On May 30, 2020, our city erupted in a fury fuming from race issues that began centuries ago and have overflowed into the present. Three days later, after marching alongside this city, my wife and I sat on the front porch. We witnessed civilians drenched in black clothing clenching signs with fierce and urgent messages written in bold black ink. These unfamiliar protesters walked past our neighbors, who were out in their yard intently watching exactly what we were, although each of these neighbors may have been watching for different reasons.
We streamed the local news on our phones from the porch. As helicopters hummed over our heads, we continued to watch their feeds showing us one block away, portraying the pain and sorrow being protested over the phrase “I can’t breathe.” These protesters began to gather outside of the first district police station in order to declare their grievances with the current state of the nation. Their numbers weren’t overwhelming, maybe one hundred, but it was enough for military presence, rooftop guards, and helicopters.
The diversity of my block has not been overlooked or underappreciated, mixtures of backgrounds who socialize with one another on sun drenched evenings in the cool spring or sweltering summer heat. Elementary aged children on their brightly colored bikes joyously screaming and chasing one another down the middle of the broken pavement most nights of the summer. Neighbors drinking either out of need or want as they play games on the sidewalk or others continuing their never-ending lawn improvements through dusky spring evenings. Yet on that golden and humid day, everything felt different. The military tanks visible from my porch at the end of the block and the constant rumbling of police motorcycles and speeding police vehicles up and down our street brooded over the neighborhood creating a heavy and daunting presence. There weren’t any bliss-filled children on the street that whole evening.
Pictures were posted live on the news of the corner store located directly on the other side of my block; store owner with folded arms, rifle strapped over his shoulder and chest, ready to defend his business. As I drove home earlier that afternoon, I saw one of the many small car lots that litter Lorain had removed their inventory and replaced their presence with heavily boarded windows. Fear had overcome this far corner of the city. The news continued to show images of National Guard and police presence on the rooftops as chants of George Floyd’s name rang in the streets. The march began that afternoon and carried down West 130th right behind our house.
The neighborhood was in movement that night with many people out on their lawns reeling from the tensions from that day and days prior. Quietly a protester sat in his car on our street texting. This action to the distraught working-class neighbor across from this car deemed it a threat to his livelihood as he began to verbally berate the protester screaming at him to leave. The protester with his black shirt and black skin responding with equal frustration. Screaming back at the neighbor, throwing hands and fists out of his used car attempting to make his point and pull away to safety at the same time. The neighbor surpassing the level of anger being brought to him through volume that carried the whole block as multiple neighbors walked off their porches to witness the strain and tensity on display. The used car sped off driving while being chased down by the neighbor in his blue jeans and tall beer in hand.
The words of our nation’s leader the night before and the ominous militaristic existence on the block muted my desire to march alongside our city that day. I felt my voice stifled by fear I have not had to confront yet in my lifetime. Advantages and freedoms I’ve been born into allowing me to choose when I get to put myself in uncertain or threatening situations unlike those who I want to call my brothers and sisters. A peaceful march by those unknown dressed in black and chanting phrases that carry their hurt and frustration. They marched until midnight from 130th to 105th and back, continuing to march into Lakewood and back yet again.
The beauty of the neighborhood diminished ever so slightly that evening. But only momentarily. An ever evolving and fluctuating love and hate that comes with living in a city. So many variables contribute to the allure and frightfulness of an urban landscape, specifically one fraught with its own convoluted history. Hope creeps in shyly but is easily startled. I look to the emphatic neighbor that cuts my yard without even asking, I look to the always generous neighbor who I gave my old couch to, I look to the gracious neighbor who openly invites anyone and everyone to play a game or two on his front lawn, and at the stunningly forgiving children who coalesce on our block every evening as parts of this city clamor to drive forward and other pieces fearfully fight to look back.
Joshua Fye is a graduate of Cleveland State University in Social Work and has been involved in supporting Cleveland’s communities for over five years. He and his wife live in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland with their two cats and one dog. He enjoys spending his time in the city's local coffee shops and metro parks.
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