St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office/Wikimedia Commons

A strong gust of wind caused litter and debris to scatter along the pavement and the gutter. Black Fields noticed a Washington Post “Metro” section sailing in the wind.  

“Do you know’ wut time it iz?!” echoed Little Benny in the far reaches of Black’s mind, body, and soul. 

Things were moving along slow, so he decided to take a moment to find out “what time it is” and get somewhat updated on current affairs. He hustled to grab the newspaper before it blew away. “Let me see wut’z happenin’.” 

He immediately noticed the headline, “Police identify 19-year-old as first homicide victim of 2019.”  

“Oh no!” Black gasped. 

He swiftly scanned the column for details. He didn’t know the victim, Shamar Marbury, but he was very familiar with the neighborhood. 

Belmont Crossing apartments, in the Washington Highlands neighborhood, is no stranger to gun violence. For years, Black had lived on Fourth Place, which was hollering distance from where this shooting took place. He was certain that even though this 19-year-old was the first victim of the year, he wouldn’t be the last. 

Just a few weeks prior, Black had been crushed by the news of a 15-year-old Anacostia High school student who had been shot 17 times by an assailant that was only 16-yrs-old himself. This occurred in the Garfield Heights neighborhood in Southeast, D.C., only blocks from Seventh District police station.  

Garfield Heights has always been a hotbed of activity. Over the years, Black had seen this ‘hood embroiled in many different “beefs” with various crews. He was not surprised when he read that the motive was a “neighborhood dispute.”  

“It’s like we living in the ‘Wild West,’” Black said to himself. 

The killer was found days later wearing the victim’s signature Helly Hansen jacket. Fifteen-year-old Gerald Watson not only lost his jacket, he lost his life. 

“These (bleep!) done lost their minds!”  

Black wasn’t totally sure, but he had the inclination the young man may have been the nephew of an associate, Doodu. They had been meeting each other for years at Langston Lane. Doodu sold weed and PCP, but Black didn’t see him very often because Doodu’s product at times was low quality. Black only called him as a last resort.  

Anytime he’d meet Doodu, there would always be a group of youngsters outside his place. He told Black that they were his nephew and his friends. This made Black uneasy because it was a “trap house” (drug-dealing location). He didn’t like seeing the impressionable young men being exposed to the debauchery that pervades a dope spot.  

Over the years he’d seen and heard about many tragic and unfortunate stories of hopes dashed and lives lost. One particular tragedy will haunt him forever.  

It was March 3, 2010, and his monthly $200 SNAP benefit credit to his EBT card had posted. The benefits were allocated alphabetically over the course of the first ten days of the month. The last name Fields meant he typically got it on the third.  

Black had lost the battle with the “monkey on his back” and desperation had prevailed. He had decided to head to the Murry’s grocery to sell his food stamps. He was going to sell $100 dollars-worth for $50 cash, and use the rest on a later date. 

As he was walking down First Street, he ran into Will and Travon. They hung out at the corner house, across the street from the Murry’s. Black asked Will about a bag of weed on credit until he sold his food stamps.  

“I need sum’ bread moe. Come back wit’ five and I’ll throw you ‘da dime,” promised Will. Neither realized this exchange of words would be one of Will’s last. 

Black flew across the street to the Murry’s and stood by the entrance. He already had his budget set: $35 for two dippers, $5 for the weed from Will, $5 for Metro, $4 for eight single Newports, and $1 for a chocolate Dutch Master cigarillo.  

However, those plans wouldn’t come to fruition.  

Before he even had a chance to solicit anyone, shots rang out, “POP!-POP!-POP!…WA da-da-da DANG-WA da-da-da DANG! LISTEN to ‘da AK-47 GO BANG-POP!!!” 

“OH (bleep!)!!!” Black shouted. His first instinct was to get out of dodge. He bent down, remained low, and used the parked cars as cover. He heard screams, shouts, and sirens, as he ran around the corner and out of harm’s way.  

He didn’t know who the shooter was or who had been the intended target. Rubbernecking, or becoming a “hood reporter”, wasn’t a priority.  

However, when the dust settled, nine people were shot. One died on the scene, and eight others were transported to area hospitals. Three of them died soon after.  

Later, it was discovered that all this carnage stemmed from a lost bracelet covered with fake diamonds. 

It was hours before he found out what had happened. He was smoking a dipper with Tim, on his balcony on Atlantic Avenue, watching FOX 5 News through the sliding glass door.  He cried like a baby as he listened to the news analyst run down the details. 

“I had jus’ seen ‘dem (bleep!)! I’d just’ talked to ‘em. ‘Dey wuz sum’ good men, GOOD MEN!” Tim said as he poured out some of his Steel Reserve 211 over the balcony rail. 

“Why is ‘deez dudes so angry?” Black pondered.  

He thought of an interview he had read with James Garbarino, PhD, a famed professor at Loyola University. “Most killers are untreated traumatized children who are controlling the actions of the scary adults they have become,” the professor had said.  

Black was in the Catholic Charities drug rehabilitation and transition program at the time, and he found Garbarino’s theories to be very similar to those Narcotics Anonymous promoted. “Y’all stopped maturing once the addiction set in.” Dr. Thomas, the head addiction counselor, had told him. “When you started getting high daily, your mentality ceased to progress. Devotion to drugs and alcohol is very childish behavior.” 

Garbarino also spoke about how those who were exposed to violence and trauma may have a different value system. “Another dimension is the legitimization of aggression — the belief that when you’re threatened, you’re morally entitled and psychologically required to defend yourself,” he said.  

Black could remember vividly when he was around 4 years old and his mother saw him quarreling with another little boy. She pulled him aside and scolded, “If I ever see one’a theez’ lil’ (bleep!) hit you and you don’t hit ‘dem back, I’m whoopin’ yo’ (bleep!) myself! You betta’ go fight right now, OR ELSE!” 

He ran back out there and fought his heart out. Win, lose, or draw — he’d been fighting ever since. He couldn’t help but to be a soldier, always fighting some imaginary battle. That’s how he’d been taught to live. 

Black found it hard to fathom that all mothers didn’t “raise their child not to be no punk.” Everyone he knew had the same experience. Garbarino calls this way of thinking “hypervigilance.” 

Garbarino also spoke of a concept that Black found to be very familiar, “pre-emptive assault — get them before they get you.”  

Black agreed. He’d rather be judged by 12, than carried by six. 

Garbarino said that if you combine “hypervigilance” with the belief in “pre-emptive assault”, the result is a “war zone mentality”. Garbarino had traveled the world studying the behavior of individuals whom had experienced trauma and found the patterns to be consistent across the cultural board. 

Black found these concepts to be profound. What Garbarino was inadvertently describing, in his opinion – was ‘the Code of the Streets’.  

He couldn’t help but to come to one conclusion. He felt he was too far gone to be saved, but the younger generation behind him still had a chance. “We gotta start teachin’ these babies different!” he screamed from Tim’s balcony.

To be continued. This is an excerpt of Duane Foster’s manuscript “The Black Fields Chronicles: THE HOBO.”