It all started one night under a bridge. There were twenty of us there—the Twelve and a couple of their girls. Peter was doing his thing on a trash can, dropping the beat, James was beatboxing next to him, and Jesus dropped the fire between the two of them, his voice echoing off the rock walls.
“I know they comin’ for our life
But it ends tonight
I ain’t come to bring peace, bro
I came to fight
I know our brothas locked up
But I’mma break the chains
Ain’t no money in the bank
But I’mma make some change
And I know you been hurt
But I’mma heal your pain
So don’t worry ‘bout the weather
Cuz I’mma bring the rain.”
It was all good, we wasn’t bothering nobody. And for a second, I felt like I was back in Selma, listening to MLK. Well, if I’d been alive in the sixties, of course. And if MLK had had been a rapper. But Jesus had that same King flare, you know what I mean? But he had a swag with it that even King couldn’t touch.
But you know how they say all good things must come to an end? Well, right when Jay was getting back to the hook, we heard sirens.
And everyone went on the move. We were like kids in a fire drill. Sirens. Run. Automatic. We wasn’t doing nothing wrong, but that don’t matter with the police—brothas were out here getting shot for being black on a Friday night.
But by the time we realized what was happening, there were already squad cars spinning in front of the bridge. And the shadows under the underpass were washed out by flashing red and blue lights.
But we were strapped too.
Clicks echoed off the walls as everybody pulled out and aimed straight at the cops. Everybody but me and Jesus. I was always forgetting my piece somewhere so I just slipped behind John. But Jesus never carried a piece cuz He ain’t need one. He just stood in the middle of the crew staring the police down as they aimed at us. This was about to be real bloody.
“Yo, John,” I whispered. “Help a brotha out.”
“Bro, I just got one piece on me!” he whispered back.
I sucked my teeth. Ain’t nobody ever looking out for little old Bartholomew.
“Tell your boys to put their guns down!” one officer shouted.
Jesus stared at him then walked up real slow, hands in His pockets. The officer shuffled his feet and I could see the sweat drip on his face.
“Get back!” he shouted.
What was wrong with Jesus? We had ’em outnumbered, but we couldn’t stop ’em from putting a bullet in His head. And unless there was a bulletproof vest under that black hoody and those baggy jeans, He was about to be the next report on Harlem news. I squeezed John’s arm and he shoved me in my side.
Jesus stopped and looked the cop up and down. Then He lifted His hand and everybody lowered their weapons.
“What’s the problem, officer?” He asked, crossing His arms.
The officer looked at him then at the rest of us. I wonder if white people are as scared of us as we are of them? Is it like a girl and a mouse kinda thing? We both scared of each other and don’t even know it?
“You can’t be here,” the officer said, still aiming his gun straight at Jesus.
“We’ll be happy to leave,” Jesus replied. “But all this—” He swung his fingers around at the officers. “Is unnecessary.”
There was a long silence and the officer looked at everyone’s faces. When he looked at me, I was digging my nose so I tried to play it off by flicking my thumb at him. Then he lowered his gun and finally relaxed.
Jesus smirked. “Just gotta ask, officer.”
“You get going now,” the officer replied as he stepped back. But before he turned, he muttered one word under his breath. I guess he ain’t know about acoustics cuz we all heard him drop the N-word.
“What you say?!” Peter screamed.
“Come say it to my face!” Thaddeus added, reaching for his gun.
It all happened so fast. Before Thaddeus could even touch his piece, the officer had turned back around, pulled out his gun, and fired six shots at him. Blood sprayed from Thaddeus’ chest and he dropped to the ground.
The girls shrieked and scattered like roaches. The guys pulled their guns back out and I ducked and covered my ears for the gunshots that would follow.
“No!” Jesus screamed, holding His hands up. “Stop!”
The officer stared at us with his gun still aimed and still smoking. Then he turned, got back into the squad car and the rest of them left. Just like that. No apologies. Nothing.
Jesus leaned over Thaddeus and held his head in his hands as we all gathered around. There was a pool of blood on the ground and his eyes were staring up at the bridge, wide open.
Jesus checked his pulse then let out a deep sigh. “He’s dead.”
I shook my head. James and John screamed. Peter started cursing like crazy. The girls just stared at the ground. But you know what the crazy thing is? Nobody cried. Cuz this kinda stuff was normal. Last month Latasha Harlins had been shot and killed by a store clerk who thought she was stealing. And Rodney King had been beaten by the cops. And now Thaddy was just another dead black body on the list.
But this was different. This was Jesus’ crew.
And I’d seen Jesus do some crazy stuff. I’m talkin’ Jedi mind tricks and healing cancer stuff. But bringing back the dead, homie? Thaddeus was gone. And he wasn’t coming back.
Peter rolled up next to Jesus, huffing like a bull. “You gonna let ’em get away with this?”
Jesus stared down at Thaddeus’ body and didn’t answer for a second. Then He put two fingers on his face and shut his eyes.
“No,” He told Peter. “We’re going to war.”