“Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Prologue: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 8:35 a.m.
It is the helicopter that wakes me. I can feel the rhythm of the blade as it hovers above my roof. Then comes the frantic rap on the door. It's my neighbor, Jill.
“The cops shot Danny!” she shouts, nearly crying. “Danny's dead!”
“Danny? Who's Danny?” I ask.
“You know, Caveman Dan,” she answers. “They shot him right around the corner. The place is flooded with cops.”
Caveman Dan was a well-known, somewhat deranged, fetid Ocean Beach vagabond. We also called him “The Walking Man” because he was always walking around OB, like he needed to be somewhere. Obecians considered Caveman as family; like some weird, smelly, dysfunctional cousin, but family nonetheless. He never bothered anybody. He spent most of his life avoiding people. I guess they frightened him. We thought he was crazy for that. So who's crazy now?
Anyway, still in the fog of sleep, I throw on sweats, grab my micro-cassette recorder and rush over to the nearby crime scene.
Police are everywhere. The yellow tape spans about three square blocks and scattered across it are a dozen little clusters of cops, doing cop-like tasks like scowling and frowning and folding their cop-like arms across their coppy chests. There are cop cars and cop bikes, cop vans and cop SUVs. Even the Senior Retired Arthritic Auxiliary Senility Brigade is there, assisting the police with all that scowling and arm-folding that needs doing.
Once at the scene, I start questioning witnesses and police. What follows is pieced together from their accounts.
On Tuesday morning, Feb. 4, police were searching for a backpack that belonged to a drug dealer already in custody. An officer spotted a vagrant (Danny) who happened to be wearing a backpack. When the officer encountered him, he was rummaging for food in a dumpster with a knife. The cop ordered him to drop it. Frightened and confused, Danny retained the knife and began walking, walking away from the officer.
With his weapon drawn, the officer followed north on Abbott Street. When Danny arrived at the corner of West Point Loma, he turned left. The pursuing officer was then met by about a half-dozen more cops, who joined in the walking-pursuit of Danny, also with weapons drawn.
As they continued, police repeatedly shouted, “Put down the knife!” and repeatedly, Danny shouted back, “I didn't do nothing wrong!” and kept walking, walking away.
Then Danny turned to face police. “I didn't do nothing,” he proclaimed, flailing his arms and (hence) the knife. Police fired three rounds, striking his hand. Danny turned and started walking-never running-but walking; dripping blood and walking away from police.
Then came the final stand off: Bleeding profusely, Danny faced police again and shouted, “I didn't do nothing!” Police say Danny “charged” them. My witnesses call that bullshit.
“It was pathetic,” said Frank Caraccia. “They had no reason to shoot him.... They blew his brains out on the sidewalk.... I'd rather have a guy like that walking around with a knife than what happened here today. I have no confidence in this police force anymore.”
Incidentally, the backpack belonged to Danny and contained no drugs; which makes Caveman yet another innocent victim of the U.S. government's insane, obtuse war on drugs. But that's not what I came here to say.
Open letter to the shooters:
“Dear Peace Officers, I know you put your life on the line for us. For that I am grateful, truly. But this shooting reeks worse than Danny ever did.
I agree, yes, it is possible, despite your overwhelming advantages, that there was a risk Danny might have hurt someone, or you. I just wonder, was it a negligible risk? Like the risk one takes when one boards an airplane? Like the risk a single woman takes every time she gets pulled over in the dead of night, that you are not some Craig Peyer wannabe. Like the risk society takes-when our taxes provide you with a gun, bullets and a badge-that you are not some power-hungry, bloodthirsty, chickenshit, psychopathic, racist, sexist, gay-bashing, shady, cowboy, redneck, dirtbag prickass on the take.
Society trusts you with power and privilege, and you should motherfucking well remember that when you're splaying my bullets with my gun all over my neighborhood.
Just a thought. Otherwise, keep up the good work. And kudos to those officers who didn't fire their weapon.”
Epilogue: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 7:10 p.m.
Heading to work that evening, I revisit the scene. The vigil is already up and running. Candles and sage are burning aside the stained sidewalk where Danny bled off his life. A circle of mourners ponder the perverse fate of the fallen anti-hero.
Say what you want about Obecians-say that we're just a bunch of freaks, creeps, losers and swine. Fine. But say also how deeply we grieve when one of us goes-even if it is just some wretched, hobbling bum. Say how Obecians know, when one of us dies, we all are all diminished; that it makes no difference which dumpster you get your dinner from. The bell tolls for we. Peace baby.