Sean Dailey was courteous, but the dude made it clear: he had no time to talk to me.
“... I’ve got kids at home,” he said. “I’ve got to get back home and tell them what happened to their big brother before they see it on the news.”
Their big brother was Akiel Denkins, and what had happened to him was what happens to way too many young black men and boys: he was shot and killed. This time by the police, but often by other young black men and boys.
Hundreds of people, black and white, young and old, dudes with red bandanas shoulder-to-shoulder with dudes in blue bandanas, gathered on Bragg Street south of downtown Raleigh on Monday evening to protest Denkins’ death by a cop.
You’re right: victims of gun violence are just as dead regardless of who pulls the trigger. There is, though, a difference when the person who pulls it is a hot-headed peer with whom you have a beef or a trained law enforcement officer sworn to, as the Rev. Darnell Dixon said, “protect and serve” you.
“Somebody needs to tell the police ‘Behave yourself.’ Nobody in a blue uniform, a brown uniform, in Raleigh, Durham or Wake Forest, has a right to shoot anybody, let alone in the back,” Dixon thundered to a rollicking crowd Monday that splintered from the main protest and walked to his church, Bible Way Temple.
“We need answers. We have no rugs for you to sweep this under,” he said. “We are civilized. We ain’t angry.”
Speak for yourself, Rev. There was a lot of anger right outside his church.
“We built this country,” one woman shouted in front of a long, red, justice-demanding banner held aloft by her friends. “Let’s tear it down.”
That became a chant, albeit one drowned out immediately by another young woman who replied equally vociferously, “Why would you tear it down? You build and you keep building. Build it up!”
Thus began a shout-off:
TEAR IT DOWN!
BUILD IT UP!
TEAR IT DOWN!
BUILD IT UP!
Even before that, though, there was a lot of noise on Bragg Street on Monday, from afternoon to late at night. Hundreds of people representing this organization and that – “Black Trans Lives Matter” read one sign – this solution or the other one, gathered to express their sadness, frustration and anger.
Ah yes, mainly to express anger.
Voices amplified by bullhorns vied for your ear with voices amplified merely by rage. Both competed against a parked car’s stereo from which bellowed – over and over again – Boosie Badazz’s “#@$% The Police.”
Many people standing in the parking lot nodded to the beat, a couple even busted a move as the car’s owner kept hitting “replay.”
“#@$% the police.” Perhaps 100 yards away, Denkins’ body with six bullet holes in it lay behind a house before it was removed by the medical examiner’s office – 3 1/2 hours after he was killed.
That was surprisingly brief: anyone who has covered such cases is used to seeing the dead body lying on the ground for twice that length of time or longer.
Dailey, Akiel’s daddy, said he had to rush home before his remaining children learned of the tragedy on television. “They’ve already started telling lies,” he said.
Whether the news media were lying or not, many definitely didn’t go out of their way to present a balanced picture of the dead kid, gratuitously emphasizing his numerous arrests.
Akiel Denkins had a pending drug charge, but he had but three misdemeanor convictions. Hell, I have that many, all accrued before I’d even reached his age – 24.
Man, I’m glad none of the cops in Rockingham felt it was necessary to shoot me as I fled. And I fled often, sometimes even when I had done nothing, just reflexively at the sight of a white car.
They all knew where to find me.
Same with Akiel, the Rev. Chris Jones told the crowd. “Why did you have to kill him? If he ran from you today, they could’ve arrested him tomorrow. He’s out here every day.”
The crowd was at times, depending upon the speaker, boisterous, seething, surging, solemn.
Despite the shouts and cries and angry music, the loudest statement – the one that still reverberates in my ears, at least – was made by the silent tears of Denkins’ mother, Rolanda Byrd, when she stood at Bible Way Temple church and was enfolded in the arms of friends and strangers who’d gathered there to try to console her.
Her silent sobs – as well as the audible cries of Akiel Denkins’ young pals who unselfconsciously collapsed into the arms of their compatriots, drowned out the day’s and night’s bullhorns, screams, even Lil Boosie and his profanely expressed but prevailing sentiment.
The sounds, even the silences, signified the same thing, though: something has to change or the fire next time – the one James Baldwin prophesied following the social conflagrations of the 1960s in his book “The Fire Next Time” – is going to make the fire the last time look like a weenie roast.