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If They Take You in the Morning

If They Take You in the Morning

By Malik Abduh

M omma was a biblical woman. This meant she spent more time in the scriptures than the tribe of Judah; it also meant we had as many laws

around the house as Leviticus. The biggest of them: Thou shalt keep your black behind off the corner and out of jail. Where you going?” she would ask when we left the house. “You get locked up, I ain’t coming to get you.” This to a kid who had never been in any real trouble. “For what, Momma?” “Walking, off your porch,she replied. She had a point. Things had gotten crazy with the police around the way, but it was our neighborhood, and we had to piece together a childhood between the raids and arrests. My high school graduation was in a few of days, and with such godly inspiration to keep me on the righteous path, I managed to get through school, for the most part, unscathed. But whenever Momma reminded my Uncle Doc of this, he would scoff, “Momma, there you go crowning that nigga for shit he ‘posed to do.” Uncle Doc was a heathen, or at least that’s what Momma’s prayer circle called him. He hated them coming over the house, but for fear of Momma’s wrathif not the Lord’s—he never uttered a word to them; instead, he went down to his room in the basement and listened to Redd Foxx party records. One Easter after Rev. Cream finished his sermon, Uncle Doc cornered him by the stairs, “Hey Cream, what a sacrificial lamb got to do with niggas out here starvin’? Ya’ll givin’ out the meat?” Rev. Cream, a devout man of the cloth, smiled and tried to explain the symbolism behind the sermon, but the look on his face said it all; he wanted to sacrifice Uncle Doc. We all did. But to be honest, he was nothing like that before a run in with the cops left him blind in one eye.

That afternoon, I took my little cousin Madi to the Gallery, so we could shop for my graduation party. I had been accepted to NC State and would be leaving for school at the end of the summer. I couldn’t wait to go away, and as much as I loved the old lady, I was looking forward to getting from underneath Momma’s thumb. But Madi was a whole other thing. He was a few years younger, and as long as I was still home, he was my responsibility. It was one of the hottest summers I could remember, baking. The kind of days that turned your T-shirt into a damp rag, so we grabbed a water ice on Point Breeze before hopping on the 17 to go Downtown. We shopped, got some pizza and cracked for a few numbers in the mall. By the time we got back home, it was close to six o’clock; the regulars were in the same place we left them. As


If They Take You in the Morning

usual, Doc was out there smoking a spliff. He was a connoisseur of all things herbal, or as neighborhood like to call him, “Weedhead Doc.” Sylvester from 23 rd Street was turning on the water plug. Sylvester wasn’t his real name, but he had a heavy lisp and sounded like the cat from the Looney Tunes. He could have been reciting the “I Have a Dreamspeech, and it still would have sounded like, “Sthufferin’ sthuccotash!” Black was also out there, and as usual, he was going back and forth with Uncle Doc. Nigga, you so dark, when God made you, He said, Let there be light.’”

Aw, Doc, I know you ain’t talking. Your family so poor, niggas break in your house to put shit in it.

When Uncle Doc saw us coming up, he said without hesitation, “Keep it movin’, Madi. I don’t want to hear shit from Momma.Madi started complaining, “Come on, Unc, It’s too hot to be stuck up in the house.I told him that Momma was at choir rehearsal anyway. “Chill out, Unc.” But I understood why Uncle Doc was worried. His eye was collateral damage in Ronald Ray gun’s war, and he knew Momma would knock out the other one if he let Madi hang on that corner. Crack was on the block, but Momma was just as worried about police. Their war on drugs made us enemy combatants, crack kid insurgents, whether we carried SK’s or Skittles.

We weren’t on the corner long enough for me to finish drinking my soda when they rolled up from every direction: in cars, vans, on foot, the only thing missing were mounted police and park rangers, but most of us didn’t even bother to run. We were close enough to our houses to spit on the steps.

On the ground, nigger! Hands behind your fuckin’ head!”

It was as much how they talked to you as what they said. I mean, I had seen people shoveling up at the zoo talk better to the animals. And laying there with the sidewalk scraping up my face, knee on my neck, I could hear the summer’s anthem playing in my head: Fuck tha police comin’ straight from the underground/a young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown. Bad. Getting thrown on car hoods and sidewalks with a flashlight and a gun in your face would give any niggaor non-niggaan attitude. I could barely see him, but I could hear Uncle Doc cursing. For every one of their “black bastard’s,” they were at least two or three “dirty ass cops.”


