Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Intersections, how a murder by the pool raises lots of questions.

A murder last week of a teenage boy happened on a basketball court less than 20 feet from the pool where my swim team, the Nadadores , practices. The shooting happened about 25 minutes before practice was about to begin. Two of my team mates were at the scene. One saw the shooter fleeing away while the other team mate was administering first-aid to the victim. I arrived about 15 minutes after the shooting.

The team-mate who was administering first aid is a young woman with a three year old boy who was taking swim lessons. At the time of the shooting a youth team was practicing at the pool. There were probably 50 kids and their parents there when the shooting occurred.

The young mother was understandably upset. I found out later that she was the one administering first aid. She was demanding that the team move to a a pool in a safer neighborhood.

I tried to explain to her that it was especially hard for our team to secure a pool, she looked at me in confusion.

So here I am trying to explain to a young, straight, middle class mom, who just witnessed a murder, why a group of very affluent, mostly male, swimmers can only secure pools in the most violent, poorest neighborhoods of Miami. Where individuals who had made the choice that swimming and camaraderie were worth going to a facility in an area stricken by high crime and poverty. At that point I realized she was at an intersection of so many events that had put her and her child in danger.

She was at the intersection of bigotry, where a team of gay swimmers were never deliberately asked to leave the city's better facilities but were plagued by mysterious "pool closings", outrageous pool fees or inconvenient practice times. After years of trying secure a regular practice site, the team was happy to find welcoming pools in areas with the highest murder rates in the city.

She was at the intersection of poverty. Our current pool is yards from "the projects". In Miami there are exits off of I95 that most middle class people would never considering taking. Our pool is on Martin Luther King Blvd. When you try to describe this part of Miami, even to long-time Miamians, they don't have a clue what you're talking about. Most whites and Latinos cannot make a distinction between Allapattah, Brownsville or Overtown. For the middle class these areas are blank pages, with no geographical or psychological reference points.

She was at the intersections of race, class, world view. For few painful moments trapped in a fenced pool facility with her small son. One second enjoying the proud and excited feeling of watching a child learn to swim. Another in fear of stray bullets. How many moms that neighborhood live in daily fear for their children? My team-mate has luxury of finding a pool in a better neighborhood.

For the team the question of moving to a new pool is not so cut and dry. Attitudes may have changed in the last 10 years, but many people are not comfortable with the idea of a group of gay men anywhere near children. There are moms who have walked into men's locker rooms to "check on their kids" if they find out there's a gay swim team on deck. Do we revisit past battles with the same pool managers and park administrators who are still running the city's pools? Also, does the team contribute to the community it's swimming in? We do help generate revenue for inner-city pools. We pay for lifeguards who live in the neighborhood. We help keep those facilities open and accessible. Is there benefit for the affluent, gay middle class swimmers to have a psychological and geographical reference point to Brownville, Allapattah and Overtown?