I know for a fact I was smoking all mid grade then and mi kids were the last people in the rear of my car! After the whole deal I was placed in the rear of a squad car and almost hauled off to jail up until I requested medical assistance in which they had to take me to the hospital where I remained handcuffed to the hospital bed. What a life.

Why am I writing this? I really don’t know. Perhaps just too process years of thoughts that have been in my head. Perhaps to connect the dots of the occasions of violence that have crafted episodes of my life. Perhaps to detail the upbringings of us Black boys in the inner city. For the most part violence and occurrences of violence are a regular thing to us. Up until now I had no real clue that everyone was unaware that the police beat, mame, kill and harass Black men on the daily. For me it was just a way of life whether you were doing illegal business or not. The over-all violence for me started way before the police. It started in the neighborhoods where being tough was the code and the badge of honor. We learned to withstand police beatings by learning to withstand getting hit in fist fights or learning to withstand the blow of the belt after you came home from losing a fight. Either way we looked it was violence. And this is apart of my American story.

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Author: Armstrong Ransome

I break bread, ribs and hundred dollar bills.

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