Cracking Skulls

January 10, 2011


Bighorn sheep in Silver Canyon near the town of Bishop, California, October 24, 2007. Rhalden (copyright holder of this work, has released it into the public domain).

I’ve written about this before, but not completely from the context of violence. Twenty-three years ago this Monday, I had a violent incident in my college dorm. It was never reported, thank goodness, since it really didn’t do damage to anyone per se. But it did involve striking two human beings out of anger, in response to a prank and violence on the part of two of my Lothrop Hall dorm mates at the University of Pittsburgh, “Mike” and “Aaron.”


I came back to Pitt after the holiday season in January ’88, determined not to make the same mistakes I’d made the semester before, since another 2.63 GPA performance would mean losing my academic scholarship. Whatever homesickness I felt for Mount Vernon and New York was crushed by the realities of home life at 616 and the sheer lack of friends in Mount Vernon in general. I knew I needed to channel the anger, bitterness, hurt and embarrassment I felt regarding my Crush #2 into my second semester at Pitt.

The answer as to how involved my dorm mates, half of whom were on Pitt’s basketball team (not the nicest sort), the other half the folks I usually hung around (geeks who would make most of my high school Humanities classmates look like socialites by comparison). The latter group had spent most of November and December binge drinking and occasionally taking me along for the ride. Aaron had begun to build a pyramid of Busch beer cans in their room, one nearly five feet tall by the time I returned from the holiday break. I needed to figure out how to co-exist with these dorm mates, as they had enabled my holiday blues and sheer lack of caring about my grades with their morbid, drinking ways.

The opportunity I needed happened a few days after I straightened out my Pitt bill. As usual, I left my door open and walked down the hall to the bathroom, took a leak, and went back to the room to call my mother. When I called, my mother kept saying “Hello . . . Hello . . . Who’s there?” She apparently couldn’t here me. After my third attempt, I checked my phone to see what was wrong. One of my idiot dorm mates had unscrewed the phone and taken the transmitter piece out, which was why my mother couldn’t hear me. I couldn’t even make a call to report what they did! I set out looking for Aaron and Mike in their room. When Mike saw me, he ran and immediately closed his door, almost breaking my hand and bruising my foot as I kept slamming my body into his door and put my foot between the door and the door jamb.

I thought about telling our RA, who was too busy screwing his girlfriend to notice that he had no control over our floor. So I took matters in my own hands. The next day, the stupid asses were next door in a mutual dorm mate’s room, bouncing balls off my wall and laughing like there was something funny about it. My anger turned into a rage I hadn’t felt since my fight with one of my classmates six years before. I

The Breakfas Club Screen Shot, "Cracking Skulls" line, january 9, 2011. Donald Earl Collins.

grabbed my dust mop and unscrewed the handle, walked next door, and proceeded to smash Aaron and Mike — both drunk — on top of their heads. “I don’t hear anyone laughing now!,” I yelled. “If I don’t get my phone piece back by this time tomorrow, there’s going to be a fight, and I don’t intend to lose! We can all get kicked out of school!”


I’d never seen three White guys so scared and quiet. I knew I had crossed a line, but so had they. To make sure they knew that I meant business, I smashed my dust mop handle against the wall as hard as I could and said, “That’s what’s gonna happen to your heads if I don’t get my phone piece back.” They sent another dorm mate — the only other person of color in our group — as an emissary with the transmitter by the end of the day.

I didn’t allow myself to feel bad about going psycho or, from their perspective, “Black” on my dorm mates. With only a couple of exceptions, I saw everyone on my floor as the enemy for a while. And for the next couple of weeks, whenever I left the room at night for the bathroom or for something else on my floor, I kept my door locked and took the dust mop handle with me. I wasn’t crazy. I was as sane as I’d been in a long, long time.

Could I have been expelled from the University of Pittsburgh for that incident? Possibly, but not likely. Was I crazy? Hardly. But in light of recent events in Arizona, it seems to me that we should be vigilant. Not only in reporting suspected lunatics, assassins and terrorists. But also in regulating ourselves, in ensuring that the only time we use violence is in our own defense and in defense of others. I saw myself as defending myself twenty-three years ago. I’m not so sure now.

By The Time I Get To Arizona

August 28, 2010

Immigrant Rights Rally, Los Angeles, May 2010. Photo credit Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

An old high school friend of my wife’s pulled me into a debate about the Arizona immigration law (currently under appeal in federal court) the other day. Although neither of us disagreed that the US needs better policies and enforcement around undocumented people, his approach was somewhere between the old Fugitive Slave Laws of the nineteenth century and apartheid in South Africa. He all but let corporate greed, malfeasance, and economic exploitation, the root cause of this issue, off the hook.

So, in honor of Public Enemy, I’ve named this post “By The Time I Get To Arizona,” hoping that our country hasn’t gotten all the way there yet, between Arizona’s immigration law, the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, and Glenn Beck. But in case it has, I’m posting a combination of my responses to my wife friend about how unconstitutional, racist and fear-confirming this response is.

“In the case of the Arizona law, the only way it would work is if one were to profile a particular group in order to enforce it. The idea that anyone without papers could be arrested and potentially deported means that if the law was practiced at random, someone White, Black or otherwise a likely American citizen could be caught up in a grave law enforcement error, leading to controversies and lawsuits. But if the focus is on Mexicans, Salvadorans and Latin Americans most likely to emigrate to the US, then it would work the way in which it’s intended.

The law was made with the Mexican border in mind. It wasn’t made to stop Russians or Canadians from coming into the US – we’d have more immigration enforcement at airports, ports, and the US-Canada border if that were the case. Bottom line is, laws like this don’t get made to stop groups that aren’t of color from using services or exercise what have been presumed to be their rights once on American soil.

But beyond this point is this simple reality. Whether it’s the 14th Amendment, requiring papers for undocumented people, or denying kids financial aid for college because their parents are undocumented, the fact is that a particular group of people are having all kinds of rights denied. The law granting citizenship rights to anyone born on American soil was originally used to make 4 million freed persons and 200,000 free persons — Black folks — American citizenship. It also gave the sons and daughters of European immigrants — who weren’t illegal even though millions of them came without papers (i.e., “Wop” [without papers] Italians, Poles, Jews, Greeks, etc.) citizenship rights and a simple process for naturalization.

These laws would set in motion a chain of events that would lead to denying Latin American immigrants (legal and otherwise) and Latinos born in the US what all of us expect to take for granted, especially freedom of movement. This isn’t all that different from when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, denying the Chinese immigration rights and the Chinese that were already here citizenship and ownership rights for more than sixty years, or from Fugitive Slave laws passed between 1793 and 1850, which required free Blacks to carry their freedom papers wherever they went. If this isn’t at all about racism attached to the serious issue of immigration control but minus the issue of economic exploitation, then why the need to concentrate on supply (the undocumented) rather than demand?

Until we deal with the heart of the problem — companies exploiting desperate immigrants (legal and

undocumented) for profit — we’ll continue to make bad and downright racist law around this. Since we think that corporations have no responsibilities in all this, they get off the hook for creating this situation, while poor people get labeled as if they’re roaches.”

One other thing. Glenn Beck’s in DC today dishonoring MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, not to mention progressives across the board. To quote Chuck D and his crew, Beck “to be a goner,” though not necessarily with the blood-wrenching screams in the middle of “By The Time I Get To Arizona.” Otherwise, Arizona will be the most liberal state in an increasingly fearful, repressive and policed nation.


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