Posts Tagged ‘Cranston’

Protect and Serve

January 2, 2015

Cranston cops

On New Year’s Eve, we had dinner at our house with a couple of friends, and then the four of us piled into our friends’ car and headed out for our neighborhood bowling alley. A few minutes into the drive, we noticed  a weird rattling. Our friend pulled over and climbed out to investigate. Flat tire. So we all climbed out and set about changing the tire.

Easier said than done. First we had to pry the spare out of the trunk, and then we had to find the special tools, and then we had to figure out how to use them. It didn’t help that we were standing in the dark on a relatively high-speed through-street. Plus, it was cold.

We were huddled around the trunk, trying to read the instructions on the tool bag by the light of the tail lights and our phones’ flashlight settings, when a police car cruised by. Oh good, we thought. Help has arrived. And it had.

The cop angled his car protectively behind ours and trained his headlights on our work area.  We would have been grateful enough just for the light and the protection. But the officer – a slight, young white guy with a band-aid on his finger – didn’t stop there. When he realized that we hadn’t called a road service and that we were having trouble changing the tire, he pulled out his flashlight, studied the instructions, and went to work.

It didn’t take him long to get the car jacked up and remove the first couple of lug nuts. But neither he nor any of the rest of us had the strength to loosen the last lug nuts and get the flat off the car.

As luck would have it, a second police car came by. It parked up behind the first one, and the cop strolled over to see what was up. This second officer was taller and beefier than the first one. By jumping on the lug wrench a couple of times, he was able to free the flat tire.

What would we have done if the cops hadn’t come? What would we done if they hadn’t been so helpful? How could we thank them? We asked for their names so we could write a letter to their chief. But they waved the question aside.

“That’s not necessary,” the first cop said.  “Next time you get in trouble like this, you should call us.”

The second cop took a picture for the department’s Facebook page. “This will be great for community outreach,” he said.

We agreed. Those cops were good guys who do a difficult, dangerous and necessary job, and they went above and beyond what that job requires.

We all shook hands, wished each other a happy New Year, and went our separate ways. The first cop’s shift was almost over. The second one would be working until 8 the next morning. And we had a date with our local bowling alley.

___

We live in the Edgewood section of Cranston, Rhode Island, a relatively prosperous neighborhood of large, well-kept, owner-occupied homes between Narragansett Bay and Roger Williams Park. Like most of our neighbors, we and our friends are white, conservatively dressed English speakers. Our car was clean and – except for the tire – in good shape. And the four of us were old enough to be the police officers’ parents.

The bowling alley is less than two miles from our home. But to reach it from the block where we pulled over, we had to cross the railroad tracks and Route 95.  The bowling alley is on a busy street across from a discount grocery store, in a neighborhood where most residents rent. The other bowlers were all younger than us by at least two decades. They included people who had prominent tattoos, who weren’t white, and who weren’t speaking English.

Looking around, as we bowled through the last hour of 2014, I couldn’t help but wonder. What would the experience have been like if the flat tire hadn’t happened to us, in our neighborhood? What if it had happened to one of the other bowling parties at the alley? Would the cops have gone that extra mile? And how would we have felt, when that first cruiser pulled up, if we were younger, or less white, or if English wasn’t our first language? Would our first thought have been, Help has arrived?

Oakland Cemetery

March 31, 2014

 

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Walking home from Roger Williams Park a few weekends back, David and I decided to explore a cemetery we’d passed by lots of times, but had never bothered to check out.

We like cemeteries – the artistry of the stones, the interesting old names, the epitaphs, the morbid semiology of angels, hands, and weeping willows. As an amateur photographer, I love the monochrome stones in their symmetrical rows, the play of light on the inscriptions, the marks that time and weather and human mischief leave on monuments that were meant to be immutable. And as someone who craves narrative, I like to read stories into the stones.

Oakland Cemetery doesn’t look like much from the road. Entering from the park, the first interesting thing you notice is how many headstones vandals have knocked down, and how much trash has blown in or been dropped and not picked up. No wonder Mark C writes on Yelp (who knew that Yelp carries cemetery reviews?), “This dump is an embarrassment…I wouldn’t bury my dog here.”

 

Most of the monuments are between 40 and 100 years old. Walk on, though, and you find a row of stones dating back much earlier.

 

Mr. James Brown Merchant who died Oct 4th 1775 aged 73 Years. He was born in England: a pattern of Industry and an honest Man.

