When I got home tonight, I watched a video of police leaving Laquan McDonald, a black kid, to die in the street. Then I read that the cops shot him sixteen times in fifteen seconds, and that a prosecutor took over a year to decide that the murder of this kid might be a crime. I sat in horror for a minute, awed at how terrible and mundane this all is. After wondering at such a sick juxtaposition of responses, I put my jacket back on and headed to the McDonald’s up the street from me because I’d barely eaten all day.
When I got in line to order, the two guys in front of me were buying a small tea and a small coffee with change, no bills. We got to talking and they asked me what I do for work. When I replied that I’m doing a PhD in sociology, they had about as many research ideas as I did when I was first admitted into the doctoral program (one had a whole set of questions about “back to Africa” movements over time and empirical questions of who, where, when, and how many African Americans have actually moved to Africa – I told him I’d look into it in case I run into him again). When I added that I’m studying at Northeastern, they ran down the history of Northeastern’s expansion into Roxbury with greater detail than I could in the urban sociology course I currently get paid to help teach.
Our orders were held up because one of the McDonald’s employees had a breakdown and started yelling at his coworker “I’m a human being” over and over again. I don’t know what happened to him, his manager ushered him out of sight after the third time he yelled that. As we waited, one of the guys chatted with the remaining employees, moving between Spanish, French, Creole, and Portuguese as he spoke to different workers. I can understand a tiny bit of each of those languages, so I tried to follow as he switched from one to the next, but his skills proved far beyond my comprehension level.
When my fries came, I said goodnight to the two guys and walked out of the store. They both stayed: they’re homeless and had nowhere to be. I only know because we talked about how it’s too bad this McDonald’s closes at 11, it’s already cold out and it’d be a lot easier if homeless people in the neighborhood could stay there through the night, even if it meant wasting money to buy tea and coffee every few hours.
Occasionally, the depths of the horrors going on around us merit a moment of exposition. Then, we move on to doing what we can about it, or we don’t.