If They Take You in the Morning

I moved my head as much as I could and called out to make sure Madi was alright. Plenty of times, this routine ended with a bunch of people hunched over, handcuffed to the floor of the wagon, everyone else ordered off the street, then they’d find enough crack to put on the trunk of a car for display on the eleven o’ clock news. I heard one of them yell, “Stop resisting!” I could see three or four of them over Uncle Doc, kicking and swinging black jacks. He was grunting and half cursing, but was face down and handcuffed, and the only resisting he was doing was with the back of his head. Two of them snatched me up and threw me in the back of a squad car. Before we pulled off, I saw them drag Uncle Doc, bleeding and half conscious, into the back of the wagon. Everyone dreaded the back of those wagons; people lost stuff in there:

Doc had lost an eye; Snooze from up the block, his life; always resisting of course.

W hen they pushed me through the doors of the station and cuffed me to a chair, I noticed the famous photo of the old police commissioner Frank Rizzo, Mr. No Knock himself, over the desk.

He’s standing in the street wearing a tuxedo, with a black jack sticking out of his cummerbund. Caption reads that he was at a formal event and left in response to some kind of disturbance in the projects. He showed generations of Philly cops how to knock heads, in dress blues or black-tie. They put me in a small room with just a desk and a couple of chairs. Every couple minutes I could hear sneakers squeak and cell doors open and shut. I was anxious, not so much afraid. I knew when to start fearing. But I was most concerned about Madi and Uncle Doc; he looked bad when they took him away. Almost half an hour passed when a cop opened the door, “How old are you?” “Seventeen,” I replied. “Alright, sit tight.Is there any other way? I thought to myself. A little later, the door opened again; this time a short, tanned guy came in. He was skinny, sick looking, like if he coughed, a lung would land in his hand. He introduced himself as Detective Scarfa. He went through the preliminaries. When he read my last name was Battle, he put down his pen on the pad in front of him slowly

and looked at me like someone about to tell a person their mother died.

“You’re in a world of trouble, kid.”

Kid? I thought. What happened to nigger? “For what? I was just standing on my block?”


If They Take You in the Morning

Possessionwith intent to distribute.

Distribute what? I had a Ginger Ale in my hand.

“Kid. You know what I’m talking about.”

This is when the phantom bundle of caps they always seem to find near you on the ground ends up on the table in front of you. Or worse. A few months back they claimed that Snooze reached for an officer’s gun, and that reach got him shot six times. Who they think crazy enough to believe that? Snooze liked to drink and cuss people out, but he probably couldn’t tell a pistol from a shoe horn. It would’ve been more believable if they had said he was reaching for a beer bottle.

“I don’t hustle.”

He ran his hand across his hair and leaned back in his chair. Your last name is Battle, huh? What’s your relationship with Julius Battle?”

“My uncle.”

So, you work for him?”

What you mean, like, wash the dishes when he tell me?

“Don’t be an asshole, kid. Some of the guys we picked up are making things easy for themselves. Do yourself a favor.”

Uncle Doc might’ve smoked a plenty of weed, but he wasn’t in nobody’s drug game. I didn’t care what this detective was talking about; I knew better than to say anything to these people. All they did was lie. I wouldn’t have told him where to find an ashtray full of cigarette butts.

“You don’t look like you’d make it one night in the youth center.” He looked up and down and sucked his teeth.

So, to him, I didn’t look I would make it a night in juvie, but on the corner I looked like a cocaine cowboy. I need to call my house. So they can know where I’m at.”

Scarfa smiled, without showing teeth. “I was trying to help you, kid. Once I leave this room. Nothing I can do for you.”


If They Take You in the Morning

“Man, I’m more worried about what ya’ll want to do to me.”

He picked up his pad and folder and told the uniform to take me to down to holding. I was still a minor, didn’t have anything on me, so eventually they would have to call someone to come get me. I asked the uniform about Madi and Uncle Doc. “They in one piece,” he mumbled. As lumped up as that one piece might be. They can’t reach anybody at your house.He said. That meant I was going be there for a while. I sat on the bench and stared at the flickering light bulb, thought about graduation and going away to school. I couldn’t see a thing through the painted window in the door, and for the first time that night, I was worried. I had let Madi hang on that corner, and Momma was old school, she always made it clear she was not coming to get a soul out of jail. But what was even scarier is what would happen if she did come. This was a woman who believed in stonings and floggings. And while a stoning might be a bit much, a flogging was certainly not out of the question.


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