Originally published October 3, 1995, by Mike Barnicle for The Boston Globe
Yesterday, nearly all the excitement and most of the news revolved around games where scores are kept and losers are defined by the lower number. You had the Patriots and Boston College both reeling in defeat as the Red Sox stood stageright, waiting to perform this evening in Cleveland, where the unexpected is set to occur: meaningful October baseball.
But on the trains and sidewalks where life is too often a series of low expectations never met, the sun merely washed over another afternoon filled with a dreary reality. This is the land of suspects and victims, of kids waiting to be arrested and kids waiting to get shot.
We are on Bowdoin Street in Dorchester, in the middle of the Four Corners area, where gang colors are right off hockey jerseys and the discussion is about who’s been rousted by detectives looking for the shooter in the death of Paul R. McLaughlin, the assistant attorney general killed a week ago. Here, nearly everyone has a season ticket to mayhem.
“I watch the nature show on TV, then I go out,” the boy is saying. “I like the shows where the lion eats the animals. It’s a good show. It’s exciting.”
It is early afternoon. The boy gives his age as 14. He is down with “The Devils” and his day began in a dirt alley behind a threedecker where he hid heroin he intended to sell to white guys who drive back and forth along the boulevard, spending lunch hour looking for a high.
Now, he is on the corner glancing in different directions as if there were a slowmotion tennis match being played on the street in front of him. He is talking about his friend, Cedric Middleton, who got dragged out of a house last week, caught while hiding from police because he was suspected of shooting at the sky in a neighborhood filled with women and children who were sitting on stoops in broad daylight.
“He gone now,” the boy said. “They got him.”
Middleton is 17 and in jail. During the summer, his mother had called the cops and begged them to pick her son up and charge him with something, anything. “Please arrest my son,” she had urged.
Middleton was grabbed in August, went to court and was placed on probation. He was offered the chance to choose South Carolina over jail, and he picked the trip south to live with relatives instead of a lockup.
But the pull of the street is too strong, like some bizzare tide, with a natural strength all its own. And a few weeks after state troopers put Middleton on a plane, he was back on the boulevard, firing a gun in full view of too many to issue any denial.
The 14 year old has no concept of the type of reality you feel this morning as you get ready for work or prepare your children for their very own pleasant school day. He has his TV, his crew, his heroin, a few dollars in his pocket and a vague plan to perhaps hook up with a girl at night.
His mother married a crack pipe when he was 8. Before that, the boy saw his sister sodomized by one of his mother’s boyfriends. He says this took place right there in the bed he shared with her. The sister was 11 at the time.
Now, the mother is in MCI Framingham and he lives with his grandmother in a brokendown building where the adults are either too old, too tired or too afraid to stop the kids from opening the door to streets that can swallow them whole. And the street, for hundreds, is like the lion he enjoys watching on his favorite wildlife shows: It is forever hungry, with a ferocious appetite and tremendous strength, all the while stalking its prey with great skill and incredible speed.
The lure of the street is simple, its attraction totally understandable, given the surroundings a lot of children run from: If you lived as they do, you would be on the corner, too.
They have their own rules, and nobody is ever too young to do anything at all: have sex, fire a gun, sell dope, steal a car, die. They have little idea what the word leader means. They do not care what verdict is rendered in the Simpson case. They may like one or two ballplayers and might prefer one sport to another, but the only things that cause them to dream are girls, clothes and money. And they are under tremendous pressure to obtain all three by any means necessary, which is why it is foolish to think that the oldest of evils murder cannot be committed by the youngest of children.
I know this is depressing and that all of you me included would prefer to lose ourselves temporarily in games where scores are kept neatly and our emotions rise or fall with victory or loss. Imagine what it is like, though, when you can’t, when you are 14 and this is your life.