Around lunch time last Friday, 18-year-old Chad Wilkens was standing in China City, on the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Dean Street in Crown Heights, when he was shot.
An ambulance arrived and took Mr. Wilkens to Kings County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Soon after the ambulance sped away, part of the street was roped off by police tape and a few uniformed cops kept pedestrians away from the scene. A number of men in suits – presumably detectives – paced about their brand new Fords in the area outside of the local take-out restaurant. Both Nostrand Avenue and Dean Street were shut down and buses were re-routed around the scene.
A uniformed officer from the 77th precinct lowered his voice when I asked him what had happened, and told me there had been a shooting, adding, “You never know with these cases” whether the victim will live or not.
At the corner, a number of pedestrians slowed to a halt, looking around for answers. A woman told me, “I fret everyday about my son.”
We watched as sharply dressed detectives knocked on the doors of a few residences, and walked up the block asking what witnesses had seen. People were talking, but not necessarily to them.
One lone video cameraman taped footage of the police barriers.
Later that day, the physical remains of this tragedy were a taped up hole in the plexiglass window of China City and a makeshift memorial comprised of photos and graffiti on the wall around the corner. Votive candles were lined up next to folded cardboard boxes covered in messages that read more like those left in a high school yearbook – Miss you brother! Love you much! – than the memorial of a slain teenager.
By Saturday evening, marked police cars had covered the corner day and night. Two young male cops sat in their car talking to residents in front of the memorial. I approached them and asked what the motive was in this particular homicide.
“We don’t really know, but it was probably gang related,” he told me. I could hear the reassuring tone in his voice waver. “It’s a shame,” he continued, “But these kids – they should be out looking for jobs.”
Shortly after, a search on the internet proved disappointing. One blog called Save Brooklyn Now! had posted the short police statement. This was all I could find.
On Friday, April 17, 2009, at approximately 1312 hours, in front of 626 Nostrand Avenue, in the confines of the 77 Precinct, police responded to a call of a male shot. Upon arrival at the scene a M/B/18 was found with a gunshot wound to the torso. The victim was transported to Kings County Hospital where he was pronounced DOA. There are no arrests at this time, the investigation is ongoing.
In the days since the shooting, Crown Heights residents have undoubtedly had many conversations about the homicide. A child – basically – shot dead in a dingy take-out restaurant. “What kind of destination is that in life?” a woman asked incredulously outside of a community center.
Later, a young man asked me at a nearby house party if I had heard about the murder. I said I had, and he nodded his head, but had nothing to say.
The elephant in the room is that whether this incident is highly publicized – like the recent double homicide of a father and son in a Crown Heights deli – or not, this will continue to happen.
While this reporter does not intend to misuse such a horrific event to ineffectually lament systemic violence, it was clear that this story might otherwise go unnoticed.
When the young officer remarked that kids involved in violence or gang activity on New York City streets should be looking for jobs – instead of getting shot at by their peers – his remarkably skewed context was apparent.
A few days before the shooting took place, I was up late writing a story when I heard a commotion outside of my window. A group of teenagers had gathered in front of a brownstone across the street and there was some shuffling in the crowd’s core. A few kids ran up the street, others loitered to see what would happen.
After a few minutes, police cars arrived on the scene and over the loudspeaker came their command.
“Get the fuck off the block!” a cop yelled over his loudspeaker. Sirens whooped and blue and red lights danced on the surrounding buildings.
The crowd dispersed, and it occurred to me that it was likely spring break for public schools. I figured that because I attended one and am keenly familiar with the fact that kids are kids and sometimes they rumble. I also happen to believe that nurture has a far more profound influence than nature.
Hiding behind the right to bear arms and then writing off a generation of kids because they fall into a perfectly crafted stereotype is inexcusable.
Services will be held for Mr. Wilkens on Thursday and it’s likely that this tragedy will soon be forgotten – if it was ever known to begin with. A traditional media increasingly less focused on local journalism – that is, reporting beyond just the occurrence of violence – is even more tragic than the death of this young man and those whose unfortunate faces have flashed across the 11 o’clock news.
The fact that we all let this persist effectively signs the death sentences of many more young people.
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