“The arms are fair, when the intent of bearing them is just.”
–Henry IV, Part 1.
I’m walking with AltDaily editor Jesse Scaccia as he speaks to people left behind in neighborhoods creaking under the stress of violence and crime. Places very recently added to a list of fatal police shootings. I listen as some describe how they fear the cops. How they hesitate to dial 911 when they need help. How they no longer believe the boys in blue are on their side.
I contemplate quietly on my own interactions with the police. It’s difficult to ignore the shifting manner in treatment between rich blocks and poor standing a’front the thin blue line. It’s hard not to wonder what difference a justified shooting makes? Is a life any less wasted? Does the fact that it’s ruled a “clean” shoot mean there was any less blood to scrape off the ground after all is said and done? Does it mean there was no other way for the police to handle these cases?
I don’t know.
It’s easy to say these people had it coming. And I get it. Redemption is the harder road. It’s less neatly wrapped. A much more difficult sell. Certainly there are people in this city, likely reading this now, who say to themselves, “Kill them all and let God sort it out.”
But perhaps there was some decision police could have made differently, which might have resulted in opportunities for reform down the road. Yes, it’s easy to put these people down as better off dead, but is it not possible that we’ve lost something important here? What tolls are levied when police kill suspects? What stories might we speak now to you, the living, in the hope that something might change for a better world?
I walk these streets with my friend Jesse. I look at the yards. I watch the people. I read the signs.
India Beaty. 9500 block of Shore Dr.
25-year-old India Beaty died here. Brandishing a non-firing replica gun while arguing with a man in this parking lot. Police say she failed to drop the perceived weapon when so ordered, instead making what they claim was a threatening gesture.
This stuffed bear, presumably left by her family, stands as sentinel. Holding a lonely vigil over her memory.
Keith Richardson. 1100 block of Land St.
Police were called to the scene upon reports of a domestic altercation between Richardson, aged 58, and his wife. Police statements indicate that once the wife fled, Richardson barricaded his property and refused to come out. According to the report a K9 dog was used in an attempt to apprehend the man, who then shot and and killed the dog before being shot by police.
Richardson’s neighbor claims that there was no barricade. That police had several opportunities to take custody of Richardson, that the shooting of the K9 animal was completely in self defense, and that the shooting in no way had to happen as it did.
Richardson was taken from the scene in critical condition, unconscious. Later his family made the decision to take him off of life support, and he passed away. Now, his house stands empty, with a notice that it is unlawful to occupy the property due to code violations making it unsafe for habitation. His living room sits cleared of all belongings save what appears to be equipment from a cleaning crew.
Tyre Privott. Intersection of Chesapeake Blvd. and Fishermans Rd.
25 year old Tyre Privott was on the run after fatally shooting 24 year old Chaz Hall, presumably over Hall’s reported intervention in a physical altercation between Privott and his girlfriend.
A patrol car moves down the street where Privott was killed. The official report states that twenty-five year old suspect opened fire on a pair of officers as they approached him. One officer returned fire, mortally wounding him. While a body camera was present, it was not activated at the time of the shooting.
Buttercups mark the earth upon which Tyre breathed his last. There are no memorials here. No Teddybears. No evidence anyone cares for a man who’s violence led him down this path to a bloody demise in a hail of gunfire. The children of Chaz Hall are left with no answers.
Across the median where he was shot down, this sign proclaiming ministry bore silent witness. “I will bring you to a horrible end and you will be no more. You will be sought, but you will never again be found. This is what the Lord said to the city of Tyre.” Ezekial 26: 19.
Eric Wakup. 1300 block of Church St.
A townhouse is for sale a few buildings over from where Eric Wakup was killed by police after holding his brother and another relative hostage. Once the two escaped, police negotiators attempted to convince Wakup, age 30, to give himself up over the course of several hours. Wakup was shot and killed by police as he left the building armed with an assault style rifle, opening fire on officers at the scene.
A sign on a street corner near the scene indicates that the community is attempting to come to grips with the violence on their streets and in their homes. While Wakup is perhaps the least sympathetic of the victims here, family members have reported that he suffered from issues involving drugs and was a troubled man. It may be worthwhile to reflect upon the dearth of public mental health in our cities, and ponder whether Wakup’s end might have been avoided were he to have gotten help earlier. It may make sense to ask where he got his weapon from, or why these weapons are legal to own in our neighborhoods.
Willie Demetrius James. Chapel St. Tidewater Gardens.
Tidewater Gardens is by any account, a troubled neighborhood. Plagued by crime and poverty, I’ve been told that it’s only through the efforts of a nearby church that many of its residents have anything to eat at all. Many of the people we spoke to appeared to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.
Police were in the neighborhood investigating a stolen car when they noted a disturbance at a nearby residence. Their statements report that Willie Demetrius James, aged 43, attempted to assault one of the officers with a knife. That he was shot and killed in self defense. Others dispute this description of these events. A relative claims that James was coming down the stairs with his hands over his head as the police opened fire. Body camera footage of the incident exists and has been viewed by the local branch President of the NAACP, he has publicly stated that it’s dificult to tell from the video whether James was acting in a threatening manner, and the Norfolk Police Department has at the time of this article refused to release it to the public. Relatives described James as a hard working man who suffered from mental illness.
In Tidewater Gardens there are no notices from community activists. The signs here proclaim messages such as “One Way.” “Stop.” “Do Not Enter.” The signs of Tidewater Gardens do not speak to civic engagement: No. They tell you how to leave. Passersby with whom we spoke with make no bones about it. They do not believe the police are there to help them. “They lit that boy up. They didn’t need to shoot him like that. He was harmless.” Another neighbor claimed James was shot at least seven times. This is the sixth police shooting in Norfolk this year to date.