Noon, Saturday, summer 2014, and there is still a chance to prevent the disaster. Nothing is burning, no one killed here today, and the officer’s gun remains in the holster. The sequence begins when he sees two men on Canfield Drive and tells them to get on the sidewalk.
The small man says, “We are almost to our destination.”
The officer says, “Well, what’s wrong with the sidewalk?”
The big man says, “F--- what you have to say.”
This is not the pivotal moment. Not yet. As the two men walk past his cruiser, the officer notices cigarillos in the big man’s right hand. He notices the small man’s black shirt. He remembers a call on the radio about stolen cigarillos and a suspect in a black shirt.
“Frank-21,” he says on the radio, identifying himself. “I’m on Canfield with two. Send me another car.”
Send me another car. Here it is, the last moment before it all comes apart.
Now he makes slashing white marks on the chalkboard, revising history, imagining a world in which Officer Darren Wilson avoids what Klinger calls a ‘tactical blunder.’
Almost three years later, in a metropolitan area forever changed by Frank-21 and the two on Canfield Drive, a tall man with a gray-blond goatee diagrams that moment on a chalkboard. Police officers hate being second-guessed, especially by non-officers, but the man at the chalkboard is uniquely qualified for the job. David Klinger is not just a criminologist who studies police-involved shootings. He is a former police officer who studies police-involved shootings, and yes, he once shot someone to death, in 1981, in Los Angeles, to save his partner from a madman with a butcher knife. Now he makes slashing white marks on the chalkboard, revising history, imagining a world in which Officer Darren Wilson avoids what Klinger calls a “tactical blunder.”
In this imaginary world, Wilson does not go within arm’s length of a 289-pound robbery suspect named Mike Brown. He lets Brown and Dorian Johnson keep walking. He sits and waits, remaining in his vehicle until backup arrives. “We’re gonna keep our distance,” Klinger says at the chalkboard, “maybe 20 yards, maybe 30 yards.” Both officers draw their guns, and one orders the suspects to the ground. Maybe, just maybe, they peacefully surrender, thus averting one of the most notorious police-involved shootings in American history.
But Klinger acknowledges the limits of this strategy. There is only one way Wilson can guarantee a nonviolent outcome. It is one of the few certainties in all of policing. How do you make sure you never hurt anyone and never get hurt? You roll up your window and drive away.
There was a town in Missouri called Ferguson. It barely resembled the town you saw on television. It had an organic farm, a pasture full of horses, an Italian restaurant that served a fine linguini carbonara. It had a park with water slides and a lovely pond with a small lighthouse. It also had a well-staffed and active police department whose officers pulled over 12 to 15 vehicles a day. Did these officers deserve credit for the town’s relative tranquility before August 9, 2014? Did they deserve blame for the catastrophe that followed? You may have already decided. But in light of what happened after the satellite trucks went home, these questions are worth considering again.
From the town center you go east on Paul Avenue until it curves sharply to the left. Just after the railroad underpass, you turn right on Ferguson Avenue and follow it down past the public works department to a loud and congested suburban corridor called West Florissant Avenue. This is the main drag for the other Ferguson, isolated from most of the town’s amenities, home to liquor stores, McDonald’s and a cluster of low-income apartment complexes. Three summers ago a young man stood on his grandmother’s back porch in one of those complexes and looked at the sky after a thunderstorm.
It was incredible, what he saw in the clouds that day in August 2014, and he took pictures with his phone to make sure he had proof. He showed his grandmother, but she couldn’t see it. Neither could Aunt Brittanie. His mother thought maybe he was high again. Mike Brown couldn’t believe no one else saw those figures in the clouds. When his phone died the next day, malfunctioning for no obvious reason, he was still insisting he’d seen an airborne fight between God and the devil.
Three days later, all hell broke loose. Officer Wilson drove west on Canfield Drive, intercepting Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson. Then came the moment of recognition and the call for backup. Frank-21. I’m on Canfield with two. Send me another car.
