A let­ter to the man who jabbed my son

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Anand Pan­dian Anand Pan­dian teaches an­thro­pol­ogy at the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity; his email is pan­dian@jhu.edu.

Dear Neigh­bor, Please for­give me for this odd way of get­ting in touch. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t think we’ve met. But I’ve been think­ing about you all morn­ing, wish­ing that we had the chance to talk face to face. I’m still trou­bled by what you did on the Mon­day night be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, around the cor­ner from where I live in Bal­ti­more. I can’t make sense of why you jabbed my8-year-old boy.

I have a daugh­ter too. She’s close to 4, and she’s learn­ing how to ride a bike. I was walk­ing be­side her as she was ped­al­ing along 37th Street that evening, around 6 p.m. She was re­ally ex­cited, it was the first time she’d ever ped­aled on a bi­cy­cle out­side the house. I was try­ing to help her steer, teach­ing her how to use the brakes. My son was tag­ging along a bit farther down the street. His grand­fa­ther was also nearby. They saw you, but I didn’t.

I have to ad­mit, my son was al­ready a lit­tle up­set. He was hop­ing to play Poke­mon Go while we walked, but I didn’t give him my phone. That might have been why he was hang­ing back a bit as we were walk­ing. I thought this was why he had tears in his eyes when he caught up with us. But then it turns out you hurt him while walk­ing past.

Maybe you re­mem­ber what my son looks like — he was wear­ing a blue jacket and a yel­low hoodie. He has black hair and brown skin. He told us that he heard you come up be­hind him. He told us that you looked at each other un­der the street­light. He told us that he stepped aside to let you pass. He told us that you stepped over right be­hind him, in­stead of walk­ing past when he’d given you the chance.

He told us that you had some kind of sharp, metal­lic stick in your hand. He told us that you jabbed it into his back with the words “Get out of my way, you boy!” He told us that he wasn’t in your way when you did this to him. Then you dis­ap­peared into the dark­ness.

I know hardly any­thing about you. The de­tails I have come from an 8-year-old child. Black sweat­shirt, black pants, black hat, white skin. He said that there was a white cir­cle on your shirt with some words on it. He couldn’t re­mem­ber the words. I’m try­ing to imag­ine what they might have said. I’m won­der­ing whether they carry some kind of ex­pla­na­tion for what you did.

Be­lieve me, I’m try­ing my ut­most not to as­sume any­thing. There have been so many aw­ful erup­tions of hate and racial vi­o­lence in this coun­try over the last cou­ple weeks. I re­ally don’t want to leap to that con­clu­sion. But here’s what I just can’t fig­ure out. You wanted him out of your way. He got out of your way. Why, then, did you step be­hind him just to jab him? My child kept re-en­act­ing this with a pair of Lego pieces that night. Why were you so an­gry? What did you see, when you looked at him un­der the street­light? I can’t shake th­ese ques­tions.

I know we are re­cent ar­rivals in the Ham­p­den area, a his­tor­i­cally white, mill town neigh­bor­hood. But my son was born here, a few miles up the road at GBMC. I re­mem­ber how my voice cracked when I set the baby car­rier on our front porch for the first time, told him with a sense of awe, “You’re home.” He and his sis­ter have grown up wan­der­ing up and down th­ese city streets, chas­ing after squir­rels, throw­ing rocks in the stream, stop­ping at the Charmery in Ham­p­den for an ice cream cone even on nights as cold as that Mon­day’s. We are not in your way. We are from here as much as you are. And we are grate­ful to share this city with peo­ple of so many kinds.

My son was wear­ing a lot of lay­ers that night. He com­plained about his back hurt­ing for a cou­ple of hours, but he wasn’t hurt so badly. I can for­give you for what you did. I re­minded him, over din­ner that night, that all of us strike out wildly when we’re up­set. Brood­ing over some­thing or other, we kick rocks down the street in anger, even if those rocks have done noth­ing to de­serve those blows. I told my son it might have been some­thing like that. I think he un­der­stood.

Bal­ti­more is chang­ing quickly, like so many other places in this coun­try. There’s a lot that I’m also wor­ried about. But I’m try­ing my best to be hope­ful about where we’re headed, for the sake of my chil­dren, if for noth­ing else. My son told me that you looked about my age. Maybe you have kids too. Maybe our kids have even played to­gether on the school play­ground on 37th.

We­may not have met yet, but I still hope we have the chance to talk some­time, un­der less dark and threat­en­ing cir­cum­stances. We may have more in com­mon than you think.

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