The chairs in the dirt yard are draped with children openly eyeing me. They are too young and innocent to bother masking their curiosity. When their mother talks, they are quiet.
"I don't raise my kids that the police are some kind of Officer Friendly. I tell these children the police are Stranger Danger."
The black mother's chilling words are not idle chatter. Charita Anderson Curry just buried her fiancee, a double amputee who died in a police officer's carotid-artery neck hold. Since the death of Ed Mallet, Charita's brother has been arrested, her friends have been rousted and busted, her mother and father tell me they have been followed by patrol cars, and neighbors say that the family has been subjected to harassing levels of police surveillance.
Police administrators say that's a lie.
Police administrators are mistaken.
Charita tells me the police targeted her and her family because, after Mallet's death, she marched in protest at police headquarters. She carried a sign that asked, "Why Ed?"
This young woman, as well as her parents, claim the cops responded by driving past their home shouting a taunt: "Why not Ed?"
Even though Ed Mallet's death on August 27 rocked this city, igniting headlines, community forums, law enforcement investigations, federal probes and minority demands, his fiancee's charges have not caused so much as a ripple. The daily press did not look into her allegations; the media settled the matter by printing a police denial.
While officially maintaining that the department would investigate her formal complaint, the police have insisted that such behavior could not have occurred.
But Charita's mother, Connie Curry, took down license-plate numbers from unmarked cop cars that cruised or stopped at her home on a single weekend night from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. Understand that this is only one night in what the Currys say has been a pattern for weeks. Not counting black-and-white squad cars, as well as the two undercover cars she couldn't get a clear look at, Connie compiled a list of ten plates.
Police spokesmen were so sure that the Currys are not being intimidated, that this is all a figment of Charita's and Connie's black-as-victim posing, that they volunteered to look up the license-plate numbers.
Every single one of them, with one exception, is registered with the City of Phoenix.
A clearly chagrined source in the police department backpedaled furiously: "Look, police cars can drive anywhere they want to. Just because the license plates line up doesn't mean they were being harassed."
The person offering this tepid explanation was so confident of his position that he requested anonymity.
When you see what has happened to Charita Curry and her family, you know damn well what happened to Ed Mallet.
Elder Hildellred Add has lived across the street from Charita Curry and her family for years. On Saturday night, he sat in his front yard, sweat glistening on his shirtless chest. His conversation meanders pleasantly, enveloping a listener in all kinds of things, not just his neighbors, the Currys. He is very interested, for example, in the body of the prostitute the cops found that morning.
"I used to see her all the time in the neighborhood. She had different-colored eyes, one brown, one blue. Cut her throat, ear to ear."
Elder Add conducts services at Triumph the Church and Kingdom of God and Christ on Lower Buckeye. The hooker's corpse was found near the place of worship.
The Currys and Elder Add live in the exact place your mind's eye pictures when you think of South Phoenix. Both families look past their gates to a cemetery; around the corner, railroad tracks divide the neighborhood, while, overhead, cars rush past on the freeway. Parents don't have to wait for the evening news to get an update on drugs or gangs. And the cops here, by necessity, operate on red alert.
Elder Add said what's happened to the Curry family isn't right.
"You just can't do this to people, even the people that live down here. The cops have been all over this place since that boy's death, since Charita began protesting."
Our conversation is interrupted by a mother calling Elder Add from Oklahoma. The woman is desperate. Her son is locked up in the downtown Phoenix jail, and he's just called her to say a group of black convicts has been jumped by whites and Mexicans armed with real knives, not prison-made shanks. The minister calls the NAACP hot line and leaves a message before returning to discuss what he's seen happening to the Currys.
"The cops shine their lights on the house. Sometimes the officers set up in the cemetery, just watching."