The Anatomy of a Hate Crime
From Boston projects to Southern trailer parks, and in a place where race and sexual politics collided and colluded, David Derby had had enough.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Bullying is a bank account that doubles its dividends.
I was 86 pounds in high school. So in 7th grade, I was probably 65 or 70. Small. Wittle.
But I grew up in the projects of Boston, so I was no stranger to mean kids and ass whippings on the playground. I went to elementary school in Roxbury, south of Southie. My earliest childhood memory is an attack I received out in the projects. A kid randomly grabbed a hypodermic needle off the ground and stabbed me in the back with it. My mother was outside and he attacked me right in front of her. I was 5 years old.
My dad, who was Irish, had left when I was 2 and my mom was a tough Puerto Rican who would tell me to simply punch the bullies in their faces. I tried this. Once. This angered a particular bully who would torment me or destroy my comic books and my school books and break my pencils. He slapped me in the back of the head, so I hit him back. I was too scared to punch him in the face, and he was tall, so I think I got him in the shoulder.
Being the only white kid in the projects probably made me a target. Being small and shy made me an easy one.
He beat me up good that day. I was bleeding from my nose and mouth and he dragged me by my head to a rock on the ground and started hitting my head on the rock. I remember losing my shoe and he threw it on the roof of a building. He had to stop; we were on our way to school and had to catch the bus. He warned me if I told anybody that he had beaten me, he would kill me.
I was scared and actually believed him. I was 10, and the way he beat me, I thought he was capable and willing to kill me. I got up and threw up, maybe my first concussion? I don’t know, but I was bloody. Being the only white kid in the projects probably made me a target. Being small and shy made me an easy one.
Once Whitey Bulger pulled some kids off me. The guy he was with kept saying, “You can’t let these niggers do this to ya!” I remember Whitey said, “Hey!” Told his muscle to cool it. Whitey never cussed or was racial. He asked me my name and who my parents were. Guess he knew who my father was because he called me “little Dave,” dad being “Dave.” Bulger didn’t use racial slurs; he simply said, “You gotta stand up for yourself, and you need to find better friends to play with.”
But I couldn’t hate Black kids for beating me up because some Black kids rescued me on more than one occasion. Once, a very popular dark-skinned girl, Trina, stood up for me. A kid punched me right in the face, blood pouring out of my nose. He loved it and hit me again, stuff was everywhere, all over my clothes, on him. She physically got in between us. He shoved her, and she shoved back. She was amazing and strong and always dressed nice. She had some older brothers, John-John and Jay-Jay, which is probably why she was tough and probably why he backed down.
I tried to go home, but she held my hand on the bus all the way to school. She gave me a hug and I wiped my nose with notebook paper. She took me to a teacher and told her what happened. Someone on the bus said I was her boyfriend, and she whacked them too.
My aunt married a military man who got stationed in North Carolina. We went there one summer to visit and my mom also met a guy, so we ended up moving to North Carolina less than a year later. From the projects of Boston, where they kicked my ass, to the trailer parks of North Carolina, where I soon discovered they’d kick my ass too.
One day I was out playing basketball in the trailer park when a rat-tailed sporting guy nicknamed “Queer Bill” made a comment. I was short and kids were teasing me. He said, “Don’t let them bug you, Dave. You’ll grow, and if you keep playing with it, it’ll grow!”
Everybody laughed. Girls laughed. And pointed. I don’t know how much I actually “played with myself,” and I’d be totally unashamed about something like this now, but at 12? I was mortified. And sick of it.
Bill had bragged that he was going out of town that weekend to Florida. He had also bragged about his belongings, stereo, whatever.
So I talked some neighborhood boys into looking out for me, and we broke into his trailer. I was so full of rage, I couldn’t steal nada. I was just breaking stuff. I did get cases of tapes — AC/DC, Ozzy, Dio, over 100 — and gave them out to the neighborhood.
Worst was probably his waterbed. I stabbed it like I wanted to stab him. There was a quarter-inch of water on the floor, and I broke his stereo, his mirrors. Everything. A few days later, I saw police at his house. He was on his porch, crying.
I felt bad. Then I heard him say, “Why would anyone do this?” I knew then it was useless to get revenge unless you made sure they knew the who, what and why. I can’t believe I didn’t get caught because of the tapes I handed out. But I didn’t. I would later, as an adult, do porno films to erase the notion that I had a little penis because I was a little guy. I wrestled, boxed, took karate. And I have fought mixed martial arts (MMA) professionally to erase the notion that my ass was going to be easy to kick anymore too.
But I’m sorry, Bill. Not for fucking up your shit and robbing you. But back then my mentality was “I’m so low, even the gay guy’s cracking on me,” and that’s what I’m most apologetic for. Prejudice is terrible, and this motivated the severity of my attack, and it sucks and I suck for yielding to it.