The only time I managed
to talk somebody out of a robbery was through a strange combination of
circumstances in Greensboro, North Carolina. I was living with a black
social worker, Tony, whose father owned one of the worst bars in the black
ghetto. I used to hang out at the bar at night.
One night I met two
young black women of the criminal type there and we decided that I should
go home with them. First we stole some wine in a store and dashed right
out into a waiting taxi. When we were in the back seat and had started
off, I asked them how they intended to pay the cab, as I knew they had
they said, "just wait. Let us take care of it. When we get
there, we'll just knock him down and take all his money." This took
me a bit by surprise since I had never tried mugging a taxi driver before,
but I kept quiet, which is one of the first things I learned to do in
Then suddenly the
black driver turned around to ask something, and I realized that I knew
him. He was the social worker's grandfather, who owned the biggest black
taxi company in town. I very rarely take matters into my own hands in
America, but I certainly did then. I shouted "Stop!" to the
driver and said that he could get the fare the next day through his grandson.
Then I tore the purse with the gun in it from the one woman's hands and
pushed them both out the car door, while they gaped at me just like the
Out on the street
I shouted at them "That was Tony's grandfather, you idiots!"
Though they knew Tony, this fact would naturally not have stopped them,
but when they were out of the car and the taxi had driven off, they had
at least no chance of hurting him.
Often the brutality
of such women shocked me. I saw them time and again do the most revolting
things to both men and women. For that very reason it was such an overwhelming
experience when a relationship could arise between us, and I had an opportunity
to get a glimpse of the warm humanity under the hard shell of viciousness
and back stabbing which this violent system had given them.
Human beings who
are enslaved to such a degree by violence cherish a deep longing for freedom
and a more human way of dealing with each other. But this yearning
is never able to bloom as it is constantly stifled by the violent responses
it encounters from the other prisoners of the ghetto. This yearning never
makes contact with the whites or the better-off blacks with their "culture,"
since these "cultured" types have only contempt for the ghetto
culture -- a contempt which is constantly felt and perceived in the ghetto,
and which seems to me to be directly responsible for the ghetto becoming
more and more violent.
That tenderness I
so often found in our relationships, which could so easily have taken
root under a more humane social system, had such an inexpressibly strong
and painful effect on me precisely because I saw again and again how the
system made it more natural for these women to behave in a pattern of
viciousness rather than tenderness.
Another night in
Jacksonville, Florida, I had met a nice black woman who promised to find
me a place to stay. We went to see her friend who was a prostitute, but
she was having problems with her boyfriend, so we couldn't stay there.
We walked around all evening trying this possibility and that. The prostitute
got more and more interested in trying to get us a place to stay. The
two of them then agreed that she should "turn a trick" with
a white taxi driver while I sat waiting in a cafe.
After a while they
came running back, looking very upset, and said that I should come quick.
We got a room in a motel and I discovered that they had far more than
the ten dollars you usually get for a "blow job" on the street.
I asked them how they got it, but they wouldn't say.
Only later did they
tell me about it. It turned out that one of them had lured the white man
into a dark alley, where she did the "job." But then she had
suddenly grabbed a big brick at her side and hit the man over the head.
As he didn't fall down unconscious immediately, she had taken a steel
pipe and hit him in the head again and again until apparently he was dead.
Then she took his
wallet and ran back to the other woman, who had stood in the background
watching the whole thing. The thing was that she had felt she might as
well take a bit more than the ten dollars so she could enjoy the night
with a shot of heroin.
But as we all three
lay there in a double bed in the motel, they were obviously in anguish;
it turned out they were both very religious. For several hours they prayed,
"Oh God, God, please don't let him die!" It was a nervous, stammering
prayer, in between attempts to find a vein to shoot up in.
By the next morning
they had already forgotten the whole thing. They worried more about having
overslept so that they were late for church, where they should have been
singing in the choir.
Letter to a friend