A Tale of Two Lower East Siders

Jayson TiradoI’m a resident Lower East Sider. I don’t teach around here, but my heart, soul, and body still resides here. So when news from this area comes out, my ears perk up. We’ve had some of the more peculiar and iconic events happen around these parts, yet they hardly get recognized because 1) people didn’t care too much about our hood or 2) it’s become the mecca of immense gentrification, which is happening around here and the neighboring East Village.

The latest tragedy here is that of Jayson Tirado, who was shot by an off-duty police offer on Sunday, October 28th, 2007. Tirado, and the off-duty police officer, had an argument while in a traffic jam in Upper Manhattan. Officer Sean Sawyer, the cop, turned himself after shooting up Tirado’s car, which also had 2 of Tirado’s friends. As of now, the local papers have called it a serious case of road rage, but most people around my way call it another case of police brutality, as Tirado had no weapon on him and there was no real reason to do anything to him. He pointed his finger at the officer, but that was really it.

Of course, the officer, who is Black, claimed self-defense, so he’s not in jail right now, but it got me to thinking about the various stereotypes we hold against young men and women in our neighborhoods, and how we can transform those if we saw beyond the surface just a little bit. This was a husband and father of two, and someone who his family loved very much. They came out in packs for the man at his funeral at the Ortiz Funeral Home on 1st and 1st, and yet, because he listens to a certain type of music, hangs with a certain type of people, and wears braids in his hair, he’s already pegged as a drug-dealing young dropout low-life.

It’s easy for Black and Latino conservatives or semi-conservatives will look at the man and say, “Well he shouldn’t have been wearing those braids, and rocking those clothes, or being who he is.” Imagine if someone told you you couldn’t be who you were, even if you weren’t hurting anyone. But his image alone seems to disturb the self-righteous into that type of thinking.

As someone who chose a more academic and hence alternative route, I, too, was brainwashed into believing guys like him were holding our community back. Then again, I also grew up in a time when people compared this side of the neighborhood to Beirut, with people shooting people from behind an edifice, and blue caps lined the cracks on the concrete. And people who looked like Jayson were conduits for that type of behavior. Then again, people who were in Sean’s profession often instigated that violence, leaving some of these materials under park benches readily.

What changed my mind after looking at all these images weren’t the cases of Amadou Diallo (who used to work at a deli I frequented),  Anthony Baez, Abner Louima, or Timothy Stansbury. It was when my brother told me that a family friend, 17 year old kid at the time, had gotten slashed in the face. I said, “Wow, that’s what you get for being up in the street like that.” And my brother goes, “Yeah, well it’s ’cause he beat some dude in basketball and he slashed him. That’s how much you know.”

Shit. Here I was thinking I was lifting my people, but I was really leaving them behind, and that’s disheartening. Since then, I’ve made real concerted efforts to become more knowledgeable about what happens in the community. While I can’t discuss some of the things I do, I’ll say that a simple conversation with neighbors, waving to people I never used to talk to, and things of that nature have really made me proud of being from this still poor neighborhood. I’m not proud of the negative things that come out of the ‘hood, but I don’t disown it for the sake of appeasing some authority.

In many ways, that’s why the hood hates Bill Cosby, but appreciates Malcolm X. We stick by our local leaders, but hate people like Oprah who come out against hip-hop like they’re saviors, and appeasing their masters by selling us out. If I could borrow a comment from one of my favorite sites to visit:

“… Bill doesn’t talk, he preaches. He doesn’t agitate, he sermonizes. A lot of us are sick of it and here’s why. First, if you want to motivate someone, you don’t scold or make them feel bad. You nurture them, you take take positive behavior, build on it. How does Bill attempt to motivate? By finding the worst examples and bashing black folks over the head with it– in front of white audiences on Meet the Press. Second, Bill is educated and already knows that we’re talking structural vs cultural arguments, with what comes down to one feeding on the other. People are poor and feel hopeless, and they do what all poor people do– blame and take it out on the closest people to them– ” – mac

I don’t know much about Jayson’s life other than what the local media’s distributed, but I can tell you I feel for his family and I send my condolences. It’s not everyday when someone’s death helps refocus another person’s life. Thanks.

jose, who’ll always be from the hood …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Jose VilsonA Tale of Two Lower East Siders