I never felt unsafe as a child and I do remember doing Duck and Cover drills under my desk at school during the Cuban Missile crisis part of the Cold War. My parents always lived in safe neighborhoods and I don’t remember that much crime being close by me, so I guess I was blessed. For a good portion of my life, I lived in South Plainfield, New Jersey and I always felt safe there. Plainfield, the city just north of me had riots in 1967 and it was just one of 159 race riots that swept cities in the United States that year. This riot was a series of racially charged violent disturbances that occurred in Plainfield, and it mirrored the bigger riots that took place in Newark. A fight broke out at a local diner, The White Star and the next night outside agitators came into Plainfield to provoke more violence. Rioting and looting occurred and Molotov cocktails were thrown at fire trucks responding to calls, but the police got a break when a heavy rain dispersed the crowd.
Members of the Pagans a white motorcycle gang entered the area and confronted a large group of young black men. Police Officer John Gleason placed himself between the two groups and two members of the mob beat him with a steel grocery store cart, kicked and stomped and eventually shot and killed with his own service revolver. My parents warned me to stay out of Plainfield and I was always cautious when I went there. A few years later, I got a job working at Great Eastern, a department store on Route 22 in North Plainfield. I became good friends with a black kid who worked in my department and I gave him a ride home several times. He used to tell me not to stop the car, that he would jump out while it was still rolling and he was even afraid to be in Plainfield at night.
One time my house did get robbed by some one or a group of thieves that broke into it in the day time, gaining access by breaking the back window. There were woods behind our house and that must be the way they approached, as none of the neighbors noticed anything unusual when they were interviewed by the police. We had a dog and I was the first one home that day and I heard the dog barking and he was shut into a downstairs room, which was peculiar. I saw the broken window on the back door, but I never put two and two together and I was clueless that we had been burglarized. I had to get a hair cut that day, as my parents were on my case about it being too long, so I rushed out to do that after I walked the dog. When I got back from the barber shop, I saw two police cars at my house.
My parents always kept me safe, but things were different back in the day. Sure, there were pictures of missing children on milk bottles, but none of them lived near me. I did live in Milwaukee when I was young, but that was way before Jeffery Dahmer was killing people and eating them. The kids today have lived through a pandemic which has changed the whole world and I am sure that many of them will take a long time to process this. Hey, whatever doesn’t kill you is supposed to make you stronger, so there may be a whole generation of fighters out there now.
Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #187 quote prompt, “We don’t need you to make us feel safe, because you made us feel brave.”