The Gunman at the Bus Stop


Good Afternoon:

I still can’t figure out this one.

I had finished my Sunday tour of the Civic Center Farmers Market (mushrooms, zucchini, hard goat cheese, cantaloupes, strawberries) and began walking to 8th & Market for the bus stop for the 6, 9, 71 and trolley lines, when I espied the following scene. I do not feel certain of what happened, so I’ll present the facts as best as I can, and speculate on what they mean later.

Three African-American men who looked to be in their early Twenties waited at the bus stop for the 19 & 21 lines. Two of them, one tall, one very short, wore black hoodies, black jeans and black shoes, whilst the third wore black jeans and an official Patrick Willis San Francisco 49ers jersey (red with the number 52 in white). A policeman (Caucasian, 50s, male, grey moustache) walked toward them at a steady pace, both thumbs hooked behind his belt buckle (more on this later). “Patrick Willis” said “Here he is” (more on this later). “Patrick” and his taller companion walked a short distance away, but did not leave the scene at any time.

The policeman, very calm, very casual, thumbs still hooked behind buckle, said something to the third one, the very short man dressed entirely in black. The very short man dropped himself to the ground and curled up into a fetal ball. The policeman said something else, and the very short man straightened out on the sidewalk, face down, hands behind his back. The policeman handcuffed him and started to search. Very calm, very casual.

He pulled a foot-long revolver out of the short man’s jacket and stuck it behind his belt.

Very calm, very casual.

“Got anything else I should know about?”

The very short man said something unintelligible to me. The policeman continued to search his body anyway. “Patrick Willis” and the tall man in black remained off to the side, hands in pockets, watching and speaking softly to each other. Very calm, very casual, the policeman helped the short man to his feet. Two police cars turned onto Market from 7th Street and approached, sirens off, lights on. I hadn’t stopped moving during the scene because I didn’t want to hang around, and I certainly didn’t want to take any pictures, either, but I finally got a look at the face of the very short man.

He’s less than five feet tall.

He’s a teenager, no, no, no.

He’s at most twelve years old.

The 71 arrived and I boarded quickly, took my seat and muttered “He’s twelve years old” all the way home.

These are the facts as best as I can remember: no promises about the soundness of my memory. Now for the speculation.

1. “A policeman (Caucasian, 50s, male, grey moustache) walked toward them at a steady pace, both thumbs hooked behind his belt buckle…” How did he know that he didn’t need to pull his gun?! I didn’t even see him unsnap his holster (in some jurisdictions, a police officer has to file a written report if he/she unsnaps the holster). He was approaching a twelve-year-old gunman. A grade-school age child with a gun has already committed one huge mistake; how did the policeman know that he wouldn’t make a second mistake, namely, trying to use it? Yes, I know that police receive psychological training in defusing potentially explosive situations, imposing their will, and projecting their authority over an environment, but how did he know it was safe? He didn’t even glance at the other two men, not even once. I have nothing but admiration for this police officer and how he maintained control over the scene and the people present.

2. “‘Patrick Willis’ said ‘Here he is.'” I don’t know to whom he addressed these words; to the boy, to the tall man in black, to the policeman, or to himself. And this might prove critical because it could go a long way to establishing his motivation, either benevolent or not.

2a. Let’s say he spoke to the police officer. In that case he’s presenting the boy gunman to him, which probably means that he talked the kid, an armed gunman, into surrendering peacefully. In simple English, “Patrick” is freakishly heroic.

2b. Let’s say he spoke to the boy. In that case it is possible that he warned the kid to behave himself; again, it seems to indicate that “Patrick Willis” is an everyday hero.

2c. But what about the other two possibilities? Why would “Patrick” have said “Here he is” to the tall man or to himself? This is pure wild guess, but “Patrick” could have been a gang member, and the boy was a “prospect” passing a test and/or undergoing an initiation by taking the fall for someone else’s crime and collecting his first arrest. In this case, a motivation much less benevolent.

This is why I’ll never consider myself a journalist: not enough facts, too much speculation, almost no truth.

What about the twelve-year-old boy with the foot long gun? What has gone wrong with his life that he ends up lying on his belly with his hands cuffed behind his back? Do you have any idea how big such a gun appears next to a boy less than five feet tall?! What about the boy? Is his life already hopeless?

Vonn Scott Bair


4 responses »

  1. I really don’t know what to say or think about this Vonn. The side of me that wants to always think the best about people is telling me that maybe the bigger boys were trying to teach the younger one that the road he is heading down is not acceptable. Maybe, just maybe, they were showing tough love. I could of cause be totally wrong and way to charitable in my thinking.however.

  2. Jillian: Thank you for writing. I wish I had more facts, but it’s impossible that the police officer would have appreciated an amateur non-journalist inserting himself into the situation. Still, I really, really, really hope that “Patrick Willis” was the good guy. Vonn Scott Bair

  3. “What about the twelve-year-old boy with the foot long gun? What has gone wrong with his life that he ends up lying on his belly with his hands cuffed behind his back?”

    Isn’t “wrong” a judgement through your/our societal world view filters? Might it not be possible that from the boy’s frame of reference, this may all be very “right”: successful initiation into the gang (your 2c theory): acceptance and belonging into the family which matters to him and (in their way) cares about him? This could be the life he wants! (Today, anyway.)

    “Is his life already hopeless?”

    Personally, i’m not sure it is hopeless as it is. But let’s go with the stereotypical societal view that a 12 year old with a gun being taken into custody by police is Bad, M’kay. Some people stay spinning in whatever life circles they get/fall into. Some evolve in different directions… he could easily grow out of whatever this is that he’s in which requires the adult weapon, gradually over time. Some people undergo disruptive change, via one or the other or some combination of inner and outer forces. He could completely break out of whatever he’s in and wind up *anywhere*. Someday he might be a community leader, professor, inventor… or head of the gang, prison lifer, or dead… or run-of-the-mill quiet family man in an ordinary life in an ordinary job with a stable family he may never have known growing up. We Don’t Know.

    So no, his life is not already hopeless, in my opinion. I wish him, those in his life, and really all of us the very best navigating our life circles and both evolving and disruptively jumping to others as needed (and ideally in ways society can handle or else in our own groups sufficiently isolated from the mainstream to avoid harming others and/or them harming us) during our short spans here as living creatures.

    • S.P.: Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful post which offers new perspectives into my own writing. This notion of “filters” interests me because I did make the effort to present the facts first without tainting them before speculating on their meaning. If theory 2c is correct, than I agree that from the boy’s P.O.V. this “may all be very ‘right.'” Of course, we would not know if this “family” truly cares about him or sees him as little more than a pawn.
      Since you have taken the time to think carefully about this post, I will take a bit of a risk and ask a question in return: dare I suggest that one person’s filters are or can be better than another’s? One of my filters consists of my experience in human resources and my knowledge that a conviction for felony possession of a firearm has the potential to cripple anyone’s career prospects for an entire lifetime. I agree that “wrong” is my own evaluation, but I believe that my evaluation is correct.
      I agree with your statement that “We Don’t Know.” In fact, I agreed with your statement before you wrote it; note that my last paragraph contains not one sentence. They are all questions, and they are questions because I don’t know. Certainly I would prefer a better life for the boy than the one he has now. Certainly I also hope that “Patrick Willis” and his friend were the good guys. Vonn Scott Bair

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