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  • My law office is on the third floor of an office building in the almost entirely white Albany, New York suburb of Latham. The man who cleans our offices at the end of each day is a 63-year-old black man named Eddie. Mostly, we talk about baseball, and specifically about whether the Yankees are really better than the Mets. Until today that is.

    When Eddie came by on his rounds a little after 5, I asked him what we thought about Ferguson, and how it compared to his experience growing up in rural South Carolina.

    Eddie told me that when he was a teenager in the early 60's, he remembered waiting in line for takeout outside of restaurants where only white patrons were allowed inside, waiting a half an hour or more while all the white patrons were served, most of them arriving later than him.

    Eddie lived with his aunt and uncle as his mother had gone up north to work and send money back home. Most of the people Eddie knew worked as sharecroppers on a local farm where the main crop was corn. One day Eddie noticed that a lot of the pickup trucks and cars of the people who used to come into the store where he worked as a clerk had driven up to the front of the cornfield. He worked his way through the cornfield, inching up to see what was going on, and why the people he knew were there. When he got to be about 30 feet away he stopped. They were all wearing white sheets. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. This were people he knew, who he had seen at the store on a daily basis. Soon they began lighting a giant wood cross. He started backing away from the scene and then ran away through the cornfield. He said he was sure that if they had seen him, that night would have been his last.

    He then related that when he was 12 years old one of his neighbors' dads didn't come back one night. He asked his uncle what happened. His uncle took him out to the woods on the condition that he was not to speak a word of what he was about to see to anyone. They walked into the woods until they came to a tree with large branches at the edge of a clearing. Hanging from the tree, naked, beaten and lifeless, was the body of his friend's dad. His uncle told him that if they ever said a word about it the men who had done this, ever reported it, whoever spoke up would have the men come to their house and take them away, and they would never be seen again.

    And Eddie said this was what happened. People would just disappear and not be seen again, and you couldn't say anything about it, or you knew you would be next. I asked Eddie how many times he had said seen things like this. All he would say, over and over, was, I've seen a lot, and there was nothing you could do.

    Eddie watched the grand jury press conference last night with his wife and his two sons. He didn't have much to say about the decision not to indict, other than to ask, about Michael Brown, why they have to shoot him? It was a question I think Eddie already knew the answer to.

    Right there, just slightly below the surface, Ferguson is all around us, if not on our streets in the life experiences and handed-down stories of those who we can spend a lifetime not looking into deeply enough to know.
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