Power of the Police
The short story “The Baddest Dog in Harlem” is written by Walter Dean Myers and is a short story in the collection of short stories “145th Street”. 145th Street is also where the “the Baddest Dog in Harlem” is taking place.
Some friends were sitting on the rail outside of Big Joe’s place. Suddenly the police appear and the trouble starts. The police are looking for a man with an automatic gun. Lots of people are gathering to see what is going on, and a kid yells out that he saw somebody in the building that the police were staring at. Immediately the police start shooting. After a while the owner of the apartment in the building that the police shot at shows up. She wants a black person to go with her and the police up to the apartment, and the main character goes with them. Her apartment is filled with bullet holes and her dog is dead. They see that a door to an apartment nearby is open. When they walk in to the apartment they discover that they also have killed a little black kid.
The composition is constructed chronologically and takes place in Harlem, which is a neighbour hood, located in the northern Manhattan in New York.1 It is told in past tense with a first person narrator. “The cop looked over at us and didn’t say nothing”.2 The environment in the short story is a poor environment with a high unemployment rate. “One thing about 145th Street. Half the guys on the block don’t have jobs so they’re always in the stoops or just standing with nothing to do.”3 Another thing about the environment is that a major part of the citizens in Harlem is African-Americans.4 Harlem is also a place with a high criminality rate and people tend to be violent “… what a shame it was the way life could slip away so easily in Harlem”.
The setting takes place around the 70’s because of the boxers mentioned in the beginning. Both Muhammad Ali and Roberto Durán had their days of glory in the 70’s.56 Willie also said that the greatest boxer of all time was Joe Louis, and Willie being in his thirties he had been a teenager or a little younger when Joe Louis was in his days of glory in the 40’s – 50’s.7 The tone of voice is modern and characterized by frequently use of slang. “Mary is one of those smart sisters who has a good job downtown.”8 The story is
also written in such a way that it is very easy to read. Some things that make the story easy to read are that there are not foreign words, and the main character, who tells the story, is an ordinary guy.
The main character is an African American boy and he remains unnamed throughout the story. The narrator is also a good hearted person, he has sympathy for the boy who died, and tells how he wants his friends to say what a shame it is, and together show such big respect and compassion that the boy could feel it. He lives in Harlem and probably is unemployed, because he just sits with his friends on the rail. 9 He is probably around 20, because he tells about Willie and says; “…just because he is old it meant he knew more than anybody”10 and even though Willie only is in his thirties the narrator refers him as an old person.
The Baddest Dog in Harlem illustrates how harsh the life can be in a bad neighbourhood. The police make way too quick decisions, which sometimes end up costing lives. The most conspicuous themes in this short story are “life in a bad neighbourhood” and “how violence can change lives”. Only a moment made hundreds of bullet fly in the air, and ended up changing the lives of not only the little African American boys parents and relatives but a bunch of other peoples lives to. The narrator’s life will at least be changed because of the violence he witnessed. The story shows how important it is to remember that the world can be a heartless place, so we most prove that we are different and remember not to be heartless ourselves. Another message in the story is the spirit of solidarity. It is important to stand together through thick and thin. Humans are a collective species and staying together, like the group of friends do almost throughout the story, is the best way, not only to survive a dangerous situation, but also as the narrator says, if they stand together they can accomplish great things, like letting the dead kid feel the neighbourhoods pain. The police exploit their power without even being sure of anything. With great power comes responsibility, and the police do not live up to this responsibility.
It is possible to draw several parallels to “American Skin (41 shots)” by Bruce Springsteen. In the song, “41 shots” are repeated many times, because
it was the exact number of bullets, shot by four policemen to kill an innocent man named Amadou Diallo. This is just like the ridicules amount of bullets the police used in “The Baddest Dog in Harlem” just to kill an innocent person.
“Lena gets her son ready for school
She says “on these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules.
If an officer stops you,
Promise me you’ll always be polite,
That you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight””
This part shows how anxious people are for the police. The Police are way to powerful, just like in the short story. The ironical part is that the police should make people fell safe, but does the opposite.
And we’ll take that ride
Cross the bloody river
To the other side
41 shots… cut through the night
You’re kneeling over his body in the vestibule
Praying for his life”
This part of the song is similar to the ending of the short story. The narrator has crossed the bloody river, to the other side. Now he is just thinking of letting all the pain out and praying for the little boy’s life.
Word count: 1067