Am I My Brother’s Keeper? Maybe…


A friend of mine recently went through a bad break-up. As is often the case with friends and lovers, friends’ lovers become your friends too. And unfortunately, if and when the lovin’ goes sour, friends get caught in the middle and are left to choose sides.

In the break-up melee, I got a message that was like: it’s sad to see friendships dissolved because we are loyal to one side or the other. That got me thinking about this term, loyalty, and about the things and people to which we pledge our allegiance.

You should know that I’ve learned everything I ever want to know about the streets from The First 48, and a few colorful characters I’ve encountered on life’s journey. The cats who get caught up in shemminy sham in the show’s featured cities are but a sampling of the derelicts that probably lurk in the nooks and crannies of all cities. And it seems the constant is this: it never occurs to said derelicts that the principles to which they adhere, and the loyalties they display are probably the reason the popos showed up at their mama’s door in the first place.

To be sure, there is no honor among thieves. It took me forever to understand that conceptually, and to process its implications. There is no honor among cats who don’t respect honor, dignity, or life. Folks try to rob you of your good sense every day, insisting that you be “ride or die,” or that you don’t snitch if they snatch an old lady’s purse and accidentally develop itchy trigger finger while the caper’s in progress. Fuck that brand of loyalty. I got a Granny. What if it was her purse, and she who was on the receiving end of the “accident?” The truth is that derelicts don’t care whose Granny is whose; to them, a mark is just a mark.

So then, how can I trust you around anything that means anything to me if all you respect is street logic? How can I be loyal to that?

I wonder how many families and communities have been torn asunder because a Ray-Ray decided to do some foul shit, and then expected folks to just let him cook. His daddy ain’t around; he don’t get enough attention at home; a motherfucker looked at him funny; a girl broke his li’l heart; he lost the last fight. Whatever the excuse, in Ray-Ray’s mind, it entitles him to pillage and terrorize. And everybody else should just deal – in silence – until he feels satisfied. To whom are we loyal in this case? How did we all end up in a ride or die relationship with Ray-Ray? And is there some sort of waiver of responsibility? Because if I know Ray-Ray’s raggedy whereabouts, I’m tellin’. I don’t really do fear and intimidation.  And I’m averse to setting precedents for accepting ridiculous behavior.

What’s worse is that Ray-Ray types stay emboldened by some perverse sense of respect that they claim to be protecting when terrorizing folks’ communities and daring the neighbors to speak up about it. But when the damage is done and the dust settles, where is Ray-Ray?

Cowering. Hiding somewhere. On the run. Under the radar. Low key for a li’l while.

How does such a bitchass move follow one so brazen, one which is supposed to be viewed as a frightening but impressive display of power, prowess, and principle?

Upending someone’s world and then running and hiding is a precise mark of  gutlessness.  And who’s comfortable being ride or die for a coward? And loyal to a menace?  If you answer “me!  me!” then what does that make you in the end?


I responded to the break-up melee message, asserting my understanding of the word loyalty. I’m loyal to people who respect and honor the dignity of life, and those who can handle emotion like adults without resorting to sandbox resolutions – pulling hair, kicking dirt on shoes, and destroying our toys. I’m loyal to actions and principles which are motivated by love. And yes, by survival too – within reason and reasonable context. For example, in parts of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the options were steal or starve. If ever the exception is to become the rule, then the matter of survival, in my view, is a reasonable impetus.

So yeah. Am I my brother’s keeper? Sure. Absolutely. I got your back, bro.

“…now don’t fuck it up.”