Shots Fired


I was on the phone when I heard them, about five rapid-fire shots not a mile off. Or maybe, I thought hopefully, a string of firecrackers.

At 8 ' o 'clock, the darkness and habitual quiet of my street made it easy to believe the sound was benign, one of many mysterious but ultimately innocuous sounds particular to the night. Violence or some other hard reality wasn't possible; in my mind, all that had retired for the day.

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"I heard something," I said to my brother into the phone. "Like shots. How about that."

My brother lives in North Carolina, though in L.A. he had lived for years in Baldwin Village, a dense apartment district otherwise known as the Jungle. It's the most notorious gang enclave in the Crenshaw area, even though it sits at the foot of affluent Baldwin Hills. He forbade us from visiting him. From his window he had once watched a guy who worked at the local grocery store get shot and then stagger around, crying up to the window for help. The guy survived.

"Shots?" my brother said sharply. "Where?"
I looked out my window out into the street. It was reliably quiet. No more sounds. "I don't know," I said. "Not far. Maybe I should go out and take a look."
"Do NOT go outside. Stay in the house. Where's Alan?"

My husband was gone to a meeting. "Stay inside," my brother repeated. "Don't be stupid."
We finished our conversation. As the night wore on, I heard nothing else. More to the point, I didn't hear the wail of sirens, which would have confirmed my brother's fears of the worst. I wasn't in the Jungle but I was Inglewood, after all. But there were no sirens, no helicopters, no blare of megaphones. Just the night as it usually was, a curtain dropping down evenly on the day with every passing hour. Nothing had happened.

A couple days later I came across a story in the paper of a 21-year-old who had been shot dead on 118th Place, near Crenshaw and Imperial--about a mile from me. My heart sank. The victim was an aspiring musician named Kevin Harris; he'd been working at a recording studio that night. He'd been shot sitting in his car for no reason anybody could discern. Kevin was not a gang member, his grieving mother and Inglewood PD were quick to point out. He was a straight arrow, a young black man with clear ambitions. He'd played sports in high school and gone to church regularly. In his photo he was serious-looking and wore glasses. "I raised him preppy," his distraught mother said.

Meaning, she consciously raised him outside the deadly gravitational pull of gang life and general nihilism into which so many young black men fall. But he had fallen anyway, because though he was fine, the world in which he lived and which sometimes exerted the bad gravity, was not.

The fact is, that world is fine sometimes. Plenty of times. But not every night.

This image was taken by flickr user Tony Webster. It was used under the Creative Commons license.

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