Mourning the loss of loved ones to gun violence, victims’ families and friends keep searching for serenity and justice.
The Pacific NW magazine cover story that photographer Bettina Hansen, videographer Corinne Chin and I produced reminds us of the shattering impact of a type of violence that tends to play out in disturbingly public ways — shots fired from cars, shootings during disputes outside of clubs, and shootings in otherwise-quiet residential neighborhoods with victims both intended and unintended.
Spring and summer brought moving remembrances and demonstrations on behalf of victims of fatal shootings, the most notable of which was the outpouring of grief and frustration over the death of North Seattle resident Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old, pregnant, single mother who was fatally shot by police responding to a 911 call at her home in Seattle’s Sand Point neighborhood in June.
At this summer’s Umoja Fest, a celebration of black heritage in the Central District, demonstrators marched down 23rd Avenue South chanting, “Say her name!” in honor of Lyles, who was African American, to keep attention on the investigation into the shooting, which they see as unjustified.
Right behind them, another group of marchers chanted, “Say his name!” for Giovonn Joseph-McDade, a 20-year-old motorist who was shot and killed by Kent police officers during an attempted traffic stop, also in June.
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Though they sometimes receive less sustained attention or public outcry, shootings that don’t involve police officers cause just as much devastation for loved ones, and in their own way erode our sense of the way things ought to be.
As journalists, it is our job to report the news. But there are times when the news compels us to reach beyond the day’s headlines for greater meaning, or simply to revisit and remember.
My reaction to the killing of 21-year-old Kalin Lubben, aka Makaiel Blackwell, who was fatally shot in April in a case that is not solved, was at first exasperation. Here was yet another young African-American man who could have been my nephew or neighbor — or yours — taken too soon, shot in the head and left for dead for more than five hours in the stairwell of a Renton apartment complex.
I wanted to know what life has been like for his family and other victims’ loved ones as they mourn their losses and wait for justice, sometimes for years.
The Lubben shooting is a highly sensitive case. The shooter remains at large, yet rumors have flown about who was involved. In investigations like this one, it’s not uncommon for witnesses to refuse to work with authorities for fear of retaliation, or out of distrust of the police as an institution.
That silence can prolong the hardship of loved ones who long for answers — and for the shooters to pay for their crimes.
Not all victims of gun violence lived perfect lives. Lubben’s father, for example, indicated that his son was struggling and hanging out with the wrong crowd.
But in the end, this is what really matters: A family has lost a son and brother. Someone else’s son is suspected of the killing. They are both all of our children, as were the late Desmond Jackson and George Gabriel Jr., victims of gun violence whose loved ones also agreed to appear in the magazine story, and whose cases also remain unsolved.
There’s something redemptive in the way Stephon Dorsey, a Seattle-based R&B artist who moved here from Detroit three years ago, sings about being a black male, personal empowerment, transcendence and loss.
In telling me his own story — of attending a tough middle school in Detroit that went into lockdown every afternoon, and where gun violence and the threat of being “jumped” were everyday worries — the foundation for his inspired, empathetic music seemed clear.
One mournful song on his debut album Mela.nin, called “Libations,” honors those who’ve passed, including victims of gun violence, by borrowing on the tradition of spilling liquid on the earth to honor the spirit of one’s ancestors.
At his live shows, Dorsey, 22, invites audience members to join him in a libation ceremony by thinking of people they’ve lost in their lives, as he calls out some of the names that have become a part of the African-American community’s lexicon of grief: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland.
Like roadside memorials and vigils aimed at remembrance; like demonstrations that call for awareness, justice and peace; like the lonely crusades of loved ones in search of answers and closure; like the laying of fresh flowers at a grave, his song refuses to let the lost go unnoticed.
“Libations” pours a drink on the ground not just for those in Dorsey’s memory, but for everyone who has been taken.