All hypotheticals aside, the real Darren Wilson did not wait for backup. He threw his Chevy Tahoe into reverse, angled it across the road to block the suspects’ path, and called Brown over to his open window. According to Wilson’s grand jury testimony, which federal investigators found credible based on the physical evidence, this is what happened next:
Wilson tried to open the door, but Brown slammed it shut, and they exchanged curses, and Brown punched Wilson, and grabbed him, as if to continue the assault, and Wilson thought about how to respond. The confined space inside his vehicle prevented him from expanding his baton or using his Mace spray. He did not carry a Taser. That left him with his gun, which he drew, which Brown grabbed, which Wilson wrestled away and fired, a shot that apparently went through the door, shattering the glass of the rolled-down window. According to Wilson, this is when Brown made a face that looked “like a demon.”
Now a few words about good and evil, courtesy of Michael Brown’s mother.
In her book "Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown," Lezley McSpadden tells the story of the day she walked outside to get the mail and accidentally locked herself out of the house. The only open window was high up a wall of uneven bricks. And so, although she still had her stitches from an injury suffered in childbirth, she kicked off her flip-flops and started climbing. Sweat dripped into her eyes, and the bricks scraped her legs, but she kept climbing, hoisting herself over the windowsill, crawling into the house, dizzy and bleeding, gathering baby Mike Mike into her arms. This was the same Mike Mike she saw 18 years later, lying on Canfield Drive, one finger protruding from a bloody sheet.
Investigators would later conclude that her son punched Wilson, tried to take his gun, ran away, and then charged back toward Wilson, only stopping when Wilson shot him to death. But McSpadden was not interested in official justifications. Dorian Johnson held a spontaneous news conference at the scene, denying all wrongdoing by Brown, claiming that Wilson shot Brown from behind, claiming that Brown raised his hands in surrender, claiming that Wilson killed him anyway. To McSpadden, this did not sound like an excusable homicide. She did not go around complaining about Darren Wilson’s tactical blunder. When she went on television, she called him “the policeman who murdered my son.” Later, she would write in her book, “When I did finally see his picture, I saw evil.”
I saw evil. This perception would ramify through Ferguson, greater St. Louis and the United States, with profound consequences. As former Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson put it about two years after he lost his job, “When you think somebody’s evil, what can you do to them? Anything, because they’re evil.”
If you think the police are evil, if you see them as murderers who routinely prey upon African-Americans, if you sincerely believe one of them just executed an unarmed man as he tried to surrender, it becomes easier to join in the chant of KILL THE POLICE, KILL THE POLICE, as some bystanders did after Brown’s death.It becomes easier to tell them you’re going to burn their houses and kill their children, as police say certain protesters did in the days that followed. One even told a female officer he was going to live-stream her rape on the internet.
Many of the protesters were peaceful. But for some, angry words were not enough. They threw rocks and bottles, hacked police computer systems and bank accounts, shattered the mayor’s windows, smashed police take-home cars, poured diesel fuel on the front door of a police officer’s house and tried to set it on fire. If the Ferguson police were evil, did that make Ferguson evil? Did that make Ferguson businesses evil? What if the businesses were just over the city line, in Jennings or Dellwood? Would that technicality spare them from the command of Louis Head, Mike Brown’s stepfather, to “burn this motherf---er down?” It would not. If an antique shop in Ferguson were owned by a black woman, would that be enough to save it from arson? It would not. If the QuikTrip on West Florissant were the primary grocery store for the residents of the Canfield Green apartments, would rioters still burn it down? They would.
If the goal was to chasten the Ferguson Police Department, the protesters succeeded.
The protesters did not get all they wanted. Wilson was not charged with a crime, and federal investigators cleared him of wrongdoing. But if the goal was to chasten the Ferguson Police Department, the protesters succeeded. The unrest put Ferguson in the national spotlight, which led to a pattern-and-practice investigation by the Justice Department, which concluded that Ferguson’s police unfairly targeted African-Americans in a scheme to fund the city government through ticket and fine revenue.
“Our investigation has shown that distrust of the Ferguson Police Department is longstanding and largely attributable to Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement,” the report said. “This approach results in patterns of unnecessarily aggressive and at times unlawful policing.”
Chief Jackson stepped down, and others followed. According to Mayor James Knowles III, some wives told their husbands, in effect, “If you don’t leave that department, I’m going to leave you.” The department lost nearly one-third of its officers, and those who remained were more cautious than before. From 2014 to 2015, traffic stops fell by nearly 75%.
When the police do less, they are less likely to do something wrong. Is this a good way to keep a town safe? Ferguson’s 21,000 residents were about to witness a law enforcement experiment.
