I spent a couple of nights last week on the lookout for a cloud of rising smoke. From the chimney at the Vatican? No, thank you -- there were already thousands of journalists around the globe fixated on the ancient mystical wizardry in St. Peter's Square. I was a lot more concerned that black smoke was going to rise from the damp, raw streets of East Flatbush, in a corner of Brooklyn many blocks removed from the high-tech glitz of that borough's new Barclays Center. Night after night, hundreds of young people -- most from the neighborhood -- marched on their local police station house because they wanted answers to a simple question.
Why was a 16-year-old boy named Kimani Gray shot seven times by the New York cops -- three times in the back?
Of course, I had to follow the waves of Brooklyn protest -- which teetered for a time on the brink of a riot -- by way of Twitter, since the mainstream media gave very slight, and usually belated, coverage to the doings in East Flatbush. I guess issues of law and order, civil rights and civil unrest, and the right to assemble on a major street right here in the United States can't really compete with the nearly 2000-year-old rituals of wrinkled men with their bright robes and their white smoke.
Still, I couldn't help but think that -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- there's something happening here. Maybe it was because East Flatbush wasn't the only place in America where unusual things were taking place -- the scattered shrieks of regular people who've been pushed to the edge. As the protests in Brooklyn dragged on, I heard the annual budget speech from the mayor of Philadelphia drowned out and finally shut down by the voice of angry blue-collar municipal workers, frustrated that City Hall will no longer listen to them. Just a couple of weeks ago and about 10 blocks away, so many Philly teens, parents and teachers were so upset at the knee-jerk closing of 23 neighborhood public schools that they filled the expanse of Broad Street as they tried to flood the room where the vote was taking place.
There were 19 people arrested at the Philly school shutdown; about 45 arrested in various encounters and scuffles with the NYPD in Brooklyn. All of these events were treated by the media as a total out-of-left-field shock -- as if a spaceship had landed from Mars and deposited these mad-as-hell aliens on the hardscrabble streets of the inner city. And if you haven't been paying attention, you'd indeed think these scattered events had nothing to do with each other. But to the contrary, the same river of bruised blood runs through all of them -- people who are at long last tired of the drumbeat of disrespect.