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"First I told him no," Oats says. "But then I said, "I've raised you. You're 17 now. OK, you can go ahead.'"
Ruffin had plenty of friends in those blocks around his grandmother's house in the Shaw neighborhood, especially on Shenandoah. He also had plenty of trouble.
That may have been inevitable.
"If you're hanging out on Shenandoah, sooner or later you're going to get in trouble," says Larry Mays, a former resident of the neighborhood who knew Ruffin.
Shenandoah Avenue changes by the block. A stone's throw from neatly trimmed lawns and flowerbeds are glass-strewn sidewalks, littered yards and boarded-up windows. Ruffin chose the scruffy side.
Police are a frequent presence and are preparing to move into a new substation at Shenandoah and Thurman, less than a block from where Ruffin's friends still hang out. Ruffin's friends have no shortage of stories about being stopped, searched and sometimes beaten by cops. "For no reason" is almost a mantra.
Lola Turner, who lives on Shenandoah, also has problems with the police. "I don't really agree with the way police handle things around here," Turner says. "I think they're too quick to pull out a gun. That confrontation thing don't work."
Turner learned firsthand last year. She says she came out of her house and found her husband and another man face-down on the ground. An officer stood over the men, gun drawn and pointed. Her husband, a volunteer for a prison-ministry program, had been in front of a vacant house next door talking to the other man about religion when the police drove up, she says.
"He was on the sidewalk, sharing some Scripture and a book," Turner says. "I was thinking, if they shoot my husband, what am I going to do without my husband? I'm thinking, my husband's life is very valuable. It was crazy."
Turner says she was arrested after she strongly insisted that the police back off. Her court summons shows she was booked on suspicion of interfering with an arrest and trespassing the cops said she set foot on the vacant property and the empty house had a "No Trespassing" sign on it. Her husband was also taken to jail on suspicion of trespassing.
"When we got to jail, they were so surprised we didn't have a record," Turner says.
The police left the husband's religious books on his porch. The couple's bawling children, who watched the officers arrest their parents, were taken to the police station because there was no one available to care for them.
The couple pleaded guilty. Turner says she planned on fighting the charges but decided against it when the judge made it clear the offenses wouldn't be taken seriously. There was no fine. The judge levied the minimum standard fees: $24 in court costs, $10 for the crime victims' fund, $2 for the city's domestic-violence fund and $2 for the police-training fund. All told, the bill came to $38.
"That was for both of us," Turner says.
The couple's children, now 4 and 8, are still scared of the police. Turner has little faith in the officers who patrol her neighborhood. She says the community needs to do a better job of teaching moral values to kids who hang out on Shenandoah but that the police need to change.
"I think first they need to get rid of their stereotypes and not be so arrogant," Turner says. "I respect the police. I know they have a hard job. I feel upset that we cannot work with our police here. As far as working with them, I can't work with people who can't admit when they're wrong. It seems like most African-Americans fit their criminal profiles. If they could get out of their police cars every now and then and talk to us and get to know the neighborhood and get to know who the troublemakers are, I think that would help a lot. It would be good for us, too. We would gain confidence in the police again."
Turner is well known in the neighborhood. She's the one who planted flowers in front of her house and the vacant one next door. She organized a cleanup program with neighborhood children, who pick up litter from the sidewalks and the planting strips once a week or so.
She has a drawing board in her yard, facing the sidewalk. The message changes every few days. Usually it's something from the Bible. A few weeks ago, she thought people were swearing too much on the street:
Respect 1. Respect God 2. Respect your neighbors 3. Respect the children NEVER use profanity in the hearing of a child. Do the right things before them. They see what you do.
Underneath was a smiley face. Next door was the vacant house, covered with graffiti some in gang code, some honoring Ruffin.
The house had no particular significance for Ruffin, say his friends on Shenandoah. It was the most convenient space they could find to memorialize him, they say.
Ruffin was a large kid who became a large man. As an adult, he stood 6 feet tall and weighed well over 200 pounds. He was strong but graceful, relying on finesse rather than brawn on the hoops court. His friends called him "Big Man Man.'
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