De-policing -- also known as the blue flu -- was a major national story in 2001 before the 9/11 terrorist attacks redirected the conversation. The police in Seattle did not appreciate being blamed for the death of a black man during a traffic stop, and some threatened to protest the protests by parking under trees and doing crossword puzzles. The police in Prince George’s County, Maryland, did not like being called out by The Washington Post for their frequent gunfire, and a subsequent work slowdown coincided with a sharp rise in violent crime. In Cincinnati, an officer shot and killed a black teenager in a dark alley after a foot pursuit, and people rioted, and the police pulled back, and shootings increased by 400%.
“Sometimes this is just police officers taking their toys and going home,” said Christy Lopez, a police officer’s daughter who became a Justice Department attorney and led the Ferguson investigation. “They just sort of abdicate their responsibility. They say, ‘Oh, you don’t like me? Well, I’m not gonna do my job.’”
But if some officers did this after Mike Brown’s death, others did something else entirely. They kept doing their jobs. They faced the danger. And then, in crucial moments, they froze.
In 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama, a man left the car during a traffic stop and moved aggressively toward an officer. The officer later said he hesitated to use force because he “didn’t want to be in the media.” The man punched him, took his gun and pistol-whipped him into unconsciousness. In 2016 in Chicago, a suspect on PCP struggled with a female officer. She later told the police superintendent she didn’t shoot him because she didn’t want to make the national news. The man overpowered her and repeatedly smashed her face on the pavement.
“Less and less people are applying to be police officers. And I’ve had young people tell me this: ‘Why should I go out there and make $38,000 a year and get shot in the face?’”
In a 2016 survey of nearly 8,000 police officers by the Pew Research Center, 86% said the high-profile shootings had made their jobs harder. And 72% said their colleagues were now less willing than before to stop and question suspicious people. Older officers retired; younger ones quit. Replacements were scarce. “Less and less people are applying to be police officers,” said Cedric Alexander, former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. “And I’ve had young people tell me this: ‘Why should I go out there and make $38,000 a year and get shot in the face?’”
Amid the turmoil, the FBI reported a startling number. Murder and non-negligent homicide jumped by almost 11% in the United States from 2014 to 2015, the largest single-year increase in 45 years. Was it just a coincidence? Some academics, politicians and journalists said it was. They pointed out that crime was still much lower than it had been 25 years ago, and that the percentage increase could partly be explained by the low murder rate in 2014. They said police had become less proactive even before Brown was killed. They blamed the rise of the heroin trade. But many law enforcement officials still insisted the protests and riots had made crime worse.
“This national climate with officers under attack has created this kind of emboldened criminal,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. “People know that officers are cautious.”
If the so-called Ferguson Effect was real, and hesitant officers and brazen criminals were partly to blame, they were not the only factors. University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld pointed to another one, a lesson from the horrific police beating of an unarmed black man named Frank Jude.
On October 23, 2004, Jude attended a house party whose guests included several white Milwaukee police officers. As Jude was leaving, the officers accused him of stealing a wallet containing a police badge. They kicked his head, stomped his face, broke his fingers, shoved a pen into his ear canals and left him bloody and half-naked in the street. Years later, researchers from Harvard, Yale and Oxford published a paper in the American Sociological Review based on their analysis of 911 calls in Milwaukee after the beating made the news. Their conclusion: Milwaukee residents -- especially African-Americans -- made about 22,000 fewer 911 calls in the following year than they would have if prior call patterns had held.
If you think the police are evil, if a highly publicized incident confirms your worst fears, you are less likely to call them for help. And if the police don’t solve your problem, you just might try to solve it yourself.
Ferguson, April 6, 2017. For now the guns are silent, and the sun has risen on a clear day, and Sgt. Dominica Fuller stands at the QuikTrip on West Florissant, pouring Splenda into a tall cup of herbal tea. A call comes over the radio: black man, dark jacket, pacing, screaming, possibly hallucinating. She drives toward the blood plasma donation center to check it out. Officer Dave Patrick is already there, talking to the man on the sidewalk.
“People were a little concerned,” Patrick says. The man has calmed down. Patrick tells him to take deep breaths, and the man does, and Patrick lets him go.
“Thank you, though,” the man says, and they bump fists.
