One of our former garden employees, I will call him Andrew, was recently arrested for robbing and killing a local store owner. He was shot in the process and is now in jail, most likely, for the rest of his life. This is a story about a day in our lives.
Andrew and his friends were playing basketball in the park. I was with my wife planting vegetables in the garden that Andrew helped me plan and build. One of Andrew's friends was attempting to "toughen up" his pitbull puppy by beating the dog while it was tied to a fence. I will call his friend Dave.
I heard the barks and yelps of Dave's dog and ran over to the basketball court. This involved me awkwardly hurdling a 4 foot fence and attempting to regain my calm collected personality as I sprinted to the court, which was about 100 yards away. Another former garden employee, I will call him Will, had reminded me recently that no one, even when they know that what they are doing is wrong, likes to be yelled at in public. Somewhere between jumping the fence and arriving at the court I forgot what Will had taught me. Here is my attempt at remembering the dialogue that followed:
Me: "What are you doing?!!!"
Dave: "Who do you think you're talking to?"
Me: "I'm talking to you! What are you doing?"
Dave: "You must not know who I am."
Me: "You're right, I'm Mark. I work at the project. Tell him who I am Andrew."
Andrew: "Cool out Mr. Mark, he's just trying to teach his dog to protect itself."
Me: "You can't do that stuff here! This dog is a puppy now and on a leash! What happens when it grows up, when I see it out here off the leash?!! There are kids who play here! It's not safe!"
Dave: "Andrew, tell your boy to cool out! He must not know who I am."
Andrew: "This is between you and Mr. Mark."
Me: "I know who you are...you're a scared little boy, who has to beat his dog to prove he's a man!"
Dave: "I ain't scared dog! And I ain't no little boy!"
Me: "You're scared. You can't even look me in the eyes. You won't give me a straight answer."
Dave: "We can do this dog! I ain't scared." (The phrase "we can do this" is said to let the other party know that a fight is about to begin.)
Me: "I'm not gonna fight you. You can hit me, but I won't fight you and not because I'm scared. I am not scared of you. I can look you in the eyes and say that. Look me in the eyes and tell me you're not scared."
Dave: (Silence, chin raised, not making eye contact, pacing.)
Me: I am not leaving this basket-ball court until you tell me that you're going to stop beating your dog in this park.
Dave: (Silence, leaves the court, takes his dog with him.)
Me: "Andrew, can you let your friend know that he's welcome here, his dog is even welcome here, he just can't beat it in the park."
Andrew: "This is between you and Dave."
Me: "His name is Dave? You think he'll listen to me? He's your friend, can you at least let him know that I want to talk to him?"
Andrew: "This is between you and Dave."
Me: (Very frustrated.) "I thought you were a man! I thought we were friends!I thought you cared about this community! You really think he'll listen to me--a bearded guy he's never met before?! Just help me get him to talk."
Andrew: "Man, this is between you and Dave." (Silently walks away.)
Me: (I now remember what Will had told me and that I am in the wrong. I'm still very dissapointed in Andrew.) "No, you're right." (I run after David.)
Me: "Dave, Dave, I'm sorry man, wait up!"
Dave: (Turns around, chin raised, sniffles, tears in his eyes, not yet running down his face.)
Me: "I'm sorry Dave, I know I should not have been yelling at you. I don't even know you. My name's Mark." (I extend my hand to shake his.)
Dave: (Shakes my hand.)
Me: "I know that you are not a little boy, you're a man, and I should have been talking to you like a man. I was angry, that's no excuse, but the truth is I just want there to be one place in this neighborhood where kids can play and be safe. I know that you did not have a place like that."
Dave: (Shakes his head in agreement.)
Me: "Look man, I know your dog is friendly, but what you're doing to it is why people are afraid of pitbulls. That is a great dog and it will do whatever you teach it to do. It may never get off of it's leash, but if it does and something were to happen at this park, it would be your fault. Pitbulls and young black males get the same rap. People only hear about the bad ones in the media. I know that you're a good guy, I can see it in your face, you shook my hand, you accepted my apology, but all anybody sees is a young black male beating his dog in the park. "
Dave: (Looks me in the eye, tears falling down his face.)
Me: "I'm sorry Dave, I love you bro." (I shake his hand and with the other arm give him a socially acceptable one armed hug.) "You and your dog don't have to leave, you are always welcome in this park, just don't beat him. He's a great dog. I want the kids to have one safe place in this neighborhood."
Dave: "Naw man, I'm leaving." (Obviously now aware and uncomfortable that he is crying in public, shakes my hand.)
Me: (I walk back to the garden and continue to plant vegetables with my wife.)