Monday, November 8, 2010


In Puerto Rico, there are shaved ice vendors known as "Piraguas." In New York, many Puerto Rican neighborhoods also host the Piragua carts throughout the summer months, and they are very popular street vendors. A Piragua is basically a Snow-cone, but they are called piragua because they are made in pyramid shapes and agua means water in Spanish. Most Puerto Rican snow cone vendors use street snow cone carts instead of fixed stands or kiosks.
My husband's precinct neighborhood is more African-American than Spanish, but on an average day, most people get along, regardless of race. Except for this one hot summer night, when the police themselves almost came to blows.
It happened on a sticky, humid night in SoB. Rocco was out on a foot post with his partner, and they were with two other cops as well. As Roc tells it, he was just standing on a corner, surveying the street, when a Piragua vendor simply up and left his cart.
"Where'd he go?" Roc indicated the cart and looked towards his partner.
"I don't know." His partner shrugged. They shared a look.
Not one minute after the vendor's cart was abandoned, people on the street began swarming the cart. There were little punk kids who felt that it was their right to take some shaved ice, as it was a hot night and the cart was open.
The boys began to look up and down the street for the vendor. They didn't see him anywhere. The adjacent foot post came over and asked what was going on.
"The Piragua Guy left and now we've got to secure his property." Roc gestured towards the melee as he made his way over to take control of the cart.
"Really? Screw him! He left it there. Let them take his shit. It's his fault for leaving it." This out of the mouth of another cop.
Brief background: Rocco was speaking to the other three cops. Jamal is speaking directly to Rocco.
Roc shot Jamal a look and proceeded to shoo away those who felt they had a right to take the ice. Jamal was not happy with this response. He followed Roc over towards the cart and began screaming at him. The other two cops stood by and took it all in.
"What the F*&! are you doing? He walked away! This is not our job." Jamal made a sweeping gesture as if to indicate that what Rocco was doing was totally unnecessary.
"Jamal, this IS our job: to protect life AND property. Cut the shit. You're acting like a perp." And Rocco turned his back to him.
Jamal exploded.
"I'm acting like a PERP?! F*&! you, Mother-F*&!-er! What are you, are you a racist? Why don't you go back to the sixth borough, where you belong?! You don't live here; you don't understand what goes on here. You're a racist MF, aren't you?!" Jamal was getting in his face now, and Rocco would have none of it. He stepped up to him and said very evenly:
"I said PERP, Jamal. A perp can be any color, you dumb bastard. Now stop making a scene on the street. You're a cop. In uniform. Act like a professional."
The other two cops were standing between them now, ready to intervene if the incident came to blows. Hearts were pounding, and nasty looks were being exchanged. Just then, the Piragua decided to return.

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