Almost three years into the new era, Patrick and Fuller are ambassadors for the kinder, gentler Ferguson police. Patrick is known to hand out toys on domestic calls, to pay for diapers instead of arresting mothers for stealing them. Fuller exchanges warm greetings with the clerk at Walgreens, the tellers at the bank, the homeless man on South Florissant. Now another call comes from the plasma center: The same man is screaming at people and throwing water bottles. Fuller drives back over, but the man is gone. She leaves again. Barely an hour later the same man provokes a third call from the same shopping center, this time for bothering customers at the IHOP.
“Ah,” Fuller says with a deep sigh. “Are you kidding me?”
Now Patrick has the man in handcuffs, detaining but not arresting him, and the man is loudly protesting, and Patrick is saying, “I want to stress the importance of maintaining civility.”
“I’m gonna tell you, you’re getting a break,” Fuller tells the man. “As a sergeant, I would be taking you to jail.” Instead Patrick drives him to the MetroLink bus station so he can go home to St. Louis.
Fuller makes no traffic stops on her shift. When she sees a silver Chrysler 300 with a temporary tag from 2015, she weighs the risks and the benefits. “Rush hour. What are the chances of him not stopping?” The driver might hit another car or two and keep going. Fuller turns left. The untagged Chrysler rolls on.
The department once had seven patrol officers per shift. Tonight there are three.
The department once had seven patrol officers per shift. Tonight there are three, including Officer Jill Gronewald, who has worked since 8 a.m. and will stay until 6 a.m. if needed. The new police chief, Delrish Moss, is doing his best to rebuild the force, but a good officer is hard to find. Gronewald has served on a hiring board. She says some applicants have criminal records, and others admit they’re too scared to do the job. So for now some areas of the city are unpatrolled, vulnerable to burglaries, and that leaves Gronewald feeling helpless.
“We’re going call to call to call to call,” she says.
No one can be certain why violent crime rose by 65% here in the first year after Mike Brown’s death, why it stayed nearly that high in the second year, why homicides went from two in 2014 to five in 2015 to nine in 2016, a higher per capita rate than Chicago. One can only speculate on why the murder rate nearly doubled in surrounding St. Louis County from 2014 to 2015, or whether it had anything to do with a sharp decrease in traffic stops and arrests for minor offenses, or why people living in Canfield Green say they can’t sleep because of the gunfire, or why a bullet went through a wall and lodged in a mirror, nearly killing a woman who’d gotten up to go to the bathroom; or why another bullet lodged in a wall of the fire station, near a firefighter’s bunk; or why some people drive by houses and just open fire, 10, 20, 50 bullets, and maybe it’s the house they’re looking for, and maybe it isn’t, and then one night in 2015 a bullet comes through a house and kills a 9-year-old girl who’s lying on her mother’s bed, trying to do her homework.
But the mayor has a theory.
A few things to know about Mayor James Knowles III: He is a white man in a town that is 67% African-American, a town whose police were found by the Justice Department to have unfairly targeted African-Americans. Knowles disputed those findings. So did the former police chief, who called the federal report “a biased report about bias.” So did some members of Ferguson’s black community, including Kenneth Wheat, a Ferguson resident since 1999, who called the investigation a “witch hunt.” Other Fergusonians said the Justice Department report squared with their own experiences of unjust stops and cascading fines. Mayor Knowles was in his second term when Brown was killed, and in 2017 he ran for re-election. His opponent was City Council member Ella Jones, an African-American woman who generally agreed with the Justice Department. On April 4, with turnout much higher than usual, Knowles won a third term with 56% of the vote. You can make of that what you will.
Anyway, the theory. Knowles spent five years as a Ferguson police dispatcher, getting a sense of what officers do and why they do it, and he gained an appreciation for the role of the traffic stop. It was not just about revenue, he said. It was about vigilance. If a car had the wrong plate, it might be stolen. If the car was stolen, the driver might be wanted for other crimes. If the driver was wanted for other crimes, he might be carrying an illegal gun, and he might be on his way to yet another crime.
Ted Bundy, Randy Kraft, Joel Rifkin, James E. Swanson, Jr. and Timothy McVeigh were notorious murderers. What else did they have in common? They were all captured after routine traffic stops. The traffic stop has a way of disrupting all kinds of unpleasant activity, the mayor said. And not just the traffic stop, but the fear of the traffic stop. If a town built a reputation for pulling over a lot of cars, which Ferguson did, then criminals would adjust their behavior and either stop driving stolen cars and illegal guns through Ferguson or stop driving through Ferguson altogether. Either way, Ferguson achieved the desired effect.
