First Person: Mayhem and Mustard On 53rd Street

By Suzan Ormandy, Special to the Planet
Tuesday November 28, 2006

The Dijon mustard that was called for in the brussel sprouts recipe was in my garage. I couldn’t get to it because the cops posted outside my 53rd Street duplex had ordered me to “Stay inside, Lady.” Their drawn revolvers convinced me to obey. I did, for the next few hours on Thanksgiving Day, as a huge tragic drama unfolded across the street at the Keller Plaza apartments.  

So near and yet so far. I’d heard a woman’s shrieking wails earlier but dismissed them. A lot of screams are heard in this topsy-turvy, drug-dealing Temescal neighborhood. Gunshots, too. But I didn’t hear those precede this woman’s screams on Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps I was whirring cranberries and oranges in the Cuisinart as revenge was being exacted on two Eritrean women and a teenager across the way. 

The unrelenting helicopter buzz told me something bigger than usual was going down, but I just kept cooking, with an occasional crawl out into the living room to check out the scene on our cul-de-sac. Same four cop cars blocking the Keller Plaza garage. Same cops standing around. Probably a drug incident, common enough over there, this one perhaps with more violence than usual. Whatever. 

Cranberries and brussel sprouts almost done, ready to pack up and transport to dinner in Moraga. Have to leave out that Dijon mustard, though, what with the police presence outside. Fellow guests will understand: she lives in Oakland, Murder Capital—when it’s not just also a terrific place to live. More terrific for some than others. 

The disenfranchised young black men have another story to tell, one that doesn’t feature deprivation of fancy mustard. Many immigrant groups have less rosy tales to tell too, with pressures of language, money and different cultures pressing heavily on daily life. In some cultures, revenge is honorable. The rule of law in the United States, however, does not excuse or protect avengers. This may have been the case for the Eritrean brothers who murdered their dead brother’s widow, her mother and her young brother across the street this Thanksgiving Day.  

Only as I drove out of 53rd Street did I begin to realize the enormity of the afternoon’s events: police blockades on Shattuck, Telegraph and the nearby cross streets; news trucks everywhere; crowds gathered on street corners; people wrapped in blankets; yellow police tape even on my own side windows. What the hell is going on? I learned from media bits later that the men I’d seen being backed out of the apartment directly across from mine were two brothers who had just executed three people on this most American of holidays, a holiday originating from another group of immigrants facing life in an unknown, inhospitable environment.  

Until arriving in Moraga, I had no idea that three of my neighbors had been executed as I whirred cranberries and missed mustard across the way. Thousands of miles and years of history separated us.