(I apologize in advance for the length of this. It is something I wrote long before joining this site, during a period when I was trying to put all the jumbled thoughts in my head into some type of order. For those of you patient enough to read to the end, please keep in mind I actually saw many things far worse over the years.)
On a balmy summer evening in the projects, most of the residents are sitting out on their porches socializing with their neighbors while numerous children run about laughing and playing within the courtyard areas. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the peaceful scene is shattered by multiple gunshots erupting from every direction from a variety of different handguns and rifles. Screams of terror fill the night as two rival gangs decide it is a fantastic time and place to use uncontrolled violence to settle their differences concerning who has the right to sling dope on that particular turf. Hundreds of bullets mindlessly zip through the air as parents frantically run and call to their children to try to protect them.
I was part of a drug task force team at the time, and we responded to the call with pretty much every other officer in the precinct area. Multiple shots could still be heard as we neared the location. To say it was total chaos when we arrived would be an understatement. Cries of despair and wails of horror, along with the yelling of the outraged and confused, blended together with the blaring of dozens of police sirens to create a mind-numbing symphony suitable for a psychopathic nightmare. There were people running everywhere in the darkness, with the red and blue strobes of the police cruisers casting demonic shadows across the killing grounds.
Dead bodies and the wounded were scattered everywhere across a two-block area. (The incident had been what we called a “running gun battle.” Sadly, they were rather common events during those days.) In the process of helping search the area for the fucktards responsible for the shooting, it seemed like every corner I turned there was a dead guy I had to step over to get to the next building. Not really sure what the total body-count ended up being that night, and – honestly – I am not really sure I ever even wanted to know. On the plus side, at least there were a few of the thug shooters who met their demise during that conflict. Unfortunately, there were almost as many innocent bystanders who got caught in the crossfire. However, out of all of those who were killed or injured, there is only ONE from that night who will be forever seared into my mind.
After conducting the initial sweep, my team and I returned to the courtyard where the confrontation had started. Medics, detectives, and evidence technicians had arrived on scene by then, and we started assisting with securing the crime scene as best we could. Small knots of family and friends were gathered here and there consoling one another, while some individuals wandered aimlessly about with looks of shock and stunned disbelief upon their faces. With the sirens having been silenced at this point, the haunting cries of anguish, pain, and loss were more clearly heard as a constant background to the barking of orders, the chirping of police radios, and the rumble of rescue vehicle engines. During this relative lull, I was walking quickly across the courtyard to meet with a teammate when I glanced over at a middle-aged woman sitting on the concrete of an apartment front porch. And without consciously realizing it, I suddenly found myself stopped – frozen in place – just a few feet away. Because that is when I saw him.
He was a young boy, probably ten or eleven years old. He was lying across the lap of the woman, with his head toward her right arm, facing away from her. She had him loosely cradled in her arms and was rocking him gently as though helping him go to sleep. Tears were streaming down her face as she looked down upon him, but she made no sounds. On the concrete next to her, a dark red pool was growing larger as blood dripped steadily from a gaping hole near the top of the young boy’s head. His eyes were wide open but lifeless, looking through me into nothingness. His limp little body twitched and spasmed randomly in the final phase of traumatic death. As I stood there staring, I was filled with a mixture of rage and sorrow that is difficult to explain, and – as if reading my thoughts – that is when the woman lifted her head and looked straight into my eyes. I vividly remember that look. There was no anger or hatred in her gaze. There was not even the look of accusation or blame that police are so often accustomed to getting from victims. When her eyes met mine, the only thing I saw in the bottomless pit of her unimaginable grief was a single, unanswerable question: “WHY?”
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