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Prologue to a Travelogue, Part 2


Post by Anthony Campuzano

[Hanging by your nails to read the the rest of Anthony Campuzano’s encounter on Philadelphia’s mean streets? Here it is. And just in case you missed it, Part 1 is here.]

I turned thinking maybe one of my drawings had fallen from my portfolio. Instead it was just a cruel joke. The group had caught up to me and were feet behind me. I ran into oncoming traffic; cars beeped and people yelled at me to get out of the road. Three of the kids split from the group and crossed the street after me, and I was struck a few more times as I dropped my portfolio. One of the kids took off his belt and swung it through the air as I raised my fists. Another African-American woman walked over and she yelled at them to go home. She really stopped the momentum. We started to back away from each other.

As I gathered my things the Hispanic woman from earlier part-comforted me and part-warned me to be careful. I was furious. I saw a police officer about a block away as he stood across the street from the new Dunkin’ Donuts. He was chatting with a shop keeper. I shouted for him and he didn’t once turn around until I was feet from him. I heatedly recounted the past 20 minutes, with the Hispanic woman corroborating my story. The officer kept asking me if I wanted to go to the hospital and I said I didn’t want to — all I wanted was for him to arrest the assholes up the street. The Hispanic woman pointed up the street where the group was still gathered. He said he would call in and asked if I wanted to file a report. I asked why when not only has the city recently suffered a fatality due to a similar situation involving school kids where there no other police around. He said his beat didn’t go up towards that end and that in addition this time of the day (roughly 3-4 pm) was when the police do shift changes. My blood began to boil as I angrily spoke to the officer.”I am sorry but that is a bullshit answer. When it comes to public safety you are gonna tell me shift changes. That’s what you’re gonna tell me. That excuse just doesn’t hold water. See that Dunkin’ Donuts across the street – they have shift changes too, but it doesn’t slow down you getting your donut. They prioritize staffing. At a time like this when tens of thousands of students are leaving school your job is to prevent situations not to ask me if I want to file a report.”

No backup ever arrived. I eventually filed a report. The cop did half heartedly amble up to the corner to check out the group but failed to hear me as I yelled to him that one of my assailants literally ran right past him. I never heard back from the Philadelphia Police about this incident and in fact I encountered the same officer one week later. I sarcastically said that I was still waiting to hear back about my report. He shrugged his shoulders and said he had given it to the detectives. First shift changes, then the classic kick the blame upstairs.

The following thoughts filled my head immediately after this incident:

  • The crushing sadness of being attacked by a group of children when I had spent two years becoming friends and helping similar at-risk children.
  • The panic of how I was going to be able to go back to my studio and complete my work.
  • The anger at both my attackers and the apparent indifference of the attending officer.
  • The irony being that weeks before I had breakfast at Happy Donut at 6 am and watched no less then 12 patrol cars respond to a report of one homeless man merely blocks from where I was attacked. This massive group of officers then stood around for nearly 20 plus minutes gabbing as the suspect sat in a patrol car. The contrast between this and my experience where I was attacked over a period of 20 minutes and 3 blocks in addition to close to 40 minutes conferring with an officer on foot who was unable to summon even a single patrol car during that time.
  • The knowledge that Philadelphia Safe and Sound (who provided training for me when I worked in the after school world) had dissolved themselves which created a ripple effect of cancelled programs disenfranchising students as well rendering unemployed countless single parents, artists, recent college grads, and senior citizens.
  • The fact that among my damaged drawings in my portfolio was a recently completed drawing called “Warpath” which was an abstraction derived from a Philadelphia Inquirer article and photograph from the past year concerning the headline “2 killed 5 wounded in two bloody hours” along with a crime scene image that included the graffitti ‘War Path’ on a wall.
  • The deep seated memories of February 2001 where I was an eyewitness to the street corner homicide of Lenora McDuffy in DUMBO in NYC. That event triggered a depression that, coupled with the loss of my job in the months after 9/11 and the ensuing year-long lead-up to the trial, precipitated my relocation in distress back home to Philadelphia.
Anthony Campuzano's Warpath.
Anthony Campuzano’s Warpath.

With these thoughts swirling through my head I spent the next day trying to finish my work and frantically rushing to my opening in NYC. I spent the course of the weekend convinced I had left my camera at home. And when I got home and it wasn’t there I was crushed and believed I had lost it in New York. I was under the impression that not only had I lost a camera I couldn’t afford to replace but I had also lost all the photos I had taken for my travelogue. Two weeks later however when I called White Columns to tell them some recent good news they told me that the next time I come to New York I had to stop in and pick up my camera that I had left there. I was so elated. I had the camera! I had my vacation pictures!

I had to write about this first.

Particularly with the murder of an aspiring teacher in South Philly I feel I do need to say my part. In writing this though I don’t really have any answers I just know that I am upset about the world in many ways. I am upset with government, with thug culture, with the bottom line, me-first culture, with families, with education, and with myself. I took a break from the after school program in the summer of 2006 to work on my artwork and when the school year came around our program was eliminated through funding losses. I wonder about the students I worked with and I hope that they have continued to learn and care about the world and that the world shows them affection and opportunity back.

I have spoken recently about my practice being Abstract Journalism. It derives in equal parts from my previous aspirations to be a newspaper or magazine reporter and my deep, deep love of post war abstract art. In reflecting on the past events I know that I really can’t make pure abstraction. The work needs to be in service of something else, it must have a message.

A: What’s the story?

B: Do these colors work?

Anthony Campuzano June 2008

–Anthony Campuzano is a Philadelphia artist represented by Fleisher-Ollman Gallery. You can see his work at Franklin Parrascsh Gallery June 19 through Aug 20 in the show Everything Else.