The US is exceptional! Watching the racist attack against innocent children in Rosedale, an enclave in Queens, New York shook something in me in addition to the revulsion to the rocks and racist slurs. They were looking to ride their bikes through the then-white enclave in Queens on their way to a fast-food restaurant. They spotted a US flag and thought they were headed toward a parade. The video clip from Bill Moyers Journal (“A Racist Attack on Children Was Taped in 1975. We Found Them,” New York Times, June 21, 2020) of the incident awakened something in me from just five years ago that factored into my leaving an adjunct teaching position at a community college in upstate New York.
Marcus Mendez was one of the best students I taught at the community college level. He sat in the front row of the classroom and his hand was raised for almost every question I asked in class, or for the purpose of joining classroom discussions. I would know Marcus for only seven weeks of his 18 years and then he was mercilessly gunned down on the front steps of his home in Queens, along with his best friend from high school, Peyton Manwaring (“College football player dies after getting caught in Halloween gunfire in Queens,” Daily News, November 6, 2015). Marcus was also a talented football player. He was an ideal student and he is gone. By the time Marcus was murdered, Rosedale had turned into a predominantly Black community, a demographic that the rioting residents (children led the racist attack while adults looked on) of that place in Queens decades earlier must have had in their minds when the kids appeared on bikes riding through the area.
Rosedale was not Neshoba County, Mississippi or Birmingham, Alabama, but a place in New York, a state considered somewhat liberal. New York City is known for its tolerance, but the murder of Eric Garner on Staten Island, and many others, and the harassment and arrest of thousands of people of color caught in the police’s snare of the official policy of stop-and-frisk, turned that long-jettisoned image of liberalism into the reality of racism and segregation that has long plagued that state and the entire US. Today, decades after white flight to places like Rosedale, and then away again, schools in New York City have historic levels of segregation.
I did not know for several days that Marcus had died when I learned about that horror from his department chairperson in an email. It took several hours to reach his department chair by phone, and I was shocked that my stricken and tearful voice was met with absolutely no emotion when I reached the department in which I taught.
The next several days proved instructive and filled with personal grief following Marcus’ murder. I approached a college official on campus a few days after Marcus’ death, and he told me that a police official in New York stated that Marcus was involved in the sale of marijuana. None of the people from Marcus’ community interviewed for several articles about the shooting of the two friends substantiated that claim of drug dealing. Marcus had no record and was not known to the police before his murder. When an article appeared in the New York Times about the two friends’ brutal murders, I attempted to contact one of the journalists who wrote that article but never received a reply.
Marcus remained in the particular classroom where we met for one out of our three weekly classroom meetings to attend another class in his academic program. His professor for that class also felt a powerful connection to Marcus, as her family came to the US from the same island in the Caribbean that Marcus’ family came from.
We discussed the grief that we both felt before her class met and she mentioned that the near-total lack of recognition of Marcus’ death by college officials was very unsettling for her, as well. She created a certificate of excellence for Marcus’ family and out of his instructors, only she and I signed the certificate along with one official from the school.
When I viewed the Rosedale video from all of those years ago, not only did Marcus’ murder and that of his best friend come to mind once again, but the racism that has surfaced all across this nation and around the world because of police murders of people of color was driven home once again. Reading between the lines, the connections of how Marcus’ death was officially portrayed and the reality of his excellence in my class seemed stark reminders of the inequality systemic in this political, economic, and social system.