Then came the Mike Brown incident, and the protesters, and the Justice Department, and a consent decree, and the mass police exodus, and the department was left with neither the will nor the officers to stop a lot of vehicles. Plenty of people thought this was a good thing, but the mayor did not. Stories of reckless driving abounded. The new police chief said speeding was the most frequent complaint he received from citizens. The old police chief said a speeding vehicle smashed his wife’s car and kept on driving. Mayor Knowles reported lying awake in his house near West Florissant and hearing motorcycles drag racing in the middle of the night.
“Whoever’s doing it feels like they can do whatever the hell they want. And if you feel like you can do whatever the hell you want, you’re going to do all kinds of stuff.”
“Whoever’s doing it feels like they can do whatever the hell they want,” he said over breakfast at the Corner Coffee House. “And if you feel like you can do whatever the hell you want, you’re going to do all kinds of stuff.”
Eight nights before the mayor said this, an electrical fire started in the Norlakes apartment complex just north of Canfield Green. After firefighters put it out, one felt a burning sensation on the top of his head. It turned out a bullet had gone through his helmet and creased his scalp, an inch or two from killing him, and the police could not determine where it had come from, or why it was fired. Nor could anyone prove this incident fell under the category of the Ferguson Effect, if indeed such a thing existed.
Why were so many other young men shot to death by police in metropolitan St. Louis after Mike Brown died? Was it because the police were actually evil, or because the young men thought they were? “Kill me now,” Kajieme Powell told them, approaching with a knife, and they did. The authorities said VonDerrit Myers Jr. fired a gun at an officer before the officer shot him to death. They said Antonio Martin tried to fire before an officer shot him to death. They said Isaac Holmes pointed a gun at two officers before they shot him to death. They said Thaddeus McCarroll ran toward officers with a knife and a Bible before they shot him to death. They said Brandon Claxton ran toward an officer and pointed a gun before the officer shot and paralyzed him. They said Mansur Ball-Bey pointed a gun at two officers before one shot him to death. They said Jorevis Scruggs pointed a gun at an officer before the officer shot him to death. Jorevis Scruggs was 15 years old.
Mansur Ball-Bey’s father did not teach his children to hate the police. Now he believes they murdered his son and planted a gun to justify it.
Every shooting worsened the problem, leaving survivors wounded and jittery. A small riot followed Antonio Martin’s death, a brick striking an officer’s face, a young man lighting fires for which he would later go to prison. Mansur Ball-Bey’s father did not teach his children to hate the police. Now he believes they murdered his son and planted a gun to justify it. VonDerrit Myers’ father tried to go near the body, but officers held him back. “I wanted to kill all of ‘em,” VonDerrit Myers Sr. recently said. “And I still do, right today.”
If the Ferguson Effect is real, all these things fall under its shadow. So does the strange case of Jason Stockley, a St. Louis police officer who shot and killed a man almost three years before Mike Brown’s death.
On December 20, 2011, Stockley and another officer confronted a drug suspect outside a restaurant. According to Stockley, Anthony Lamar Smith struck him with a silver Buick and pointed a gun at him before driving away. The officers chased Smith along wet roads until Smith crashed the Buick. Stockley approached the vehicle and shot Smith in the chest. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department reviewed the case. So did the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, the local US Attorneys office and the FBI. Stockley was eventually fired for violating department policies, and the city settled a wrongful-death suit with Smith’s family for $900,000, but state and federal authorities declined to seek criminal charges. The case made a few headlines in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and then faded from public view.
After Brown’s death and the Ferguson unrest, certain unidentified sources approached a local civil rights activist named Anthony Shahid and suggested he examine the Stockley case. Shahid says they were police officers who believed a crime had been covered up. In January 2016, Shahid filed a wide-ranging request under the Missouri Sunshine Law for records pertaining to Stockley and the homicide investigation. He did not get the records. But about four months later, citing newly discovered evidence, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce charged Stockley with first-degree murder. The complaint said that during the chase, Stockley said he was “going to kill this motherf---er.” It said the gun found in Smith’s car had only Stockley’s DNA on it. Stockley has pleaded not guilty. His trial began July 31.
