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Two: (Ad)Vantage Point
(TW) Gun violence
On the morning of my birthday, I was sitting in my co-worker’s office for a meeting. I do not remember the content of that meeting, nor who else was in there with us. His office was insufferably hot and his window facing the brick wall of another building was cracked open. In the midst of our conversation, we heard eight loud pops echoing off the brick wall and into the office. Another co-worker in the outer office shouted, “Oh my God,” and we ran out to see what was going on.
On the north side of the street outside his office window a man in a camouflaged jacket and tan pants stood pointing a gun at a police officer laying on the ground a few feet from the driver’s door of his cruiser. The man with the gun kept shooting, another five or six times, into the police officer who was visibly bleeding and incapacitated on the ground. The man with the gun then jumped into his white Bronco and sped away.
This all happened within about 15 seconds.
We didn’t know that one coworker was already calling 911 in a neighboring office but I fumbled for my phone and shakily dialed the numbers too. I heard another coworker run down the hall to lock the doors to our building and another stood there saying, “Oh my God. Oh my God.” One coworker ran out to the fallen officer and pointed another officer in the direction of the fleeing Bronco.
This all happened within another 15 seconds.
The ambulances arrived, the five of us who had seen the shooting were brought outside, lined up two feet from one another and told not to speak to one another. After we each gave our accounts to the first officer, we were taken to five different cruisers, locked in the back, and told not to speak to anyone or call anyone.
After an hour of waiting in the car, an officer came and took my statement again and escorted me to a gym across the street so I could use the bathroom. She stood outside the bathroom door and escorted me back to the car where I was locked in it again. All around me were sirens, police cars, ambulances, medics, detectives, and bystanders. I sat with no idea of what would happen next.
After what felt like two hours of sitting in the car, we were each escorted to a bus, directed to sit several rows apart from one another and not to speak to one another. We were brought to a large room at the police station downtown where another officer took our statements individually and then we waited. Then we were each brought to a small room alone with a detective who took our statements again, and then brought to a hallway where, at nearly 4pm, someone brought us lunch. Still directed to not speak to one another, we spoke in halting and whispered generalities.
What else do you speak about when you’ve just watched the lifeblood spill out of a man?
This is my verbal statement as best as I can remember it:
“He was a bit over six feet tall. Wearing a camouflage jacket. Maybe his pants were tan? Cargo pants. I think. The vehicle was a Bronco, I think, maybe a little insignia on the hood. Yes, there was a thin decorative stripe around it, red, I think. The car in the alley was teal. There was a woman in it. I don’t know. She was maybe 60? I don’t know. He was bald. His skin was brown. No, not black, brown. Maybe light brown? I don’t know if he was African American or Latino. He was a tall man with a gun. A gun. A gun. A gun. A black gun. A Glock. I don’t know what a Glock is for sure, but I’ve seen one once or twice. He shot with his right hand. Yes. His right. Not, not that right, this right. His foot was here. How many shots? I didn’t know to count them. But it sounded like this. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Then it was popopopopopop again as we watched. What did it sound like? I don’t know. A pop. Not like the movies. No, not like a machine gun. No. He didn’t have a rifle. It was a hand-gun. I don’t know what color his shoes were.”
Later that night, after we were released, we all stood on the curb in front of the police station and compared stories. One of us said his vehicle was a Ford, another a Chevy. One didn’t remember the red stripe, one thought it was black. Another said the car in the alley was blue, another protested it was green, I was still sure it was teal. He was Latino, he was black. He had a shaved head. No, he was bald. These are minute differences, things you never think about when you pass a car on the street, but details that really matter when lives are on the line. We each focused on particular parts of the story that had played out in front of us. It was the same story, but we each had different vantage points.
We found out later that they had caught the shooter less than an hour after he fled the scene, after he hijacked a woman’s car in the bank drive-through and caused an accident twenty blocks south. We found out later they had cordoned off the entire ten block radius around the scene and were checking nearby houses to see if he was hiding in them. We found out later that he’d originally been pulled over for a broken taillight and, with an arsenal of stolen guns in his backseat, had come out of his front seat shooting at the officer as he was exiting his own vehicle. The officer didn’t have a chance. His front door was riddled with bullet-holes. Real ones. Not the plastic decals you sometimes see on pickup trucks in rural areas.
My husband had planned a nice evening with friends for dinner for my birthday. I asked him to cancel and crawled into bed when I got home. I was too numb to cry.
Did you know that when you are a witness to a violent crime in most states, you are entitled to counseling and the state pays for it? It’s part of the offender’s debt to society, so technically he pays for it while doing jail time. Which he did and still is. There were reams of paperwork to fill out, but eventually I was able to begin seeing a therapist. The thing is, once I got there, there were so many other complicated and difficult things going on in my life that we never really talked about the shooting. I honestly thought I was okay. I would be okay. I would be. Because I am a well-adjusted, emotionally healthy, mature person.
This is what I thought.
. . .
This is the second installation in a long form piece I wrote about gun violence. The gun violence I was witness to was not a school shooting, and yet it irrevocably informed and reformed my views on guns, gun violence, racial conflict, the real risks of policing, gentrification, assault rifles, and gun ownership. I am going to be telling you my story, but here is another story:
Most child firearm deaths are caused by assault in the US.1
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