I have resumed work on a novel that I began in 1993. It is a dark and bleak story with racial undertones. It is about our nation being ripped apart by a civil war based on racial differences. I shelved it a long time ago and have brought it out on occasion. Now seems like the time to dive back in and finish this.
I offer to you an unedited (I have not looked at this file for a few years) peek at the introduction and set up for the story.
“We the jury find the defendant, Samuel James Anderson, not guilty of Manslaughter in the first degree,” the young foreman read from the index card in his slightly trembling left hand.
A moment of silence hung in the courtroom; then, like an avalanche on a snowy mountainside, the sound built to a tremendous roar. On one side, officers of the Seattle Police Department cheered and slapped each other on the backs. There were smiles all around. On the other, members of the African-American community glared, scowled, and cried out loud at the injustice. Another one of their own had been shot and killed by a police officer…who got away scot-free.
“Murderer!” an elderly woman screamed as she fell into the aisle on her knees. “You killed my baby boy!”
Jerry Burns scanned the crowd, his eyes taking in as much detail as possible. As he exited the courtroom and headed down the mostly empty hall of the courthouse’s second floor, a buzz was already building in the hundreds who had not been able to get a seat inside for the announcement of the verdict. He could actually feel the anger building around him. This was not going to be a pretty scene.
Seven months earlier, Officer Samuel James Anderson—Sammy to his friends—and his partner Adam Redding responded to a bank robbery in progress at the King Street branch of Pacific Savings and Loan. When they arrived the suspect could be seen through the large front window brandishing a shotgun. Officer Anderson ignored protocol when the suspect seized a visibly pregnant woman and used her as a human shield when he moved to the door.
“You mother fuckers come closer and I spray this bitch’s head all over the sidewalk,” the young man yelled.
“Let’s talk this over!” is what the court transcripts claim Officer Anderson responded. In truth, nothing was actually said by either officer. They shared a glance and Officer Redding got to his feet with his hands in the air. As soon as the suspect’s attention turned, Officer Anderson rose and fired. His bullet struck the suspect just above the right temple.
The preliminary investigation was already finished and hadn’t even garnered a mention in the Seattle Times. It wasn’t until an anonymous witness told a reporter that she had video from her cell phone that clearly showed no attempt was made to negotiate with the bank robbery suspect. Within two days, every local news station in Seattle was playing and replaying that footage.
During the trial, the defense attorney for Officer Anderson made a big deal about the poor audio quality and instead had the jury focus on the dollar figure paid to the shooter of that video by the media. The PR firm hired to represent the Seattle Police made it a point to trot out every non-white member of the force to “prove” that racism was not a problem on the force. Officer Anderson was regularly seen on the news returning from calls where he rescued kittens from trees and helped blue-haired elderly ladies carry their groceries to their homes (that he just happened to be cruising past when the need arose).
Meanwhile, the criminal record of Lionel Wells was traced all the way back to his childhood where he entered the system at age nine after being caught shoplifting a pack of bubble gum from a Kwik Mart. The “habitual criminal behavior” of the late Lionel Wells included three traffic tickets and a fourth degree Domestic Violence arrest.
Jerry ducked into the men’s room and whipped out his phone. He’d purposely sat beside the door to the courtroom so he could slip out as soon as the verdict was read. He was going to get the story out first this time. After being scooped by Action News Radio during the mayoral race when the incumbent was caught leaving a gay bar arm in arm with a garishly dressed transgender male who looked nothing at all like his wife, Jerry was going to beat everybody to the punch—including Action News Radio.
“This is Shelly,” an agitated-sounding voice answered on the second ring.
“Not guilty,” Jerry said. There was a moment of silence where he was almost unsure whether anybody was still on the other end of the line.
“Not guilty on the Anderson story,” Shelly yelled without bothering to cover the mouthpiece.
“There’s more,” Jerry added after shaking his head to clear the ringing.
“There always is with you, isn’t there.”
“This has nothing to do with us,” Jerry felt a headache that only Shelly could give him begin to throb in his temples. “The folks in the courtroom are really agitated.”
“Did you think otherwise? After all, the police aren’t usually high on the African-American community’s list of favorite people.”
“No,” Jerry insisted, “this is something bigger.”
“So get the story,” Shelly was obviously done with this conversation. “That is what we pay you for.”
Just as he thumbed his screen to end the call, a loud crash sounded from outside. He quickly went to video mode on his phone in case there was something good that he could sell to one of the local networks, and opened the door. Almost as if on cue, body slid past on the polished granite floor; not just any body, this was a uniformed police officer!
The next thing that hit was the wall of sound. The yelling, screaming, crying, and cursing were tremendous. Moving out of the doorway for a better look, he saw what could only be described as a free-for-all melee. He brought up his phone and started capturing video; this was going to rake in a fortune. The judge had demanded that all news teams keep their camera crews out in front of the courthouse building.
As his hand held the phone up to video the fight, his eyes scanned for anybody else who might be doing the same thing. He felt a surge of actual giddiness when he couldn’t find a single soul “rolling tape” on this scene. However, his reporter’s eyes were beginning to register something else: except for a few uniformed officers of varying shades of mocha wading in to help their comrades, this fight was clearly divided on a racial line.
Jerry’s eyes caught a drastic flurry of movement just to his right and he turned just as three young—mid-teens at the most—gangbanger types wrestled an officer to the ground. One of them had pulled the police-issue handgun free from its holster. Jerry instantly brought his phone around just in time to catch the youth firing three shots into the chest of the downed policeman.
There was a split-second where the melee froze; it was like a Hollywood special effect. That was the moment it could have stopped. That was the moment Jerry would always think of when he wondered if things could have gone differently. What happened next was a furious escalation of the fighting. Gangs of African-American men and boys mobbed the heavily outnumbered Seattle Police Department. It didn’t help that most of those in attendance were in civilian clothes or dress uniforms without even a set of handcuffs.
Jerry ducked back into the bathroom after he’d gotten what he deemed a sufficient amount of footage. Besides, after the shooting of the downed policeman, the rest of the footage was filler and fodder. He segmented the video with expert ease and sent the files to his personal email. None of this would matter if his phone was destroyed and the footage lost.
As he leaned against the door and took a moment to catch his breath, he began to notice an angry buzzing sound. With more caution than he was usually known for, Jerry took slow steps to the barred window. It only opened about three inches. Probably to keep some of the folks who come out on the losing end in the courtrooms from taking that last leap, Jerry surmised. Outside was chaos. It seemed that the fighting inside was simply the warm up. Pockets of angry African-Americans—men, women, and even children—had been swept up in the fury he’d witnessed in that hallway.
“This is why I left L.A.,” Jerry grumbled as he tapped the screen on his phone to call the station.