Me vs. Him

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No. Come on. Tell me this ain’t it. This can’t be it, man. Not like this.

Not like this.

Six, just six minutes ago, I was sittin’ in my car ‘n everything was fine. I was safe, and didn’t have no bullets piercin’ my body. I mean, yeah, ok. I’m man enough to admit I was nervous as hell. Man, the truth is, I was a hot mess, just drippin’ with sweat, lookin’ at my fractured reflection in that rear-view mirror like somehow, it was gonna make me man up. I remember studyin’ my wide, scared eyes in that dinky little mirror, givin’ myself a pep talk like a crazy man. Haha. Damn. I don’t think I’ve been that nervous since I had to go to my Ma’s funeral. Then, just like today, I remember talkin’ to my reflection like that was a normal thing to do. “You got this, Deshawn. You got this. So, stop bein’ such a baby. Man up. Go in there, n’ get this done.”

This was it. There could be no goin’ back. Everything was all set up. It was just a matter of me walkin’ in there, ‘n gettin’ this done. I huffed out the breath I’d been holdin’ as I unfolded myself, and the cumbersome door to Old Blue squawked to a thudding close. This was it. Nothin’ would ever be the same again. Nothin’.

Every step I took was filled with their voices replaying in my head. “Man, you’re crazy.”

“Don’t do it, Deshawn. You gonna regret this the rest of your life.”

“You outta your mind?”

“What the hell you gonna go ‘n do that for? Huh?”

“This ain’t gonna go your way, man. It never do.”

Then there was my sister, always there for the cautionary tale. She had put her hands to both sides of my face, makin’ sure I had nowhere else to look. “Are you sure this is what you want? Deshawn, you have to make sure this is what you want because there isn’t a way back from this. If it doesn’t work out, your life will never be the same.”

As I gripped the scalding black door handle and yanked, I caught my reflection again, but that time it was a new man that I saw as the clear glass panel door moved past me. I saw confidence and strength. Man, I saw my damn future. The thought that kept runnin’ through my mind the most was my buddy Antwon’s. When I told him what I had planned for today, he slapped me on the back of my head. “Boy! What you gonna do that for? You’re crazy!”

Crazy? Maybe, but damn it. I had to try.

Catchin’ the attention of the Security Guard at the door, I gave the obligatory nod ‘n moved further inside. Man, I could feel his blue eyes boring into my back. Just because a man, a black man, walks in to a place like that, it’s gotta mean he’s up to no good, don’t it? I felt the familiar cloud of injustice move into my mind. Bullshit. Absolute bullshit. I had just as much right to be there as anyone else did.

Anyone.

Just ‘cause I didn’t have the nicest car, n’ ‘cause I wasn’t dressed in no suit, they all assumed I didn’t belong. Hell, they didn’t know the first thing about me. No more than I knew about them, but did that stop them from jumpin’ to conclusions? Nope. They only saw me as a black man, in a place that swirled with money, money they assumed could belong only to them.

They had no idea that I had everythin’ all set up before I even stepped foot in that building. They had no freakin’ clue that I had everything taken care of, planned out, and by night’s end… my destiny would be altered. Richer. Better. No. They didn’t see any of that. They just saw me, a black man, in the same vicinity as them, and I could see their narrow minds turnin’. I could see them gaugin’ me, watchin’ me, waitin’ for me to do somethin’ crazy.

Good.

Crazy was what I went there to do.

*          *          *

 “No, no. It’s on me Officer. You have a good day now.”

“Thank you.” I smiled at the aging restaurant owner, throwing more than enough to cover the bill into the tip jar. It was the middle of the afternoon, on a scorching July day in Las Vegas. The restaurant wasn’t exactly packed. I wouldn’t be hogging a table from anyone, but a quick bite was all I had time for, and I’d already gone a bit out of the way to make it here. I liked stopping in. The food was good, but the service was what drew me back regularly.

Then, just as I was getting ready to leave, I saw a twenty year old land boat pull into the parking lot of the jewelry store across the lot. The car had been puzzled together over the years by matching intact panels of similar cars to form one, mostly blue piece of crap that couldn’t be worth more than one grand. Tops.

