In June, when things were heating up, I asked a man off Clinton Avenue what was going on. He didn’t want to speak on the street, in sight of St. Michael’s and the Valero, so we went out back and stood by some parked cars.

               North Clinton has always been a hot spot. Like Hudson and Jefferson and Lyell and Joseph, it takes its turn. These are the badlands, where the cops aren’t always around and the law isn’t always the law. And, of course, where bullets sometimes fly.

               That’s not to romanticize it or novelize it, but it is to recognize the grim reality that shit happens, a lot.

               And this year it’s happened a lot. And in June I was asking around.

               It was a gang war, he said, between Crips and Bloods, a hot-lead pissing match over who got to stand where to sell what. That crowd of hangers around over there is trying to kill this crowd of hangers around over here.

               It sounded like a black-and-white movie from the 50s or a rap song from the 90s. But really it was just business, the soul-destroying business of deciding who gets to supply the marijuana that gives the streets of Rochester their characteristic smell.

               It was a gang war, he said, and they were bringing in out-of-towners, like happens with gangs. You hire us to come to your town to kill people and disappear, and we hire you to come to our town to kill people and disappear. Thuggin’ and buggin’ in the Flower City.

               I felt awkward recounting the conversation on the radio because it sounded fake, like a poorly written screenplay, stereotype piled on top of stereotype. But others said the same, and all lived in fear, and as I occasionally ran down the avenue, down the trash-strewn street, there was an OK Corral tension, and you noticed that consciously or unconsciously most people out and about were standing in places where they could quickly take cover.

               That was in June.

               In July, the killing continued, building to a heartbreaking crescendo on the 20th and 21st. Two men killed and another wounded in a drive by at Rauber, and the next night two Tactical cops out in an unmarked investigating those killings at the end of their shift were ambushed, the old cop dying and the young cop hit bad.

               Frank Umbrino talked about that yesterday. Eyes a little tired, tie a little loose, 5 o’clock shadow a little early. Captain of the Major Crimes unit, he goes to every homicide, looks at every picture, knows every blood spatter, remembers every name. Somebody’s going to write a term paper about him someday.

               And he laid the whole thing out.

               It was Brandon Washington and his brother, and they were Crips, and they were selling marijuana. Vast amounts of marijuana. Legal to use in New York, but not legal to sell. It’s one of those peculiarities of law that arise when idiots are in charge. There have been a lot of those lately. In this case, the state created a whole army of consumers for a network of criminal suppliers.

               It’s almost like the criminals and the politicians are partners.

               But Umbrino said that Brandon Washington hired three guys out of Boston to come to Rochester and wipe out the competition. It was newly released ex-con Kelvin Vickers and a couple others, and they did the drive by on the 20th and the next night it was Kelvin Vickers who attacked the police and widowed a good woman.

               Anthony Mazurkiewicz had served a long career and more. He was beloved and respected and a hell of a man and he died because you like to get high.

               That’s how the free market works. They’ve got this thing called consumer demand, and you’re the consumer, and pieces of shit like this rule this world because you put money in their pockets. Unless you grew it yourself or brought it in from Colorado your buzz came at the cost of someone else’s blood. Some police chief in Mexico or some black kid on a city street or some loving father using the last minutes of his shift to try to bring justice to a grieving family.

               This is on you, Lady Macbeth. You’ve got blood on your hands.

               You and those goddam politicians.

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