this landing. Breakfast out here sometimes. Watermelon, too. Never on the front stoop. Couldn’t let the white fokes see the black fokes enjoying a watermelon. Antonia’s law. A law Henry follows to this day. How many watermelons gotta be ruined in my family before we leave this one behind?
Behind him, the front door slams. Another moan catches in his chest. He stops breathing.
“Hands up! NYPD!” comes the shout. Deep, manly, white authority. Henry steps out onto the landing.
The voice again. “Hands up, Mister.”
Henry runs down the back stairs, out into the yard where he is tackled by the other cop.
“Why’d you run, boy? Why’d you run?” with each question another fist, knee, elbow, foot. Henry is sobbing hard again, the reflex too strong to control, to explain, to tell these men that are beating his body as if it is their civil right, that this house was once his grandfather’s house, that Duke Ellington stayed here, and Effa Manley. Joe Louis came over, the Nicholas Brothers—Fayard and Harold—and ballplayers, politicians, businessmen, soldiers, all good people who tried to make the country great, and safe for their black grandchildren—one of whom these white men are beating the crap out of right in his own backyard. In this moment the irony strikes again, and Henry giggles, then cackles uncontrollably through a bloody red mouth and loosened bloody teeth, his hysteria making the police hit harder—you should know that—which steels the irony, turns up the juice on the crazy cackle and so on, and in this way, the prophecy of a dark, dark justice comes true to a very black young man.
Black Man Running, 1969 — 7