You are on page 1of 5

George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 28
East Side, West Side

The first snow of winter in Massachusetts floats down in large wet flakes, sticking to
Debra Florsheim's windshield as she drives toward the Chandler Avenue section on the
East side of Fairview on a cold, gradually-whitening Sunday afternoon.
She has driven through the Chandler section many times as a short cut from her home on
the West Side to her job at the Sentinel in downtown Fairview. As a young reporter, she
had often covered stories in this “high-incident” area where ambulances, police cruisers,
and fire engines are a normal part of the landscape. These days, however, Chandler
Avenue is never a destination for Debra Florsheim.
Except for today.
The Executive Editor of the Sentinel, Richard Goode, has given a cautious go-ahead for
her to look into the Billy Stone story, including his charge of city police officers stashing
drugs on juvenile suspects. But the editor has made it clear that not a word will be
published without iron-clad evidence and multiple corroborating sources.
“When I say hard evidence, I mean Superman can't dent it,”
***
The West Side is home to a tribe of tall white people. If you live on the West Side, as do
Debra Florsheim, Richard Goode, Dr. Allan Kurlan, Captain Wally O'Toole, and Judge
Joyce Salera, you have money enough for a decent home in a safe neighborhood. Unlike
East Siders, you don't worry about a police officer pulling you over, searching your car,
and calling in your physical description and running felon and warrants checks.
Nor do you worry about being stopped on the street and asked,“Where are you going?
Who are you going to see? Where have you come from? Where do you live?” These are
questions you have never heard. You have almost no personal contact with the police,
aside from occasionally seeing one buying bagels.
You are taken up with more convivial rituals: work, shopping, seduction, dieting,
exercise, pursuit of the perfect lawn, wealth display, and deploring the shiftlessness and
irresponsibility of the poor. If you're a West-Sider, you probably don't think much about
the East Side. You never go there -- why should you?
Like many kids, West Side kids get in trouble with the law, but the system sends them
back to parents who mete out finely tailored temporary discomforts. Painlessly
rehabilitated from antics that get East Side kids sent to Granite City School, these West
Side waywards end up going to Fairview University; or if they want to get away from
their parents, which most do, a comparable university out of state.
***
The East Side is a place altogether different in every way. If you live on the East Side,
where Chandler Ave is the long, heavily populated, unprosperous artery running through
it, you struggle to keep a roof over your head. You live amidst block after block of
falling-down or boarded-up derelict buildings, vacant lots littered with the detritus of
lives on the violet margins: upturned, rusting shopping carts; discarded, rotting fragments
of clothing; odd shoes and sneakers; broken glass, old tires, broken toys; and papers
scattered everywhere like propaganda leaflets dropped from a plane.
The East Side is a high-anxiety place with plenty of misfortune to go around, but precious
little contentment. Here the rituals are a vibrant street life with adults talking on stoops
and children running in packs and lots of bars, beauty and nail parlors, and storefront
services ranging from tax services to loans to immigration to driving instruction to small
convenience stores.
Many of the signs are in Spanish. If you live here, your skin will be black or brown. The
average functioning parent will almost always be a woman with little or no education and
few skills. She will have too many kids, too little money from a dead-end job, pay up to
50% of her income for rent, and be perpetually exhausted from the twin burdens of child
care and work.
She wishes the police would stop harassing and humiliating neighborhood people like an
occupying force. By “police,“ she does not mean the many uniformed officers who make
her feel safe and treat neighborhood people with respect. These officers take the trouble
to get to know residents, saying hello and pausing to chat; and even when arresting
suspects, they do so courteously.
She means the few who come on like storm troopers, “dissing” every resident they come
into contact with, especially the young ones. To these officers, every East Side teenager is
a thief, gang member, and criminal needing to be caught in the act. She also means the
aggressive special units who, with a search warrant signed by a judge, periodically burst
into homes and shops with guns drawn looking for illegal guns and drugs and
handcuffing all present. She thinks that these police do what they want in the East Side.
Between the aggressive special units and the more low-key and respectful uniformed
officers lie varying nuanced police behaviors; and they change almost from corner to
corner, resulting in no one East Side attitude toward “the police,“ but many. The
dominant feelings, however, are fear and anger.
On the East Side streets, trouble seems endemic. Drugs are as available as toothpaste.
Petty crime and street fights are too common for residents to take notice. Getting in
trouble with the law is practically a part of growing up. When East Side kids get ensnared
with the law, they don't get genteel West Side-style rehabilitation supervised by Mom.
They get sent to Granite City School for Boys, which everybody refers to as the Perp
School or the lock-up. Many go there on CPW3 charges -- Criminal Possession of
Weapon in the Third Degree. Third Degree means the weapon was loaded. Some find
themselves held at Granite City on trivial charges, such as truancy and running away.
Here a young man's worth comes from cars, gym shoes, gold chains, stereos, and the
level of fear he can inspire. Want power? Want to be a big man? Get yourself a gun. Here
a kid will pull a gun on a convenience store clerk, run off with a fistful of bills, get caught
the next day, get sent to Granite City School, and end up growing old in jail. So much is
risked for so little gain. West Side kids don't understand why anyone would risk long,
hard time for pathetically few dollars.
East Siders get less of everything desirable and more of everything that is not. Financial
desperation is everywhere and all that goes with it: fear, insecurity, bad diet, dropping out
of school, addiction, sickness without health insurance, crime, powerlessness,
unemployment, and hopelessness.
