Mayhem

Blake was with me in the car when the shooting happened. We had just dropped John off at his apartment, right above my old apartment, on Linda. On the way there I’d driven over a fire hose — there was a fire truck on 16th near Valencia, and flares blocking the oncoming lanes, so that cars on that side were crossing over into one of the two lanes on our side. Excitement! I remember remarking that I didn’t think I’d ever driven over a fire hose before. On the way back we’d driven past a couple of police cars near 19th St and Mission, strobing red and blue. There were a fair number of people out and about on Mission — I’d joked about not running the yellow light at 18th, because a woman had started crossing in front of us just before the signal changed.

Not long after that light turned green, we heard five or six shots in rapid sucession, pretty evenly spaced, maybe about a second or a second and a half from first to last. I guess it seemed like they were coming from ahead of us somewhere, though I’m not sure if we could really tell. I was driving up Mission towards 17th. I remember wondering what the sounds were even though I knew right away, because there wasn’t really anything else they could be.

Then I saw the guy, on the far side of 17th, on the right side of the road but standing a little bit out into the crosswalk. It was pretty quick, and I wasn’t paying proper attention, and the lighting wasn’t great, so I just had an impression of a man, facing us (but looking across, to his right, to the west side of Mission), right arm extended in that direction (I think?). Holding a gun? Or not. It was dark and we must have been half a block away. I don’t know what gave me the impression that he was a man, but maybe his clothing? He must have been wearing a jacket, or possibly a long-sleeved shirt or something, because that outer layer was hanging open, unzipped or unbuttoned, so that I could see the corner of it sort of silhouetted. And I had the impression of him turning towards the sidewalk and disappearing off to the east, towards 17th, though I suppose for all I know he could have turned onto Mission, or even ducked into a building or something. I mean, to me it was like he just disappeared, ran off east down 17th, out of my sight. It feels like I would have tracked him much longer if he’d turned down Mission, whether towards us or away from us, or had gotten into a car or bike or whatever on Mission, and I didn’t see anything like that.

I had the impression of someone a bit on the short side, or maybe of average height. Pretty short hair, or hair of unremarkable length, as opposed to very bald or extremely long. Might have been wearing a hat, I suppose; I don’t remember noticing. And I had the impression of someone more fair-skinned than dark-skinned — more white than black in appearance — though who knows if I could really tell, especially in that kind of light. I mean, I think I must have actually seen his face, for a split second, from a distance, though I don’t think there’s any chance I’d ever recognize him, or even have much of a sense of what he looked like. And I don’t think I actually saw him shooting; it felt like I saw him right after that, maybe still pointing the gun, you know? I mean, he could have fired all of those shots right from that spot, for all I know, right there in front of me in the street, but I didn’t pick him out until after the sound of the last shot. We were at least half a block away. It was night. I definitely saw him fleeing, though.

There was another car ahead of us, in the left lane I think, almost at the intersection, and there were plenty of people around, in other cars and on foot, on the sidewalk and in nearby businesses. It seems likely that somebody must have gotten a better look than I did. The light was green, but the car ahead of us was stopped exactly as if it were red, and there were other cars on 17th that actually were stopped at a red, and I was stopped several car lengths further back, in the right lane I think, and then after a long pause the car ahead of us continued through the intersection, but I pulled over up near the corner where there was space to do so and dialed 911, via the car’s Bluetooth speakerphone. There were a few people already crossing the streets to the opposite corner of the intersection, the northwest corner, but I didn’t see anyone obviously already calling 911 right at that moment, even though it seemed like surely everyone must be, so I called.

I heard sort of a long agonized cry, just once but pretty loud and long, coming from somewhere ahead of us I thought, presumably from someone who’d just been shot and was in a lot of pain. I guess it sounded more like a man than a woman. I thought I saw someone lying in the sidewalk off to the left, on 17th, a little ways from Mission. Two or even three people over in that area, but only one prone? Confused impressions. Light was not so good. I mean, there was plenty of light from streetlights, I suppose, but that’s not really so good, you know? And even in daylight, it’s hard to see things, and harder to understand what one is seeing.

We got a recording, and then an operator after a short time, long enough to hear several sentences of the recording, which was in several languages. Maybe 30 seconds or a minute at most, which I remember thinking seemed a lot quicker than the last time I’d called 911 from a cell phone in that neighborhood, some years before. They asked whether it was medical or what, and I replied that I’d just seen somebody get shot at the corner of 17th and Mission. The operator asked me about it again, and I repeated what I’d said, this time specifying the northwest corner of Mission and 17th. I didn’t say San Francisco, but it seemed like they knew. They said that there was somebody already at the scene, then corrected themselves. I think I might have mentioned the police cars we’d seen a couple of blocks back, which had been heading away from where we were now, or perhaps Blake did.

There was already a surprisingly large crowd gathering on the opposite corner, so that I couldn’t see anymore what was going on over there. I told this to the operator, who had asked whether we had any notion of the victim’s condition. Then an ambulance arrived, lights flashing, coming from the opposite way on Mission. We told that to the operator. Again, pretty good response time, I thought. They asked about the suspect: where they were, which way they’d been going, whether they’d been heading towards anything, whether I could describe the suspect, or the suspect’s clothing. I said that he’d been on the northeast corner and that I thought maybe he’d gone east, that it was dark and that I didn’t really see much. The operator asked for my name, and I gave it, without spelling it. They thanked me and that was that, and I hung up. I think I would have hung up then even if Blake hadn’t quickly prompted me to do so, presumably to free up the line.

I don’t think Blake said anything during the call, or not much, but I’m not sure; he may have mentioned something about the ambulance or prior lack thereof, for instance. I don’t think he saw even as much as I did, but I’m not sure I asked. It was a major topic of conversation on the way back to and across the Bay Bridge, of course, but didn’t go over what we remembered seeing or hearing in any detail.

You know, it’s funny — I don’t really remember whether the operator was a man or a woman. Presumably one can often tell these things, but I wasn’t paying attention to that, you know? I don’t remember. If I had to guess I’d guess a woman. Anyway it was a bit like that with the guy I saw. I’m terrible at remembering people or describing people in the best of times, and I really hardly got a look at this guy at all.

My phone claims I called 911 at 10:28, and that the call lasted 1 minute and 49 seconds. Sounds about right.

Earlier that evening, on the way to the restaurant, Blake and I had passed an accident on the Bay Bridge, pulled over in the left lane with lots of emergency vehicles and something like six cars in various states of destruction. Just another night, I guess….

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