Ralph Langer RalphLanger.com

("Personal Verdict" was one of four finalists for "Best First Novel over 80,000 words in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards of 2012)


  Two middle-aged white men held the black teenager, wrenching his arms behind his back as if to rip them from his body. A white youth's fist deformed the right cheek of the helpless captive, pain and shock starkly visible on the black youth's face. Three blurry white faces in the background of the black-and-white newspaper photo seared 12-year-old Jeff Martindale's consciousness; vicious hatred distorting the faces, eyes squinting, screaming mouths gaping open.

   Several weeks later, racial violence erupted again as six teenagers invaded a Virginia restaurant. A television camera captured the drama as two black youths, two white girls and two black girls, sat at the lunch counter. The tallest black girl asked a thin-faced waitress for a menu. Without looking up from her order pad clutched tightly in both hands, she said, "I can't. Y'all have to leave."

   "We just want lunch," a black youth said.

   "I can't serve you. Y'all gotta leave. We don't serve nigras," still not looking up, staring at the back of the pad where the words she spoke had been written for her.

   "I'm white," one of the girls said. "I want six sandwiches."

   The waitress momentarily looked confused then said, "We don't serve mixed groups."

   The six sat, staring straight ahead, playing their roles while the waitress played hers. The young men wore suits and ties, the girls dressed as if for church. They joined hands and bowed heads in barely audible prayer.

   A mob ranging from young white men to housewives gathered outside, only a few feet through the window from the praying young people. Yells penetrated the restaurant, but the bowed heads did not flinch. The mob screamed taunts at 25 or 30 blacks, adults and children, watching from across the street."Come over heah and watch your nigger friends starve to death," one white teenager shouted above the din, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb to the six unfed young people, stoically waiting for a meal they all knew was impossible on this day.

   "Hey niggers, hey niggers, hey niggers" and the two groups suddenly rushed into the street, yelling and shouting, whites waving steel pipes and baseball bats that materialized from nowhere. Images wobbled as the cameraman dashed from the restaurant into the street chaos; people scattering in all directions, shouts without words. The camera focused on a black youth squared off with a white boy of about the same age in a parody of an old-time boxing match, fists up guarding faces--one black, one white--each with one foot forward, head bobbing.

   Someone in the crowd threw a heavy rock, striking the black teen's forehead, dropping him to the concrete as if he'd been shot. The other youth kicked the fallen boy precisely in the groin. And then in the head, before walking away as if he'd merely punted a discarded can from the sidewalk.