Peacocks and Roosters and Saturday nights…
They were the kind of young men – boys really – who one sees throughout the neighbourhood. Most of the houses here in the South Peninsula (in Halifax) are old turn-of the-war, or older homes that have been re-constructed as three and four bedroom apartments for the university crowd (SMU is a two-minute walk from here, Dalhousie and King’s – 10 min.)
These particular boys looked just like every other middle-class mall-oriented young Nova Scotian that I see everyday milling about the neighbourhood. The types of boys my mother would regard as ‘clean cut’.
When you live in the South Peninsula you see students like these everywhere. They swarm the supermarkets on Discount Tuesdays (10% discount), and they fill the cafes with their aspirations, their ideas, their gossip, and their exasperations regarding an academic process which they feel is largely out of touch with the real world.
These particular boys were as typical as typical could get. They looked like future accountants, and young bankers and lawyers, and over-achieving young businessmen.
They were the type of respectful boy who still addresses an older man by “sir”.
To the casual observer they were otherwise innocuous and as yet formless kind of young man we have come to expect in our university graduate.
There was not a jock amongst them. As I watched the event unfold – (like clockwork) – I saw too that there were no Black youth, nor any women.
“It’s a lethal combination” I say to the young man standing beside me.
“There’s no one to run interference…it’s all boys.”
“Why does it matter?”
“It usually doesn’t.”
So, we stand at the window of the shelter – a shelter for homeless youth – and we watch as the storm brews out on the horizon of our world.
A co-worker has already called 911 to tell them what is happening on our street. She is instructed to stay on the line and that a car will be there within 5 minutes.
“What’s the difference between you and those guys” I ask aloud, as all the shelter youth are now at the window gawking at the unfolding street spectatcle. “Besides the obvious differences of money and family and opportunity.”
“What?” one of them responds as he stares out the window.
“Do they look any smarter than you?”
“So, what’s the difference then?”
We stand and we watch as the storm steadily gathers on the horizon of this other world of youth, and we watch as the predictable unfolded.
We had already called 911 and told them about what was to happen – and my co-worker keeps the 911 woman abreast of what was going on as we waited.
A five minute police response is, I think, a reasonable response time in a Canadian city the size of Halifax. I am comfortable knowing that the police are only ever 5 minutes away.
But, if you have ever been in a fist fight – especially when 30-40 young men combust into a mini-riot, you know that five minutes flares into eternity.
The boys were already in Peacock Phase when I first got called to the front window by some of the shelter youth. Then the crowd of roosters on the street grew rapidly as a seemingly endless number of boys piled out of the house – all with beers in hand. Still, even with everyone coming out of the house, I saw no young women. (I realized then that this was the worse kind of house party. It was a men-only kind of university party. The closeted and not-so-closeted misogynists. The drinking. The testosterone. The impotency.)
(A quick-and-dirty generalization, I know, but you get my drift.)
A shove. And then another. There’s an over-the-shoulder punch from the so-called friend who’s standing behind you because he says he’s “got your back”, and then a wild round-house sucker punch at someone from out of no-where– the ignition – the spark – and for the next couple of minutes all hell breaks loose.
Boys pile in – and then run back out – and then pile in again.
A spindly boy is hit in the head with a beer bottle, and falls, and is kicked repeatedly by two other men as he goes down.
The 911 dispatcher now calls for an ambulance.
Within seconds the melee breaks off into skirmishes of 6-8-10 boys across the front streets of four houses.
We run to the door as the boy on the ground is motionless and unable to protect himself against the tyranny of boots. From the porch I yell at the two cowards kicking the kid on the street and tell them to stop. Some of the shelter youth threaten to come over and show them what a real ass-kicking is about.
It was enough to make them hesitate and stop – and then the flashing lights of the cop car breaks around the corner and most of the boys scatter to the wind. Within 2 more minutes another ten cruisers appear from all directions and very quickly a dozen boys are in handcuffs.
Throughout all of this, one of our angrier shelter boys – wants to join the melee.
“Look at them,” he says excitedly. “They fight like girls.” I look at him. He has a glint in his eye. I think about an earlier talk we had had about the physical abuse he received growing up. I remember that he likes to watch UFC fighting.
“Why would you want to go out there?” one of the girls asks him.
“It would be fun.”
“How exactly, is that fun?”
I can see he has no way of explaining what he feels.
“No one leaves the porch” I remind everyone again. “You all know it would be an immediate discharge from the house if you do.” (We are the only ‘one-person-to-a-bedroom’ youth shelter in town. Privacy – a room to yourself – is our ultimate trump card in trying to keep homeless youth long enough to begin healing them of their various afflictions. And PTSD’s. And addictions.)
The cops are still on the street when I leave at shift change, and as I turn the corner on my way home, another house spews forth another group of angry young men – who stumble out onto the street right in front of me.
Roosters and Peacocks, every one of them.
The end of university and the rites of spring.
Act Two, I think to myself, as I skirt around them, the sound of another police siren wailing in my ear.