I like reading books about the Bronx in the 1970s. It makes me feel like we’ve made progress in my adopted neighborhood. Yes, the violent crime rate is currently about twice the national average, almost a third of the population live below the poverty line, crack is still everywhere you turn, and there is one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the country. But at least it’s not on fire anymore. “The Bronx is Burning?” Apparently there was a time when that wasn’t just a book or an ESPN drama. It was a response to, “How are things in NYC?” “Oh, not bad. You know. The Bronx is burning.”
Things are better. But safety is still a concern. Try as I might, I can only blend in so much. People see a professionally dressed white girl in the projects, and for some reason just assume that I don’t live there. I might as well wear a “Social Worker” sandwich board out on my visits. As I’ve mentioned, for a lot of people, “Social Worker” equals “Baby Snatcher,” so I do try to watch myself.
There was a huge fight outside the office today. Five cop cars and an ambulance showed up. This was pretty remarkable, because the police tend not to respond when we call. Domestic violence they don’t mind, but apparently this multi-person fight was too big to ignore. I know, because I was watching intently out the window with my coworkers.
Later in the day, my supervisor pulled a couple of us aside, telling us to be careful. One of the building custodians informed her that the fight was gang related. The guys have been flashing their guns around, and there’s probably going to be a shooting soon.
I started laughing. I couldn’t help it. How exactly does one “be careful” during a random shooting on the street, if one happens to be on said street? There aren’t a whole lot of options. “You get down on the ground,” my supervisor told me. “Yeah,” I said. “And then I won’t have far to fall when I get shot.” I was informed that I was not to get shot. It was not allowed. Much like fraternizing with the clients or eating labeled food out of the fridge, being murdered while on the job, apparently, was simply not permitted.
I have never been a stickler for the rules. But I am trying to follow this one.