Almost twenty-five years ago, while attending graduate school in Newark, I visited Jersey City to meet a good friend of mine. I was accompanied by two other friends of mine. They–J__ and R__–were Cuban-American and brothers; J__ was an undergraduate at my graduate school, and R__, his handyman brother. We arrived at my friend’s apartment building and found him not present. On asking around, we were told he might have gone to a nearby bar–on Monticello Avenue– for a drink. We walked over, looked for him, didn’t find him and decided to walk back to our car and head home.
As we walked back in the fading light, a dozen or so men came running at us, shouting at us to stop and show IDs. Suddenly, we were surrounded; it’s no exaggeration to say that ‘we were jumped. I think I might have seen a badge or two flashed at us. Presumably, these were plainclothes cops. I had no idea why we were being so accosted. But my guess is that because Monticello Ave often featured drug sales, we were regarded as potential customers, returning from a deal.
I produced my college ID and driving license, hoping that the sight of the former would help. I was searched, quickly and roughly. Unfortunately, R__ carried no ID. As the cops shouted at him to produce one and pushed him, J__ said, “He doesn’t have ID, let him be.’ The policeman rounded on J__ , told him to shut up, and said they would take R__ to the precinct for questioning. J__ protested again. Both brothers were then summarily shoved–perhaps handcuffed, I cannot remember–into the back of a car and driven off. As they did so, I told them to sit tight, that I would come get them.
I stared at the receding car, stunned, by the turn of events. What had we done wrong?
I quickly ran to my friend’s apartment and checked to see if he had returned. M__ had. I told him what had happened and asked him if he would accompany me to check in on J__ and R__. We drove to the nearest precinct and asked to see our friends We were told they had been taken to another station for fingerprinting. Fingerprinting? For what? Had they been arrested and charged with a crime? No one seemed to know.
We drove to the station we had been directed to. They were not there. When we inquired further, we were told they had left. I then asked how they could have left when they didn’t have a car, and when I had told them that I would pick them up. This query was met with a shrugged shoulder or two.
M__ and I left, and drove around on the surrounding streets, looking for the two brothers. There was no sign of them. We drove back to M__’s apartment building, hoping they might have somehow found their way back there. No luck. Finally, M__ and I gave up; he went home and I drove back to Elizabeth, New Jersey.
The next morning I received a call from J__; after their fingerprinting had been completed, the two brothers had been placed in separate cars, driven out to a dark, deserted stretches of highways–for R__it was the Belleville Turnpike–and dropped off with an admonition to never return to Jersey City. They were left to walk home–to Arlington–from there. It was the final twist of the blade, a little reminder of just who the bosses were.
Presumably, J__ and R__ were busted for ‘disturbing the peace.’ They were, however, never charged with any crime. I suppose the war on drugs made it all worthwhile.