It was the summer after my first year of college and to take my showroom-new independence for a test drive, I initiated a trip to Philly for Greek Fest. You know how it is when you plan activities with groups of young, broke folks: what started out as a mass excursion of about 10 girls hyped and ready to go fizzled down to just me and one ride-or-die friend by the time the day rolled around. That didn’t matter to us. We still went to the park and we still had a ball—so much so that by evening, we had a handful of invites and activities to get into. We chose to hang out on South Street, where most of the people we’d become fast friends with were going to be.
I’d heard stories here and there about young women being attacked during festivities at the Greek, but like most starry-eyed gals that age rocking the spirit of invincibility like body armor, I wrote it off as a thing that happened to unknown girls who were acting out of pocket. I’d seen more than a few chicks riding on the backs of bikes in nothing but thongs, their booties all out on display for any dude to see, touch and disrespect. They made me and my homegirl look downright prudish, me in my Limited khaki shorts and tank top and her in jeans and a white wife beater.
As we were walking through the crowd, a band of guys stopped to warn us: “They’re ripping girls’ clothes off down there.” Thinking we dodged the danger, we thanked them for the heads up and pivoted to head back to the car. Then, the impending drama: I turned to make a comment to my friend and she wasn’t standing there. She was about five feet behind me on the ground, screaming, clawing, punching at six or seven dudes who were circled around her, pawing at her like animals.
I screeched “Get off her! Get off her!” and bowled myself into the bunch, but even though I ain’t never been skinny, I got lifted away and pummeled to the ground by more guys than I could count. It felt like I was in a car wash of balled fists and slaps and yanks. They punched me in my jaw. They pulled me by my hair to get better access to my body. They tore a chunk of flesh from my left breast. And yes, they successfully ripped my shorts, my panties and my shirt off my body. Then, just as randomly as they showed up, they were gone and I staggered to my feet, clutching onto a shred of something or another that had been left behind in the melee to cover the front of my body. Sans my bra, which had somehow survived—with my car keys inside one of the cups—I was almost naked. It was, without a doubt, the most humiliating few steps I’ve ever taken.
Alas, I didn’t get very far. The crowd parted to let me and my bloody, beaten self walk through. Suddenly, like something out of a horror movie, another surge of dudes knocked me into the doorjamb of a closed business and I was mollywhopped again. The side of my face pressed into the sidewalk was the only part that didn’t get hit. They were trying to take my cover-up and my bra to make my nudeness complete. If it weren’t for a guy who miraculously pulled them off me, I can only let my mind wander into the horrors of what else could’ve—and more than likely would’ve—happened.
That’s my own personal horror story from a Black event gone wrong, terrifying at the time to me but nothing compared to some of the experiences other folks have had. Too many people have not made it out alive at massive get-togethers for me to throw myself too big of a pity party. Common sense says we should all be able to have a good time surrounded by the comfortable familiarity and undisturbed safety of people who look like us. Headlines, alas, say different. From Black Bike Week in South Carolina to Black Expo in Indiana, the possibility of random outbreaks of violence hang over our gatherings often enough to keep those of us who do venture out on edge and keep another bulk of us right in the protective, trouble-free sanctity of our homes.
My mama’s favorite line is: “When too many Negroes get together, at least one of them is not gonna know how to act.” And our track record is proof positive. If I had a dollar for every news story that showed a brother in handcuffs getting carted into a squad car for showing his crazy tail at some public event, I’d have enough money to bail two or three of them suckas out. Not that I’d want to.
Just last week in Brooklyn, gunshots rang out in three incidents surrounding the annual West Indian Day parade, and it ain’t the first time gunplay has made celebrating dangerous for the Caribbean massive. I know a whole lot of folks who won’t set foot on Eastern Parkway on Labor Day weekend, flag-waving pride or not. There are too many people in too tight of a space to break out into a run in case some fool starts popping shots or some dummies start fighting because somebody got their sneakers stepped on or their drink spilled.
I can’t even begin to offer up a thoughtful solution or even a possible reason behind these routine bouts of violence, but it’s a subject that surely needs to be discussed. Homecoming season is on deck and sure as I’m sitting here, there will be trouble on some campus somewhere because, unfortunately, that’s just par for the course when it comes to Black social gatherings like those. You might get your drink on, you might get a dance or two in but at some point, that familiar tension will waft up and people will get to scattering.
I don’t usually end my posts with a question but I gotta know: why do you think violence mars so many of our celebrations and special events?