West Side residents enjoy a surplus of resources and all that goes with this pleasant state:
security -- few in this tribe worry about eviction -- health care, educational opportunity,
jobs with benefits and a future, access to power and influence, leisure. East and West are
so different and so separate that if you are seen in the one that's not yours, you feel a need
to explain what you're doing there.
***
That is how Debra Florsheim feels driving slowly down Chandler Avenue looking for El
Gusto convenience store where the mother of a Granite City inmate, Julio de Cruz,
works. Billy Stone says Julio had drugs stashed on him by the police. What does Mrs. de
Cruz think?
On the East Side, a reporter's choices for meeting a source are a darkened bar, a grungy
coffee shop, a cramped apartment a couple of flights up on creaky, decrepit stairs, and
through musty, graffiti-decorated orange hallways, or on the job, or on the street. With
Mrs. de Cruz, Ms. Florsheim is doing “on the job” with spillover “on the street.“
She finds El Gusto and by some miracle also snags a parking spot right in front. That's
the other thing about the East Side; there is nowhere to park. You don't want to park too
far from busy Chandler Ave because if you do, your car might be chopped up somewhere
for parts by the time you come back. This is a high-crime section, don't forget. Ms.
Florsheim has that very much in mind as she locks the car and, glancing up and down the
street for trouble, walks toward the iron-barred entrance to El Gusto.
The mother of Granite City inmate Julio de Cruz is there working the counter, sees her
come in, and smiles. “Come in Debarrah,” she said. “Come in. We talk right here.”
Gesturing to customers in the store, she said. “They don't do notting, those guys. You
don't worry.”
Ms. Florsheim, passing on niceties, goes straight to the point.“Your boy, Julio, he never
used drugs or sold drugs?”
“Hah! Never! Never!”
“The police found cocaine on him.”
“They put it there, the pigs.”
“Why?”
“What you think? To send him away for long time and they do it. I don't know when Julio
get out now. When I tell them, nobody listen, nobody care.”
“How do you know Julio was not involved in drugs?”
“You come from West Side, you don't know. Here two types kids, street kids and house
kids. Street kids always out, never home. They the ones get in trouble. My Julio is a
house kid, always home where I see him. Cops grab him on the front steps. They was
chasing street kids and my Julio was sitting there and they grab him. I see from the
window. I see with my own eyes, Debarrah. Put that in your newspaper.”
“Do you know the names of the police officers who do this.”
“Hah! Everybody here know, Debarrah. Everybody know.” She pointed to two young
men customers. “Even those guys know. You ask. Go ahead. They tell you.” When Ms.
Florsheim hesitated, Julio's mother said.“ I ask.” In a loud voice, she said “Hey, you
know the cops stashing drugs on the kids? Tell this lady. She's from the paper.”
One of them said, “ Rich Collins and that other guy, what's his name?”
The other young man said, “Jag.”
The first said,“That's right, Jag, that's what they call him. His name is Mark Lee. Those
two work the East Side, but they got a whole gang, the -------------.”
The second young man said, “Good luck, but you won't get nowhere.”
Ms. Florsheim wrote the two names in her notebook. She showed them to Julio's mother.
“Are those the two?”
“Yes.”
One of them put cocaine on Julio?”
“Yes.” She pointed to a name. “That pig.”
***
Over the next several days, Ms. Florsheim interviewed other residents of the East Side
with kids at Granite City. Most had lodged complaints with Captain O'Toole and city
officials, but to no avail. Her furious informants, bursting to be heard, poured out their
stories to the first reporter to come around asking questions. She had to make frantic
notes to get it all down.
Over and over, she heard the same story and the same two names. She came away with a
picture of rogue cops operating in the East Side as they saw fit, without interference from
the police command structure.
She presented her findings to Executive Editor Richard Goode. He said, “The first trouble
is that the whole basis of your story smells. Billy Stone is going to say anything to get out
of Granite City and so will the other inmates, and so will all those parents and relatives of
inmates you talked to. They all got agendas, for God's sake.
“Also, how did you expect Stojak to act? If a reporter called you up and accused you of
child abuse, would you have a sweet temperament? But you know what the biggest
problem is? The biggest problem is, I don't see anything resembling hard evidence, not
against Stojak, not against those two cops. What people believe is not evidence. It's
nothing. That's what you got so far -- nothing.”
“You're right,” Ms. Florsheim said. “Maybe I'll plant some evidence. At least I know that
works.”
“Bottom line, you have nothing we can run in a news column. Get some hard evidence
and I'll look at it again. Sorry.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.”
“What hard evidence did you have that Billy Stone assaulted Joy Stojak before you ran
news story after news story practically shouting that he did it? What hard evidence? The
answer is none. But it wasn't just you. I wrote a column asking why he was still running
around loose and making fools of us all.”
Ms. Florsheim tossed Billy Stone's account on the editor's desk. “Here, read the other side
of the story, the side that never made it into the paper.”
“We ran his letters.”
“Sure we did, but nothing got in the news columns. Cranks write letters to the editor. The
letters were not even quoted. Our coverage of the Billy Stone story was one-sided. I was
just as blind as everyone else. You know what I think we should do? I think we should
admit it and start over.”
“You're out of line.”
“No, I'm not. You are. You're blind and you need to open your eyes.”
She pointed at Billy's bound account on his desk. “There's a good place to start. Print the
whole damn thing. Maybe run it in installments. Actually, it would be a welcome rise in
standards. And then do the balanced news story that you should have done in the first
place. I'm leaving now before I punch you in the mouth.”
She stormed out of the Executive Editor's office, slamming the door behind her.