by Angus Woodward
Things got intense for your city in the summer of 2016. You and your family felt the effects.
You walk five minutes to the neighborhood park with your daughter and spot a 9mm cartridge lying on the asphalt. You pick it up, incredulous and repulsed, especially when you see that the tip has been drilled out to make a hollow-point. “The projectile expands when it hits the target,” an ex-military friend explains to you later. “We used to call it ‘splattering.'”
You live in Baton Rouge, near the intersection of Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard. When it comes to American violence and fear, you’re centrally located.
2. Circle K convenience store
Two months before you found the hollow-point, you were heading out on an errand on a Friday afternoon in July and saw a handful of people holding signs out in front of the Circle K. You honked supportively. A few hours later, you and your wife headed out to a barbecue in the neighboring parish, at which point the handful had grown to a small crowd.
3. Police HQ
Ten days before the protests, two Baton Rouge police officers had shot and killed Alton Sterling at the Triple S convenience store a few miles away. The protesters gathered at the Circle K because it was across from police headquarters. BRPD had a helicopter in the air, flying a noisy loop over HQ, Circle K, your neighborhood.
4. Your House
Before leaving for the barbecue, you and your wife had told your daughters, ages 13 and 20, that everything would probably be fine, but to stay inside. A couple of hours later, live video from the scene showed a big, peaceful crowd spilling into the street and then a phalanx of police officers in riot gear marching toward Circle K. You showed your wife, who announced to her friends, “We have to go. There’s a riot at our house.” You told her not to exaggerate. Things were okay at home, though you all heard chanting and helicopter blades deep into the night.
5. Unitarian Church
The protests continued on Saturday, and the police continued to arrest anyone who stepped into the road. The next morning, as you prepared to go teach Sunday school, you heard sirens and roaring motors. Something was happening. You told your 13-year-old to stay home from church. Airline Highway was closed, and squad cars raced this way and that. You managed to find a way to get to church. Not many people were there. By the time the service began, everyone had learned that someone shot police officers at the B-Quik convenience store just down Airline. Your friend Laurie, a former cop, said on Facebook that the shooter was pinned down at Hosanna Christian, just 1,637 feet from your church. The Director of Religious Education brought the few children in attendance out to the playground. When you told her what was happening at Hosanna Christian, she told the children to go back inside. “Why?” they asked, and she faltered. “It’s just too hot out here,” you told them.
6. Hair Crown Beauty Supply
Over an hour earlier, an out-of-towner named Gavin Long had parked behind Fitness Expo and walked behind Benny’s Car Wash and the B-Quik convenience store, looking for police officers with an assault rifle in his hand. Passersby had seen him across the street a few minutes earlier and called 911. Officers arrived to check on a case of legal open carry.
Next door, Long followed officers down the driveway of Hair Crown Beauty Supply and shot six, killing Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald, and Brad Garafola.
Gavin Long walked back to his car, and a sharpshooter 100 yards away shot him dead. The whole thing took eight minutes, but the panic and confusion lasted a few hours. There was never any threat at Hosanna Christian.
A month later, in August, rain flooded most of Baton Rouge. “What next?” people wondered. For you, the next thing, in September, was finding a 9mm cartridge at the park down the street. After another month passes, you find something else.
7. Street corner
One October afternoon, you and your daughter, now 14, drive past this spot a block from your house. A toddler stands in the grass by the stop sign, all alone. At the stoplight you fret, then make a hurried U-turn and park on the side street. The boy is grimy and mute, with a raw gash on his ankle. You speak softly, kneeling between him and traffic. You try to get your daughter to help you, but she hangs back. After another motorist pulls over, she asks to wait in the car. You say no at first but relent when you see her expression. No one comes for the toddler, and so you call the police, and then the boy’s big brother, 10ish, walks up from the end of the street. His name is Noah, and this is his little brother Mohammed, who got out of the back yard. Noah asks you to call the police back to tell them it’s okay. “No, they’re coming,” you say. “Sorry.” Noah carries his brother home. An officer arrives, alone, wearing a black pistol. You doubt yourself for calling. He calmly asks questions, takes some notes and then sighs before going to talk to the family. You hope it’s okay to exhale now.
Minutes later, you park in your driveway. Your daughter is not ready to go inside. “That was weird,” you say. She just gives you a troubled look, and you ask her what’s wrong. “I thought someone might come up to us with a gun,” she sobs. You try—really try—to tell her that’s not the world we live in. Maybe one day she’ll have reason to believe you.
Angus Woodward’s books of fiction are Down at the End of the River (Margaret Media, 2008), Americanisation (2011), and Oily (Spaceboy Books, 2018). Pieces similar to “Half-Mast Summer” have appeared recently in Split Rock Review, Lumina, Grub Street, and Sweet. Angus lives, writes, teaches, and draws pictures in Baton Rouge.
SLAG GLASS CITY · Volume 6 · June 2020
Header image by Angus Woodward