I’ve had a very strange day. I have a lot I’m supposed to be working on, but I’ve found myself in the middle of this tragedy playing out in Columbia, SC today. You hear about shootings and tragedies on the news, maybe you, like me, find them disturbing and fascinating and horrifying. Sometimes even those distant horrors can seem personal, like Columbine, and people who weren’t even close to being involved have to get through the grief of the event.
I certainly didn’t think I’d ever know someone at the center of something like that. Why would I? It seemed like something that happened in other worlds. Certainly not in Columbia, SC, and definitely not in the whitebread, middle class neighborhood of Shandon.
I woke up early this morning and couldn’t quite go back to sleep, so I checked my Facebook. One of my FB friends wrote that they’d heard shots outside their house, and they live in Shandon. My mom lives in Shandon, but all I really thought was, “Now I can get back at her for all the paranoia when I lived in Echo Park.” And I went back to sleep.
After I got to work, I read a little about it, and the information was sparse: a police officer had been shot in the protective vest, a suspect with an AK-47 had been killed, suicide by cop, and it all happened within sight of my mother’s house. That was a little bit too freaky, so I texted her to make sure she was OK. She didn’t reply for a long while, and when she did I was really flummoxed.
“It was Blake Jernigan.”
And here was my thought process: Blake Jernigan. Was the shooter? That can’t be right. Does she mean he was the officer who is OK, no, he’s too young, that doesn’t make sense, she must mean he was the shooter. He did get in trouble a couple years ago for drugs or something, but he’s like 22, he’s a kid! He went to high school with my little brother! He used to hang out at our house, he’s friends with my little sister, clearly she’s got something mixed up or is talking about something else…
So I texted my little brother, hoping that he’d say something like “Oh, no, she just meant it was at his house, it wasn’t him, he’s fine.” He didn’t say that.
Then the news caught up with gossip and reported that the shooter was Blakely Jernigan. They even found a picture of him from Facebook. He looks exactly like he did when he was 12.
If you ever know someone involved in some sort of story, don’t read the comments. Really, do not, it will only make you angry and sad and doubtful of the worthiness of humanity. I don’t begrudge the cops for shooting him, they did what they had to do and shooting at cops is basically a death wish, but I don’t understand the people crowing about the death of a 22 year old troubled kid. Calling him names, discussing which more terrifying weapons the police should have used to destroy him, and of course the one guy who says he’d wished it was Obama that got shot instead.
Then my brother FB IMed me, he seemed really freaked out. No one was surprised that he came to a bad end, but no one thought he’d be at the center of a police shoot out either. Apparently his personality had drastically changed since going to college, he started doing and selling drugs, and he got a fully automatic AK-47 because people were robbing him. Not really a story that’s going to have a happy ending.
I dunno, maybe this is one of those bleeding heart liberal things, where I just can’t make anyone into a cardboard cutout bad guy. I can’t help but see people in these stories, even when I don’t know them. I just don’t know why anyone is happy at the death of another. I have no distance from this, so I guess I can’t really say.
I am very glad that the officer is going to be just fine, I only wish the same could be said for the Jernigans.