September 1993: Dinner conversation . . .
“They glared at me and started doing something strange with their hands. Making some kind of hand signals at me.”
My wife thought it was a variation of the hook-em horns sign displayed by loyal University of Texas fans. After all, the event was ordinary enough. When backing the mini-van out of the garage earlier that afternoon, Sandy saw two teens wearing baggy pants coming down the alley. She thought their attire was a bit out-of-place because it’s blazing hot in Dallas in September.
Later the same day, just before dinner, my thirteen-year-old son, Erik, and I were in the backyard talking about his football season which was about to begin. He was excitedly telling me about starting at center, but as he spoke, I noticed a couple of teens like the ones Sandy later described. They were walking down the edge of our driveway, then disappeared around the side of our house.
“Erik, who are those guys? I’ve never seen them before.”
“I don’t know,” he replied.
They looked suspicious. Their body language was covert, part slump, part swagger. They didn’t really look at us; they peered. I suspected they were the same kids.
“Erik, stay here. I want to see what they’re up to.”
I rounded the corner of the house and saw two teens fidgeting with something on the bricked wall of our house.
“Hey guys. What’s happening?” I asked casually.
“Nothing,” the shorter fellow said, looking startled.
“We’re just cutting through,” he added, as they moved away from our house.
“What’s your name?”
“And what’s your name?” I asked the bigger fellow.
He just glared back, hitching his thumbs in the waistband of his pants. He wore them low, just above his crotch-so low, in fact, that several inches of his boxer shorts were exposed. This is a trendy absurdity common to many rap music groups.
“What’s your name?” I asked again.
The bigger, stronger youth, about five-foot ten-inches, seemed to bristle as he glared and arched his back.
“Hey! No big deal. I just want to know your name.”
With a practiced swagger that started at his shoulders and moved to his hips, he suddenly started backing away. As he did, he fired off gang signs at me-those of the Crips, an inner-city gang. I couldn’t believe it. This was the first time I had seen gang-signals used in our neighborhood. The big guy continued manipulating his hands, displaying a large number of gang signs as he backed off. He never took his eyes off me. My son cautiously peeked around the corner and saw the youths leave. He told me that the defiant youth was a boy I had coached on Erik’s little league baseball team only four ago. I didn’t recognize him because he was now a foot taller. Fortunately, he wasn’t a hardened gang member, only a “wanna-be” acting tough, inspired by other gangs that had formed in the neighborhood.
It wasn’t the first I had seen gangs in the neighborhood, but it was the first time a youth blasted threatening gang signs at me on my own lawn. Gangs had quietly crept into our neighborhood four years before.
In 1989, a skinhead gang attempted to recruit youths at my daughter’s junior high school. The gang was caught passing out literature to thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds that featured a graphic illustration of a skinhead driving a “white power” flagstaff through the chest of a man of ethnic decent. Members of that gang were later convicted of assault and murder.
Then, on November 1, 1992, three years later, when my daughter was a sophomore in high school, we had our first “drive-by” shooting. Seventeen-year-old Sean Cooper was murdered in the parking lot of Berkner High, a school noted for its academic excellence. My daughter’s grades plummeted for several weeks.
As an investigative journalist, it’s one thing to cover a threatening subject because it is an important story. It’s another when it’s being played out in your own backyard, neighborhood, or suburban community. When it affects and threatens your family . . .