The inevitable death of this brotha of mine
The end of Summer, 2001
It is a rare thing to know you are seeing a man living out his last moments. Monday evening while walking home from the Rainier Beach Library, that is exactly what happened.
At first, it was hard to discern the facts. Black folks stood on every street and corner surrounding 51st and Rainier Avenue South, facing four police cars that had stopped precariously at the base of the hill, lights flashing. Three police officers crouched behind a white van gesturing feverishly to three other officers crouched farther up the hill. One officer ran to his car, opened his trunk, pulling out a yellow mat and a high-powered rifle. He returned to the van, throwing the mat and himself to the ground and taking aim at a brown building. Almost at the same time, the four police cars turned into 14, and the crowd doubled on all sides.
It was then that an ordinary, youngish black man in a white T-shirt and blue jeans emerged from one of the apartments out onto the balcony. Soon, he showed everyone that he had a gun.
You would think I would run, or be in fear of my life — but I was not. Knowing we were at a safer distance than most, my mental and emotional attention was focused on the fact that I knew I was seeing a man in his last moments. I can honestly say, had he not been my brotha — in the village sense of the word — I would have moved on. All guns were aimed at him as he went in and out of the sliding glass door, returning to the balcony one last time. Some say — as speculation continuously flowed through the crowd like playing an ol’ school game of “telephone” — he attempted to shoot but the gun jammed as he disappeared back into the home.
Speculation roamed through the crowd that there were hostages, and that the gunman was “shermed out,” an expression referencing “sherm,” a drug created by smoking a cigarette that has been dipped into embalming fluid and dried. It is known for taking its users out of their minds.
Things became quiet as the calm arrived before the storm. I stood and watched my people, my brothas and sisters who were responding to the crowd as a time for bonding. I was shocked to see those who were watching the same thing we were, take time to talk about hair, babies, upcoming events and social gatherings, recent deaths and births, divorces and marriages. My husband and I stood in a sea of faces, none of whom we knew, but all felt like family — the aunt who knows everyone’s business, the cousin you never see, and too many of our beautiful babies, all standing around, connecting.
Now some say he jumped from the balcony, others say he came out of the window, neither of which I witnessed. What I witnessed was this brotha, acting out his final scene, run directly into the street, police on both sides. I couldn’t believe I actually saw him running out for everyone to see his unwrapped insanity, making it across the street and raising his gun. What was he going through inside, this brotha of mine?
Who shot first was not clear to me. As the rounds started to fly, my eyes were glued to my brotha, who after a few seconds was struck by a bullet in the chest and dropped like a stone, face down onto the cement.
It was horrifying, and for a moment I cried from the shock of it all, my husband cringing next to me, as if in pain himself, putting his arm around me.
Not even what I had just seen prepared me for moments later when an officer ran from the building with a child in his arms, limp-bodied, skinny brown legs dangling.
Another officer stumbled over himself and he went to his car for an emergency kit. They lay the child on the ground and began to work. Two ambulances arrived quickly, the child being carried to one, and EMTs jumping from the other and working on the brotha.
As my thoughts focused on the child, my ears caught wind of cries of “they shot him in cold blood.” I thought to myself: Did you see what I just saw?
The morning after, with not much rest, these thoughts came to my mind that prompted me to write: There have been questionable and down-right unjustified police shootings of black men in Seattle. Being a part of a community that has never seen justice fall on officers who have murdered our brothas causes the cry to rise that every shooting of a black man is one of “cold blood.”
Having now personally witnessed a police shooting of a black man that was a clear result of inevitability, I do not now doubt that Aaron Roberts, the brotha who supposedly dragged a police officer with his car, was murdered by that officer’s partner in “cold blood.” I still think that the brotha carrying a knife near the Queen Anne Safeway was also “murdered in cold blood.” I do not doubt that racial profiling exists, and that too often death can be the end result of such profiling. It happens everywhere in this country, including Seattle.
None of that excuses what this black man, my brotha, did last night. Even before knowing he had murdered a 2-year-old and stabbed a 6-year-old, it was clear he led himself to his death. You can’t run out in the middle of the street, surrounded by police, waving a gun, and not get shot. Let’s not get it twisted; I watched as, whether out of lunacy or desperation, a brotha sealed his fate. I knew inside, and was conscious of the knowledge that he was going to die — but could not wrap my brain around what I saw. The morning after it is even heavier, as the reality of the tragedy sinks in, as I focus on my own child, and answering any questions she may have, even though she did not see what I saw.
Everything happened so fast.
Walking to the grocery store early the next morning and looking over at the apartment and knowing the terror that occurred inside as well as out — it gave me a sick feeling. That day, under the morning fog, the neighborhood seemed so quiet and melancholy. The normal neighborhood sounds just weren’t here that morning, not even in my own house. Everything was still moving, but not moving at all, it seemed. My mind was preoccupied with the thoughts in my head, mourning the loss of life, the emotion and scandal surrounding the police vs. black man issue, and the senselessness of it all. I will begin to move on, but I will never forget.