For the number of times I have been asked if I am worried about getting shot when I explain to people where I live, you would assume I’ve seen a ton of drive-by shootings. In reality I hadn’t seen one until this past Saturday. My family and I are very lucky to have not witnessed anything like that in our first 15 years of living in the inner city and I hope we can go at least another 15 before the next time that happens. I figured it would probably be therapeutic to write down a couple thoughts on the experience and hopefully give some insight to anyone that has yet to experience a random shooting.
The first is that it happened really fast. Someone in a red car shot 7 or 8 bullets at a silver suv while turning down the alley, then both cars sped off. I’d think you could shoot a gun 8 times in 3 seconds and that’s about how long the duration of the actual shooting was. 3 seconds isn’t a long time. Even though it only lasted 3 seconds it was enough to stop everything else going on around it. None of the 40 or 50 people within a 20 yard radius were hurt yet all of us were hurt.
The shooting took place literally in the middle of a grassroots pop-up vendor fair. I doubt any of the vendors east or west of the alley figured their day was going to be cut short because someone fired a gun out of a car window. The anticipation of building your brand and selling things you created and are proud of quickly leaked out of the group. The woman whose car was hit by one of the bullets sat there with a blank look on her face. After the first wave of shock wore off everyone seemed to want to try and continue on with the sale, but one by one people started packing up. I think everyone was hurt. The loss of innocence hurts. It was over in 3 seconds, we all walked away with all of their body parts intact, but instead of having a memory of a great day, we are simply thankful to be alive, something that is so easy to take for granted.
Living here for 15 years, I still don’t totally grasp the aversion to calling the police when something dangerous happens. I was taught from a young age if there is an emergency, call the police – they are there to help. Not a single person dialed 911. No one took out their phones in contemplation of making the call. Instead peoples hands and arms were around one another, making sure each of us were ok. I wish I was making this up, but when the police did finally arrive, it was because two bike cops just so happened to be riding by. I wonder if the reluctance to call the police was due in part to our collective hope that we could continue to have equally as good a time as we were prior to the shooting. 4 or 5 squad cars showing up asking questions would be an admission that something awful happened and who wants to admit that. Hell, even I was thankful in the moment that we had a short reprieve from processing what had just happened. In the end, I think it was the bullet hole in our neighboring vendor’s car that was too much to “forget”. She was selling handbags or some other type of custom accessory item. Can you imagine thinking you are going to get your name out there, sell some of the cool stuff you made, and instead you drive home with a bullet hole in your car. In reality, the chances of any ramifications for the shooter are far closer to negligible than probable. I had a rental broken into once and a bunch of tools were stolen. I almost didn’t call the police then. It seemed like adding salt to the wound. I watched her talk to the bike cops for about 20 minutes. They handed her a piece of paper and she walked back to her table with her head down and started packing up.
The last thing I’ve got to mention about seeing my first drive-by shooting is that the group of people that was there because of me, mostly family and a friend or two, were the only white people there. The other 35 were Black. The more time I spend in 53206, the more I struggle with this truth. While this is the first drive-by I’ve physically witnessed, it’s far from the first shooting I’ve heard. 2 or 3 times a month I hear one and that number might be higher since those are the ones I can definitely say are not fireworks. I struggle with the fact that 53206 is the poorest zip code in Wisconsin and it is almost entirely African American. I have a real problem with that. It doesn’t sit well with me, it hurts my soul, and I have yet to hear a valid reason for why continuing to orient ourselves so places like my neighborhood exist at a scale they do in 53206. I struggle because no one wants to live around places where shootings take place. No one wants to live in a place where when a shooting does take place, there isn’t anyone you can call. Yet, we have an entire zip code of people that live with those realities while dealing with unstable housing, access challenges to quality education, while simultaneously navigating the inherent challenges that go along with high concentrations of poverty. I don’t believe the perpetuation of the issues facing 53206 is inevitable. In fact, I think quite the oposite. The more we push against the narrative of inevitably, the faster change can take place.