I watched a man get shot today and then helped apprehend his shooter.
(Not exactly what I figured the next post on my blog would say. I have been chewing over some thoughts about WiFi and the junk science that opponents and reporters alike love to sensationalize. I even spent this morning cranking out a lighthearted post about kitesurfing. I thought it would be great to get something up on the blog before I headed off on two weeks of travel in Europe and the Caribbean.)
My friend Nancy was coming by my house to pick something up before I left. I was waiting outside on the curb, got bored and started to type out a to do list on my Blackberry. Suddenly I heard two loud, distinct pops. I can’t say they sounded unfamiliar, but the potential to hear gunshots on a Monday was so distinctly out of the realm of possibility, my brain searched for other explanations. A car backfiring? Fireworks?
Any attempt to reasonably explain away what I had just heard was undermined by the report from my eyes. There I was looking at a thirty-year-old Asian guy clutching desperately at his loins as his legs gave out and he crumbled to the pavement. If there was any doubt remaining about what just took place, a silver Chrysler 300 squealed its tires and streaked right toward me to flee the scene. Holy shit. This car just shot someone.
Instinct kicked in immediately. Had I paused to consciously process anything, my next steps would have gone differently. The shooter, a black male behind the wheel, was pinned at the intersection of 3rd and Townsend. Stuck in the right hand lane, the traffic heading up 3rd Street left him no immediate options to escape. A large semi truck was in the lane to his left further boxing him in and simultaneously providing me cover.
Thus, I made my move and sprinted up toward the suspect’s car. I rolled my body along the edge of the trailer until I was able to catch the full license plate number just before he found a window to spin out across the intersection toward the Embarcadero. It wasn’t until much later that I started to digest that, at one point, I was a car length from an attempted murderer. Thank goodness the insanity of that adjacency didn’t occur to me in the moment. Instead, I had one momentary obsession – write down that plate number before I forgot it.
By now there was shouting coming at me from all sides. “Did you get it?” “Hey, get down! Get down!” “Someone get that license plate number!” “Watch out!” While I just tried to steady my hands long enough to etch the digits onto my screen. The remaining items on my packing/to-do list thus soon read:
Socks (blue and black for Oxford)
Harpers and Atlantic mags
Take out the trash
Pull kite, harness, and lines from truck
Plate number in hand I dialed 911 – busy signal of course - as I ran back toward 4th to aid the man down. He was face down on the pavement. I don’t mean to say he was just on his stomach. I mean literally, his nose was buried in the asphalt, one arm splayed out above his head, like a dyke guiding the fluorescent red blood leaving him on its dash for the gutter.
We were helpless, the few of us standing there not knowing what to do. They didn’t cover drive-bys and massive trauma in the CPR course I took. A kind forty-five year old man placed his hand on the victim’s back repeating with inspired but dubitable confidence that everything would be all right. In that moment, an SF police officer rushed from across the street. He had happened upon the incident in the normal course and wasted no time in jumping into the fray. The 911 dispatchers had yet to answer my call, nevertheless, I was able to grab the cop and have him radio out the plate number that I read from the screen in my trembling hands. As his call went out on the air we could immediately hear the ambient echo of sirens firing up across the city.
The cop rolled the downed man over onto his back revealing his injuries. What I saw I will never forget, and I won’t start to describe. To even type this now from my aisle seat high above the Atlantic makes me shake and my eyes well up. What the hell happened out there today?! There was so much blood. So much pain. So much panic and fear.
The paramedics responded with an urgency and feverishness to which I am not accustomed. They tore off the man’s clothes, working almost spastically to clean and stabilize his wound. I heard one announce that the bullet was still lodged in him while another declared that he was losing too much blood.
This searing montage was interrupted intermittently by the cop’s crackling radio as officers updated the pursuit. There was a shared but virtually silent celebration when we learned that the shooter had ultimately been cornered and taken into custody by police near the Bay Bridge. Notions of civil justice, despite what the movies may tell you, feel quite hollow while still peering down at a body struggling for its life.
It took a few minutes before a maintenance worker noticed a funny little copper object at his feet and asked if it might be a shell casing. Alas, it was actually one of the two bullets fired, the other still burrowed deep within the victim’s flesh. This errant projectile was surprisingly rejected by the steel and concrete baseboard of the Beacon building and now lying motionless and deformed in the sidewalk crack. I wondered how warm it might be.
I went home and tried to busy myself with continued packing but noticed for the first time how sweaty I was, my shirt clinging to my body and my brow dripping. I tried to distract myself by loading up my iPod and making sure my toiletries all fit in the TSA-prescribed plastic bag. But, I soon couldn’t hold back the emotion.
What the fuck?! Where to start? What is going on here? What could drive someone to do such a thing? How does this happen in San Francisco one block from the ball park in the middle of the day? Why do we take all of life for granted? What allows some of us to sloganeer in the fight to own firearms and yet be myopic to the empirical result of gun ownership?
I wanted to write another piece of this post. I wanted to talk all about what it is like to grow up in an Upstate New York town where working at the Lions Club Gun Show was valued as volunteer work. I also thought I would write a bit about living in El Salvador on the heels of their civil war where everyone carried a gun, literally, everyone, and how I often encourage staunch gun possession advocates to go spend some time there and tell me if they feel any safer after daily exchanges of fire.
But, I am frankly just drained and hoping that as I finally fall asleep in seat 31C, there is a gunshot victim recovering in a San Francisco hospital. I hope his family can be with him tonight. And, I hope that everyone who saw what happened today takes a moment to relate that experience to others toward the end that we may someday realize the undeniable folly of guns.
(Update: Here is a link to the press account of what happened: http://www.ktvu.com/news/13440784/detail.html)