Shahid believes the authorities tried to cover up a murder by a white police officer who planted a gun on an unarmed black man. Police union spokesman Jeff Roorda contends that an innocent officer was sacrificed to the justice system because of the changing political climate. But on this point they agree: Without the Mike Brown case, and without Shahid’s request for the records, the prosecution of Jason Stockley never would have happened.
What is the Ferguson Effect? A swinging pendulum, a reactionary cycle, a study in the way every tribe takes care of its own. Six months after Stockley was charged with murder, police officials gathered in a banquet hall for the 47th annual Crusade Against Crime awards ceremony. Recipients included St. Louis police officer Ryan Murphy, who won a Medal of Valor for killing Jorevis Scruggs.
One more young black man was shot at the Canfield Green apartments on March 28, 2017, and this is how Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal alerted her Twitter followers: “Another Ferguson police shooting in Canfield. NOW!” Angry people congregated at the scene, a mixture of residents and protesters in the cool gray afternoon, saying things like, “They shot that boy,” and “They shot ‘im, bro,” and “Y’all just shoot to kill.” Into the chaos walked Greg Casem, 54, the longest-serving patrol officer in the Ferguson Police Department.
Even after three decades in law enforcement, Casem is easily moved to tears. Some people call him Huckleberry Hound, which is shortened to Huckleberry or just Huck. This is what they called him back in the ‘90s at an apartment complex called Wyndhurst, where a lot of fatherless young men sold crack. For some reason Casem fit in at Wyndhurst, despite all the crime, possibly because he’d once been a juvenile delinquent himself, possibly because he knew the young crack dealers were only trying to buy food and clothes, and possibly because, after a while, the people at Wyndhurst started to like him. He just kept showing up, even when there was no emergency. Especially when there was no emergency. Was he a white man? Most people would have said yes, despite his Filipino lineage, but that mattered less than the way he treated people. He walked around, sat and talked, bought ice cream for children whose mothers didn’t have a quarter to spare. One time a guy was causing a disturbance, and he wouldn’t listen to reason, and finally Casem had to put him in the patrol car. And someone said, “Huckleberry, that’s Mrs. Barnes’s kid.” Casem found Mrs. Barnes, and Mrs. Barnes asked Casem to let him go, because she was going to take care of him, whatever that meant. Casem let him go, and his mother did the rest. Twenty years later, long after Wyndhurst was demolished, a former resident named Heather Dixon still remembered what Casem did there.
“That man has a heart of gold,” she said.
After the latest incident at Canfield Green, Casem approached the young man who’d been shot. It turned out the police had not done it, despite the senator’s claim. The shooter was a security guard, trying to protect a family from the young man’s roving pitbull and unholstered gun. But now the young man was afraid, in pain, lying on the asphalt, bleeding from the abdomen. Three Ferguson officers administered first aid while the protesters jeered. Casem forgot to put on rubber gloves, and he got some blood on his fingertips.
“I’m gonna die,” the young man said.
“You’re gonna be OK,” Casem said, holding his hand.
Casem thought the solution was not to roll up the window. It was to open the door, to come out and let your guard down a little.
He had thought about why his department lost the community’s trust. It was not just about Mike Brown. It was about alienation, about cops who rarely got out of their cars except to write tickets, who rarely talked to people except to yell at them. Traffic stops had their place, but traffic stops alone would not keep a town safe. How can you make sure you never hurt anyone and never get hurt? You can’t. Not unless you leave police work altogether. But Casem thought the solution was not to roll up the window. It was to open the door, to come out and let your guard down a little. When is the pivotal moment? Not when he reaches for your gun. Not when you see him on Canfield Drive. Maybe the moment comes long before that, weeks or months earlier, when you learn his name, and he learns yours.
The ambulance came for the wounded man. Casem went looking for witnesses.
“I ain’t got nothin’ to say,” said a man in a black jacket. He wished the security guard had been arrested. “Man, y’all’s first priority was making sure he was safe.”
“Bullshit,” Casem said, pointing to the ambulance. “I was making sure this brother was OK.”
The man kept insisting they’d ignored the victim. Casem searched for an answer, some proof of his good intentions, and finally he raised his right hand.
“There’s the blood,” he said. “There’s the blood.”
Photography by Melissa Golden.
Skin and text art by Alejandro Cardenas.