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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Class lines now clear for all to see

Rebecca Nappi The Spokesman-Review

You are washing your car on the sunny September Saturday in your suburban subdivision. Two boys walk by. The bottoms of their baggy pants drag on the pavement. They wear black. You know your neighborhood. The boys do not live here. Nor do they look as if they belong to anyone who does.

You say hi and ask in a not-too-tight voice, “How are you doing?” You remember New Orleans. The fault lines of class cracked open for the world to see. Spokane’s fault lines are just below the surface.

The boys are not doing fine. They need to go out north, past Seven Mile, and they have been walking for two hours from downtown Spokane. They thought there was a shortcut through your subdivision. There is no shortcut.

They ask for a ride home. They sit on the green lawn next to your car. They have pale yet gentle faces. Their names are James and John. They await your decision.

You say, “You guys look pretty scary, to be honest.” You tell them you have judged them by the way they dress. You ask if they have mothers who can verify their story.

They do. You punch in the numbers on your cell phone. One of the mothers answers. Her name is Jessica Farler, and her son is James. She assures you it will be OK to drive the boys home.

The boys jump into the car. Your husband says he will call your cell phone to check on you during the drive. In the car, the boys tell you about their lives. James is almost 17 and in an alternative high school. John is studying for his GED.

James says he’s had some trouble with the law. He says he and John dress this way because it makes adults nervous.

Five minutes pass. The cell phone rings. Your husband.

James says his mother moved him away from their West Central neighborhood, way out into the country, to protect him from gangs. He still has gotten into trouble. You ask, “If your mother hadn’t moved you out, would you be in more trouble?”

James thinks for a moment. “Yeah,” he says.

Five more minutes pass. The cell phone rings. Your husband.

The boys say they often ask adults for rides. Always the adults say no. You explain to the boys that they have reached their goal to make adults nervous by the way they dress.

Five more minutes pass. The cell phone rings. Your husband.

You are in the countryside now. Elaborate homes are being built on this rural land past Seven Mile. You turn down a dirt road and see a trailer home. This is where James lives. His mother, Jessica, rushes out. She thanks you. The boys say thank you, too.

Jessica tells you her story. She is 38. Her husband is incarcerated at Airway Heights Correctional Center. Jessica moved James and his younger sister to the country in March 2000 to escape the inner city.

Jessica and her family are white. She worried when African-Americans moved into her West Central neighborhood, because she was assaulted by a black man when she was in her early 20s and living in California. This fear of black people has followed her into her adulthood. Her daughter is dating an African-American young man now. She likes him and his family, but she still feels judgmental about black people she does not know.

Her landlord owns several acres surrounding the trailer. He rented to her even after she told him that her husband was in prison. Jessica is a student at Spokane Community College. She tells everyone the truth about her situation. She wants it out in the open.

Jessica knows strangers judge her son as “a thug.” She hikes up his pants when they are together in public. She loves him very much.

You ask if you made the right decision to drive the boys home.

She says yes. “But if you hadn’t gotten ahold of me — no.”

You climb back into your car on the sunny September Saturday. The cell phone rings. Your husband. You tell him you are on your way home, yet the landscape leading there looks different, changed in a way you still can’t describe.

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