With a sigh, I called it in over the radio. Time to poke my head in, make my presence known. Lord knew nobody with a car like that could afford anything more than air at a place like this, and I worried about what he might be looking for.

He was African-American, 6’4”, maybe 275 lbs. Big boy. I nodded to the Security Guard as I entered, and feigned interest in the glittering, gleaming items behind the glass cases, careful to keep out of his line of sight.

“Excuse me.” He muttered as one saleswoman walked to address two teen girls and their mother. “Excuse me.” He tried again with a young man suddenly overcome by a need to move to the back of the store. The black man tsked his tongue. “Man, come on.” He grumbled, turning to try along another case in front of a bank of windows. I quickly swooped around a young couple fawning over wedding bands at a case in the center of the store, but I had been so focused on the big guy, I didn’t see their stroller.

“Sorry! Sorry!” I called out as the stroller and I both clattered to the floor.

A newborn began crying and screaming from the floor, but his stroller had protected him. Or her. Who could tell what that bald, screaming infant was? Either way, the child hadn’t been harmed. Of course, Mom and Dad acted as though I had just murdered it in front of their very eyes.

“He’s ok. He’s ok.” I attempted to persuade Mom as she cradled her precious little one in her arms. Dad looked like he wanted to bluster, create a scene, but eyeing my uniform, he too chose to worry over the wrinkled little creature in a yellow onesie.

As for me? I’d lost sight of my target in all the commotion. Just as I placed one hand on the glass countertop for balance and returned to my feet, I heard it.

Pop.

It was unmistakable. A small caliber and followed quickly by another.

Pop.

Screams and panic clogged the store. “Get down!” I ordered. “Police! Freeze!” Where was he? Damn it? Where did he go? He was a giant in a world of glass. So, where the hell was he?! The child continued to scream and clamor. People whispered and whimpered as I stalked toward the door where the shots had called out from.

Pop.

Another shot rang out in harmony with a woman’s scream. “Help! Please! My husband!” I saw a small river of blood creeping around a bend in the store. I hurried to place my back along the interior wall, weapon at the ready. I turned just in time to see my mark running, barreling toward me.

And I fired. Pop.

The woman screamed again. Until that moment, I had never known what people meant when they said blood-curdling, but in that moment, as her hands shot to her ears, burrowing through her mane of red curls and she threw her body down on that of her husband, I knew. It was the scream of desperation, of someone’s soul leaking out, made vulnerable by circumstances. And that vulnerability made the blood pumping through the veins of anyone within earshot run cold. Run slow. Curdled.

I saw the giant drop to his knees, scampering toward a corner. That was when I realized, he hadn’t been barreling toward me. He was angled like he was trying to render aid, help the man who had been shot, but that couldn’t be.

After all, he’d been the one that shot him. “Drop your weapon!” I ordered.

“What?” He feigned confusion, but my bullet must have missed him because he didn’t look hurt. He looked scared, and fear in these situations was never good. “Hey!” He raised one palm to me, but his other dove into his pocket. “We’re cool. Look-”

Pop. Pop. Pop.

I fired three more shots, and the woman screamed again. Then, I saw them. Motion drew my eye out the window to the front parking lot, and three punk kids, white kids, were running, stumbling over one another, looking back in fear at the store. And the last one?

The last one tucked a 9 mm into his back waistband.

The world began to move in slow motion then. The big man who had absorbed three of my bullets was grunting as gravity slowly compelled him to the floor. “It’s ok.” He muttered. “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s not me. It’s not me.”

Shit! It wasn’t him. With weapon drawn, I moved in. “Drop it!” I demanded, as he struggled to pull his hand from his pocket. I radioed for back-up, time slowly ticking on.

“I bought it online.” He was struggling to draw breath.

“Freeze!” Damn it! “Freeze.”

“I was just pickin’ it up.” His words were rushed, in a hurry to make sense of the life I’d robbed him of. “Just pickin’ it up. It’s my destiny man. She’s the one.”

I stood directly above him as his body grew lax. His arm gave way easily when nudged by the toe of my shoe and a small, white box popped out of his pocket.

“My life was gonna…. Change. It’s crazy man…. But… she’s the one. She’s the one. Saved for a year for… a year for this.” His mouth was hardly moving anymore as his voice grew more and more distant.