Stephen Rawson died March 14th 1773 in the 50th Year of his Age. He was of a noted Family of great Repute. His Life was Amiable and Strict Integrity with universal Benevolence justly marked his Character.

Alexander Black of the City of Coleraine in the Kingdom of Ireland. Merchant. He came to America in the Year 1748 and died in Providence Rhode Island on the 12th of Sept. 1767 aged 40 Years.

Mrs. Freelove Bosworth 2nd wife of Mr. Lewis Bosworth

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These much older graves seem out of place, and they are. Brown and Rawson and Black and Bosworth and half a dozen of their contemporaries were originally buried in West Burial Ground, in Providence. They were exhumed and reburied in Cranston in 1870, when West Burial Ground was dismantled to create Hayward Park, which was demolished in the 1960s to make room the I-95/I-195 interchange, which was torn down and rebuilt further south in 2013.

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But Oakland Cemetery isn’t only a place of neglect and displacement. Look a little farther and you see an unexpected jumble of colors cutting through the dead grass. These are graves from the last 15 years, lined up head-to-toe, like a traffic jam of the dead. Beneath the plastic flowers and the home-made crosses, the stuffed animals and miniature Christmas trees, the rosary beads and Red Sox caps, the votive candles and Hennessy bottles and last year’s dead leaves, you notice that the surnames are almost all Hispanic, and a shockingly high percentage of the dead are men between the ages of 18 and 30. Google the names, and another pattern emerges.

John Gabriel Espinal, a 20-year-old dental hygiene student, died in August, 2013 – shot dead by the new boyfriend of Espinal’s former girlfriend, the mother of his 2-year-old child.

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Luis Dominguez, 18, died in July, 2010 – shot dead by a friend who was messing around with a sawed-off shotgun.

 

 

 

IMG_7517Jacob Delgado, a 19-year-old artist, died in December, 2001 – shot dead during an argument that erupted after he jumped the line at a Broad Street chimi truck.

 

 

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Nairobi Acosta, 20, died in November, 2007 – shot dead as he was leaving an after-hours party.

Luis Abreu, 21, died in October, 2007 – shot dead shortly after midnight, as he was sitting in his black BMW outside his apartment.

Omar Polanco, a 19-year-old Walmart worker, died in September, 2008 – shot dead at 3:30 a.m. from a passing car, a few blocks from his family home. The day we visited Oakland, Polanco would have turned 21. Mylar birthday balloons bobbed over his grave.

IMG_7438Among these newer graves is a tall, granite monument carved with the figure wearing an ornate robe. He holds an orb with a cross in one hand, and raises the other hand in blessing. The portrait set into the corner of the stone shows a handsome man with a shaved head, bright eyes and a benevolent smile. Below is an inscription.

Beloved father, son, brother and friend

David J.Catagena

Apr. 13, 1971 – May 31, 2009

Being a streetworker – it’s like being a peacemaker. It’s the thing you want to be.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9.

Cartagena died at 38, in a three-car accident on I-95. A former member of the Almighty Latin King Nation youth gang, Cartagena had a history of hurting people and 15 arrests on his record. In 2005 he joined the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence, a Providence-based nonprofit dedicated to combating gang violence and youth crime. The Providence Journal described Catagena as one of the organization’s “most effective leaders.”

I’m sure there are more stories like these at Oakland Cemetery. But David and I only stayed so long. It was awfully cold out, and we felt self-conscious, walking around and taking pictures, especially when other people came with fresh decorations for their loved ones’ graves. When does honest interest become disrespect? What’s a public park and what’s a private shrine? What am I to make of that little leap of excitement I felt when I discovered Oakland Cemetery’s story?

I was just starting to consider these questions when the impersonal became intensely personal. David’s dad died. We dropped everything and flew to Colorado – an event still too raw to write about here. Back home two weeks later, I picked up what I’d been working on.

When I went back to check Yelp, I found that a new review had been posted while we were away. “My father was buried a year ago this past march 25th,” writes Juan V, “I went and visit the grave and set some flowers (Plastic from dollar store) and today, Saturday March 29, the flowers are gone, don’t guess me wrong but that only happens in the Dominican Republic, and I know who did it, the person is from that country, what a disgrace, I don’t even want to be part of that community anymore. I feel sorry that my father is buried there.”

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