A Bronx Tale
A 14-year-old boy shot and killed by police in self-defense is a story told far too often: a feral, fatherless child with a gun.
August 12, 2013 - 3:59 pm
Almost seven years ago, I wrote a piece for National Review Online called “This is Crazy,” in which I described the aftermath of a fatal shooting in South Los Angeles. It was one of the thirteen murders committed in L.A. that Labor Day weekend, and one of the hundreds I’ve seen in my long career as a cop, but for some reason it has haunted me more than most of the others.
I’m sorry to admit it, for doing so seems to dishonor the victim’s memory, but now I can’t even recall his name. If he hadn’t died that afternoon, he’d be about 27 years old today, maybe with a family of his own. I think back on the day he was killed and on and the faces of his sisters as they rushed to the scene and pressed up against the yellow tape to see his car, and then in that moment to realize it was their own brother’s blood all over the interior.
And I remember the young man’s father, who came to the scene after the sisters and the other relatives, and who stood among them so stoically, with so much dignity, even in the grip of such overwhelming sadness. As I wrote of him at the time, “Tonight he can only think of the baby boy he held for the first time 20 years ago and worried about every single day since, only to see him come to this.”
I was thinking of that poor young man and his father this week as I read about Shaaliver Douse, the 14-year-old boy shot and killed by an NYPD officer early last Sunday morning. The New York Times reported that two rookie cops, barely a month out of the police academy, were on foot patrol in the Bronx at about 3 a.m. when they heard gunshots. Rookies or not, they did what cops are expected to do, which is to run toward the sound of the gunfire. As the officers ran east on 151st Street, near Courtlandt Avenue, they saw two males running toward them, one apparently chasing the other with a gun. The officers told him to drop it. He didn’t, instead firing a shot, either at the person he was chasing or at the officers. One of the officers fired, hitting the gunman in the jaw and killing him. And just like that, Shaaliver Douse, at 14, became another statistic, another grim dot on the map.
But how did he come to this? Surely on the day he was born 14 years ago someone was there to hold him and love him and wish for him all that joy that life might bring. But that someone was almost surely not his father. Indeed, in all the press accounts I’ve read on the death of Shaaliver Douse, I’ve found many references to his mother and his aunt (about whom more later), but scarcely any mention of his father. The New York Times, for example, reports that Shaaliver saw his father often, but the story doesn’t name him or indicate if the reporter made any attempt to find him.
This was not Shaaliver’s first experience with violence. He was arrested last May in connection with a shooting in which a rival gang member was wounded in the shoulder. The charges were dropped when the victim and a witness stopped cooperating with the investigation. And in October, he was arrested for possessing a handgun and was due in court later this month to answer for that charge.
So here we have a 14-year-old boy, arrested once for attempted murder but released for lack of a cooperating victim, and arrested again for possessing a gun and with a court date pending, yet who nonetheless was out on the streets of the Bronx at three in the morning with yet another gun, but this time coming up against someone who, we can all be grateful, was better at handling a weapon than he was. And a question arises: If indeed Shaaliver saw his father often, as the New York Times story tells us, what did they talk about? Did his father tell him not to be running the streets at three in the morning? Did he tell him not to carry guns and stay away from gang members? Did he in any way at all admonish him to divert from the reckless path he so clearly had taken? Of course you know the answer.
“Why would you shoot him in the head?” she asked. You’re supposed to shoot him in the arm, shoot him in the foot, break him down.”
And now this brings us to Shaaliver’s loving aunt, Quwana Barcene. Perhaps she tried to be a voice of morality in the young man’s life. Alas, no. “The cops gotta stop killing our children,” she told a reporter for the CBS affiliate in New York. “This is a 14-year-old kid. It’s not fair.”
No, it’s not fair, but not in the way dear Aunt Quwana believes. She expressed her point more forcefully to the Post. “There was no gun,” she said. “It’s all a cover-up. It’s what the police do. They kill us and cover it up.”
Yes, she would have you believe it is the police whom people in the Bronx should fear, not the feral, fatherless young men roaming the streets with guns.
If those police officers had not been there that night, if they had failed to act, if they had not prevented Shaaliver Douse, age 14, from carrying out the murder he planned, today there would be some different mother in mourning. But that story would not have appeared on television or in the Post and certainly not in the Times, for it would have been just another incident of one young black male gunning down another.
And nobody’s interested in that.