A West Indian Day Parade shooting victim talks about growing up among guns and violence
My friend Chris is 22 years old, a pre-law major at Florida State University.
When he's home from school and not hanging around my Brooklyn Heights co-op building with my super's brother (which is often, and which is how I met him; I'm there a lot too, since I work from home), he hangs his hat in Flatbush, which he just calls "the hood."
One afternoon in September as I was on my way out into the gloriously leafy, banal streets of my neighborhood I saw him and asked how he was doing. He said he'd been shot.
I actually assumed he was joking and even laughed, until I put the picture together: the leg-brace, the cane, and a vague sense I'd had from the papers of a Labor Day weekend of obscene violence.
I'm sure if I hadn't talked to him I'd have missed the updated figures bringing the final tally of shooting victims over the weekend, mostly associated with Labor Day and West Indian Day parade gatherings, to 67. Three days, 67 people shot, 13 dead. Twenty-one bullets were fired at Sabine Walter’s daughter’s “liquor barbecue” in the Bronx that Sunday, injuring eight people including her 11-year-old son, a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old, after an altercation between two other teenagers. Denise Gay, 56, was shot and killed in Crown Heights, while sitting on her stoop with her daughter, another innocent bystander in a weekend straight out of the early '80s.
Thirty seconds of gunfire took the life of three people close to the West Indian Day Parade, and sent several cops to the hospital. Firing bullets willy-nilly into a crowd is newsworthy. Mayor Mike called the events “unconscionable” and called on the Feds to do something about guns in the city.
Chris had been shot at the parade, and promised later, when the opportunity presented itself, to tell me his story for the record. I can't quite think of the issue of guns and violence the same way since the interview.
Lately, interspersed among the marveling over Comstat data showing continuing decreases in crime and violence in the city, notes of outrage remain as high-profile violent crimes strike, disproportionately, a small number of neighborhoods. There is outraged talk in the press and at political podiums about all the guns on the street. An 8-year-old boy was on the cover of yesterday's Daily News because he got shot in the shoulder while browsing the candy and chips shelf in a bodega in the Soundview section of the Bronx. A teenager on a bicycle shot up the front of the store. Police chief Ray Kelly is given a half page editorial alongside the story; the front page headline is "MASSACRE."
"YOU CAN HAVE YOUR INTERVIEW," CHRIS SAID, "but I'm not going to take a picture."
"He doesn't want it to be known necessarily," added my super's brother, Chris' friend, who joined us for the sit down.
"The dude is going to jail anyway," Chris continued. "He already got caught.”
He was referring to Dexter Harris. His friends reportedly call him Trigger.
"I make sure I look nice, you know," said Chris, recalling how the parade day began. "I threw on my Caribbean flag so I represent which Caribbean I'm representing. You know, Haiti, of course."
The parade ended abruptly at 3:00 p.m. My super’s brother had brought along his girlfriend, and was leaving. The last thing he told Chris before going was to be safe.
When Chris was shot was going to meet up with Charles, whose friends call him Beans, and together they would trek to the other side of Eastern Parkway to hook up with their other friends.
At the parade he got a chance to see a whole lot of girls. He didn't hook up with any girls.
"That's the whole reason why I was gonna go meet up with my friends," he said.
"There's like a whole bunch of stands like with food. Music. People selling flags and stuff. And then the floats come. There's like a whole lot of women and wearing like nothing. It just—it's like a party. It's a party in the daytime. And you can smoke weed right in front of the cops."
They were half a block away from the rendez-vous when a fight broke out in the middle of the street, causing a bottleneck. There were a hundred-plus people trying to walk past the scrimmage that was developing between two men Chris couldn't see.
"No, we were just walking. And I guess tensions rose, somebody probably got bumped. A fight broke out," Chris said.
"After the crowd dispersed I just see a kid on the floor but he's bleeding profusely, you know, like everywhere. All over his head. Yeah, like people just cleared the streets."
But he could see his friend Beans.
"So I walk up to Beans and as I shake—like I walk up to Beans like, 'Yo, you good?' But as he went to shake Beans’ hand he found himself looking down at the guy bleeding all over the concrete. And then: “I just see like a gun come out. Like as I looked back down at the kid I just see a gun like above the kid. But I don't really see the person's head because I'm not really looking up. So I just see a black shirt and I just see a gun aiming towards the kid's head. And all I heard was 'Boom.'"
Harris was aiming to shoot the kid who was lying on the ground, blood gushing from his face after having first been hit with the gun.
"As soon as I heard that—he tried to shoot him in the head. He missed. And he missed. So as soon as he missed and I heard like—as soon as I heard the shot I felt it in my leg. And I took off running.”
The bullet sliced through Chris' right calf muscle.
"It felt like a helmet to the shin," Chris said. "If you ever played football, you know, like kicking the helmet to the shin or getting kicked in the shin. The kid's like right there?”
He gestured to the door in the room where we were talking, not 15 feet away.