Elian Nation

Scenes from a splintered city

The protesters, a safe distance from advancing police at Flagler and NW 25th Avenue, turn their attention to an old man with a wooden plank who is smashing up a bus shelter. Chocolate and two others help him by kicking at it. Other men throw newspaper racks into the street and stomp them.

Suddenly the crowd notices a line of ten tow trucks idling in a nearby vacant lot. "Fuck them!" someone yells and throws a rock. As if on command, a volley of rocks flies through the air and the drivers scramble into their vehicles. At least one window is smashed. In a cloud of dust, the trucks zoom off in different directions. That incident alarms the cops. A shiny black Pontiac Grand Prix zooms up and helmeted officers jump out. They chase down a skinny man in shorts and arrest him.

Eventually police are successful in pushing the crowd down side streets. Standoffs continue at SW First Street and 27th Avenue, where several people have lit some automobile tires on fire. But the collective energy seems to have been spent.

By 4:00 p.m. things have quieted down. Chocolate takes advantage of the lull to go home, change, and wait for the cover of night. "Things are definitely going to get crazy," he says eagerly. But he seems confused. He reiterates that he's not trying to hurt anyone, and cloaks his intentions in the familiar refrain of that day: People are just exercising their constitutional right to demonstrate. "We're allowed to do this," he says, adding that the police are the ones provoking the clashes. "Janet Reno and them, they done that kid dirty. And that hurt me; to see that hurt me."

By 7:00 p.m. he's back on the street in gray nylon sweat pants and white T-shirt. He joins a group of teenagers sitting on a wall two blocks from the Gonzalez house. One seventeen-year-old gives only his street name, Mive. A chubby fifteen-year-old in a 2-Pac T-shirt doesn't want to identify himself at all. "Call him Fat Boy," Mive says.

"That was some craziness out there today," Chocolate offers. "Look at his face."

Mive turns his head so his cheek better catches the streetlight's glow. Under his left eye are two scratches. "I was outside the house when they came to get [Elian]," Mive says. "As soon as I saw 'em coming in, I jumped the fence. I got hit in the face with the butt of a gas gun. The cop says to me: 'Motherfucker, you come any closer and I'm gonna kill you.' But as soon as they took him, we started banging with the cops."

"Hell yeah!" Chocolate exclaims.

"Fuck that shit," Mive continues. "City of Miami hauled ass. They were scared of us." Then Mive leans forward conspiratorially. "Tell you what, you stay cool and we'll take you to a place tonight and let you see us really set it off. We all gonna meet at Rey's Pizza at nine."

Chocolate and Fat Boy decide to walk down to Flagler to check things out. The thoroughfare is empty and quiet. Trash is scattered everywhere. Red and blue police lights pulse in the darkness. Chocolate mischievously recalls the earlier confrontation with police and ponders the possibility of a repeat. But when he and Fat Boy make it back to the wall near the Gonzalez home, Fat Boy's mother, a short round woman with cinnamon hair, is waiting for him. "Where you been?" she demands. "I so worried." She beckons and he leaves.

Chocolate heads for Rey's Pizza but only a few people are there. Mive is huddling at a table with some older men. Chocolate sits nearby and says excitedly that he's heard gangs like the Latin Bad Boys and International Posse are going to show up.

Then the men with Mive stand up and depart. Mive himself mounts a skateboard and disappears into the night. Chocolate's gaze follows them, a crestfallen look on his face. "They're going home to watch the news," he says, obviously deflated.

Around 11:00 p.m. Chocolate walks along Flagler, stepping over a toppled street sign and sidewalk graffiti that reads, "Clinton maricón" (Clinton faggot). He bumps into an older couple and chats briefly with them in Spanish. There's a midnight curfew, they tell him. He continues his walk. "It's pitiful, man," he laments. "Everybody's feeling dead. They're all saying they're destroyed and need to go home. I'm sorry to say it but I'm disappointed in my people. We're supposed to keep on destroying, but we let the cops take us over."

Then he turns, slump-shouldered, and heads up a dark empty street toward home.

--Tristram Korten


Fragments

Two hours after armed soldiers battered down the door of the Gonzalez home in Little Havana, the sun rises on the safe zone of Surfside. Inside the Carousel Barber Shop. an elderly gentleman flips through the latest Playboymagazine, lingering over a list of dirty jokes. A younger customer, still old enough to be a great-grandfather, takes a seat for the first cut of what surely will be a long day.

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