Working at a startup is pretty crazy. As our website gets ready to go live in less than three weeks, it’s pretty normal for members of the Causecast team to stick around until 3 in the morning to get work done. Now, as an intern who gets paid $11/hour, it’s not really in my job description to be working such hours. So, come 6pm, I’m out the door amidst sarcastic cries of, “Oh, it must be nice to take a half-day.”
But last night, I stayed late to help my boss send out a bunch of urgent e-mails. I left work and walked the 5 blocks to my bus stop and made it there by 9:30pm. I waited about 25 minutes (so much for the Big Blue Bus motto of not waiting more than 10 minutes). I fiddled with my iPhone, updated my twitter status and got a bit annoyed by the wait—I had a friend’s birthday party to get to! I watched as a woman pedaled her bike through the intersection of 4th and Colorado, thinking how dangerous it was for her to be swerving among the cars.
Right as I was noticing her, several things happened simultaneously. I heard the woman on the bike yell, “Oh, shit,” I heard two loud gunshots from behind the corner I was leaning against, and I saw a man run in front of me, across the intersection and disappear. It was one of those odd reactions, where everyone just kind of stands around, not really knowing what to do, like in an earthquake. Like when you hear a car backfire, immediately think it’s a gunshot, then realize it’s merely a car. Well, I heard what I thought were gunshots, then thought it must be something else, then realized what the noise really was. But I just stood there. Several people around me just froze, another woman ducked behind a door, and one woman immediately called the police. Then I heard a car door slam and a truck honking it’s horn go racing through the red light of the intersection. That car made a circle around the block, eventually returning to the intersection just as police and ambulances arrived, obviously carrying the person who got shot. I could smell the gunpowder lingering in the air. I remained standing, looking around as police cars came swarming into the intersection, as helicopter flew overhead.
That’s when I started calling friends. Still clutching the seventy-five cents for my bus fare in my hand, I dialed my roommate, who didn’t pick up, then called another friend who volunteered to pick me up but was on the other side of town, then finally, got my thoughts together enough to call my boss, Sloane, who was a few blocks away at the office. I didn’t think I would be so affected, but I was crying on the phone and shaking. Sloane immediately said she would come get me, and I walked a block over to wait for her. This whole time couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes.
What got me most was not witnessing a crime that was obviously gang-related, but it was thinking back to the day before when I visited Homeboy Industries downtown to check on an order my company had placed there. I spent a lot of my time in college down in Boyle Heights in the Dolores Mission community, where gang violence was a regular occurrence, and where 148 kids had been killed by gunfire over ten years. Things have gotten better there over the last decade, but it’s still rough growing up in Boyle Heights. I have a friend Juan who works at Homeboy, who is the sweetest guy, and who only the day before had told me about the baby he just had. I realized that this was the sort of shit he grew up seeing, the sort of crime that had affected him personally, and had ultimately shaped his life enough to make him enter a gang. I got so mad thinking about the kids that grew up seeing gunfire, to even have such vile occurrences happen in the presence of children makes my knees go weak with anger.
I don’t really know what else to say. I feel shaken, and not because pristinely yuppie Santa Monica was marred by violence. I feel shaken because I witnessed something for the first time today that people around the world see daily, and they shouldn’t have to.