MAXWELL:  Revolution in the Challenge Zone

7/26/2000 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Author’s note: The following tale is satire. Please enjoy it in that spirit.

Terry Niedowski, one of my rich white pals from graduate school, visited me last weekend. He was thinking of moving to St. Petersburg to open an ethnic clothing store and wanted to see the black section of town where riots broke out in 1996.

As we drove onto Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) St. S, Terry said, “There isn’t much here, is there? What’s this area called?”

“The Challenge Zone.”

“How fortuitous for the right entrepreneur.”

Suddenly, I realized that we had driven into a crowd of blacks and their white sympathizers. They were holding one of their ubiquitous civil rights rallies. I didn’t like the feel of this scene. I saw a lot of unfocused anger and decided that we had better park the car a few blocks away before getting out.

After we parked and walked back, the crowd had mushroomed. The rage had risen. The July sun made everyone sweat. Speakers condemned the governor’s BackDoor Project while lauding the mayor’s SideWays 2001 Initiative.

One speaker, Ilamo Aletihsey, chairman of the Ngawa Black Powah Junta, said: “We’re tired of that Bushwhacker in Tallahassee sending African people to the back door. We wanna come in the front door like the white folks. Now, let’s hear it for Mayor David Fisher-King. He’s white but he be the Man.”

The crowd roared as Aletihsey, clad in flowing African garb, waved Fisher-King forward. Slim and bespectacled, Fisher-King bounded to the front of the crowd, grabbed the bullhorn and motioned for silence.

“That’s the mayor?” Terry whispered, clearly astonished.

So was I. Never had I seen our grandfatherly mayor, an accountant in his 60s, sporting such a wild persona. Usually, he wears a simple business suit and a forgettable tie. That day, however, he wore a tie-dyed wife-beater, matching sweatband and wristband, tight-fitting faded blue jeans and sandals. He was ready to rumble in the jungle.

Terry and I soon learned why Fisher-King was there. “I’m here to support our great police chief, Mammoth Davis,” he said. “As you know, the White Cop Brigade, as well as other white groups, are berating our chief. It’s about race. When I heard that this would be a rally for Chief Mammoth, I thought you should see the person who hired him. I stand by him at any call.

“Now, let me read some passages from The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, one of my favorite revolutionaries. “”The enemy is aware of ideological weaknesses, for he analyzes the forces of rebellion and studies more and more carefully the aggregate enemy which makes up a colonial people. . . .”‘

Fisher-King went on like this for nearly an hour before introducing Mammoth, a huge black man with a shiny, hairless head. The crowd went crazy as Aletihsey joined the mayor and chief at the podium. The trio was a sight to behold. Mammoth’s noggin had beads of sweat popping out all over.

Aletihsey took the bullhorn and commenced the march to City Hall, declaring that the African community was under siege. “It’s not about Mammoth,” he screamed, his face contorted with ancestral passion. “It’s an attack on this community through Mammoth. Let’s get the whole community and march and let these Crackers know we don’t appreciate attacks on the chief because we know what they are after.”

The crowd lost its mind and began to move. Placards with Mammoth’s big shaven head on them danced in the air as the mob slouched toward City Hall. Fisher-King, not to be outdone by Aletihsey and a gaggle of black preachers, worked his way to the front row and shouted “Ngawa, Black Powah” louder than anyone else. He was transfixed.

At City Hall, the mob stopped. Fisher-King faced the marchers. Mammoth and Aletihsey joined him. Suddenly out of nowhere, members of the White Cop Brigade descended upon the crowd, truncheons flailing. Skulls cracked. A big blue knot popped up on Mammoth’s dome. Wait! Was that City Council member Kathleen Drof going upside Mammoth’s head? Aletihsey fell and was trampled. Fisher-King, of course, stood to the side reading from The Wretched of the Earth over the bullhorn: “Make no mistake about it; by this mad fury, by this bitterness and spleen, by their ever-present desire to kill us. . . .”

Terry left town that night. “I’d rather open a store in Uganda before I come back to your infernal Challenge Zone,” he said.

“Give us a chance,” I said.

“No way. You people are nuts. I’m out of here.”

“See in New York,” I said.