The pool of his blood reached out and joined that of the man below the sobbing red-haired woman on the floor. Horrified, she looked up to me. “My husband.” She pleaded.

“Ambulance is on the way, Ma’am.”

“He’s dead. My husband’s dead. He’s all I had.” She was sobbing as she hugged the lifeless body of her husband. That, just that sentiment had visions of my own wife, my own life, flickering through my mind. My wife was a beautiful, glorious, wonderful woman I didn’t deserve. What would she think now?

What had I done?

I studied the box that lay amid the blood. Red blood. Blood from two men. One white. One black. But, both … both had bled red.

____________________________________________________________________

Note from the author: Racial prejudice. It’s an antiquated point of view, one that people on every side of that racial divide tend to fall victim to. In this piece, I choose to point out some examples:

1) Me: Am I a racist for using a stereotypical black man’s voice in the first part of this piece? I think not. I chose a voice, any voice, and in so doing, I am allowed the creative choice to select this one. Your beliefs about what is and is not appropriate do not dictate what I choose to write.

2) The employees in the store: Are they racist for ignoring the black man who approached them for assistance? Not necessarily. The first one went to help people who were already waiting in a store, people who were there first. The other went into a back room, but you, me, and anyone who might have walked into that store couldn’t know what for. Perhaps he was grabbing an item he had promised to somebody he was already helping. Maybe the manager had called him back. Maybe he was violently ill and needed to use the restroom. Could he have greeted the black man and apologized, promising to help him in a moment? Perhaps. But, bad etiquette does not equal racism. Split second judgments or presuming the cold shoulder when there was no such intent is a problem that widens the divide.

3) The cop: Was he a racist because he was following the black man into and around the store? Again, not necessarily. He is trained to identify things that look out of place. A man in clothes different from others in a store, in an area, and in a vehicle that do not blend is bound to garner his attention. It wasn’t necessarily his skin color that drew that attention. However, skin color is a part of one’s description, one that surely, a police officer would be expected to see. For all we know, the officer could have been adopted by a black family, have a black wife and children. If you assumed he was a racist because he was aware that his skin color was different from the man who looked out of place in that store, perhaps you need to think about your own racial tendencies.

4) You: Are you a racist because you fell for the ploy? At the onset of the story did you think he was going to rob the store? Was it my fault? Did I, the storyteller, lead you to that presumption? Sure. But you know what? Life is a story. Every one of us stars in our own, and without looking into the other chapters, understanding the steps somebody has taken to reach this point in their arch, knowing their past, their history, we can never truly know what motivates them.

Was Deshawn a victim in this story, a victim of the Officer? Yes. But, that doesn’t mean the cop is a bad guy. It means he made a mistake, one he will have to live with the rest of his life. Now, I’m not saying it’s ok for police to kill innocent men. I’m not saying a mistake is allowed because of the uniform. No. I simply point out that we all make mistakes, and when your job is to walk the line between right and wrong, sometimes, sometimes mistakes are bound to happen. We all have our own preconceived notions. We have to stop jumping to rash conclusions because of the few moments of video we see online. It’s not the full story. It cannot be.

Now, you may turn me to statistics, point out the number of African-Americans killed at the hands of white cops, but don’t stop your investigation there. Look up the statistics of the number of African-American police officers. What percentage of the force do they make up? Isn’t it more likely that someone, anyone would die at the hands of a white officer, than a black?

Yes.

Look into the number of violent offenders. Are they disproportionately minorities? Are they more likely to resist arrest? Are they more fearful of officers in general? These are all problems, I agree. However, they are also a part of the puzzle. We must address police violence head on. We must challenge the number of black men killed by white Officers. But more than that, we must look further. We must omit the divide between races. Here, in America, we have fought and died to become one homogenous group of people, but this past decade has seen us retreating from that beauty. Hate and ignorance have stoked the flames of unrest. There is very little regard for law and justice. Its as though technology has brought out our inner barbarians, and something must change. This is unacceptable. We must heal together. We must fight together, and we always, always, must appreciate the brave men and women who volunteer their lives every single day in the pursuit of justice, of peace, and the protection of you, and of me.

~Jennifer L. Meacham

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