Stolen Life: the prophecy of one young man in Hunters Point

YO! Youth Outlook, Published: June 11, 2006

I met Julian a few years ago when he was in Juvenile Hall and I was doing writing workshops there. He was 15 then, waiting to find out where the system was going to send him next. Every week when I came in, he was reluctant to write but he always wanted to talk. One Friday night, I came in for the workshop and he was gone, on to his next stop.

A year ago, I started running into him in Hunters Point, where he lived. We’d talk, he’d tell me about how he was getting his credits to graduate high school and just “staying up.”

Then, the day after Halloween, Julian was shot and killed.

I interviewed him a few days before he died for a story I was doing on Hunters Point (“Storyville,” Nov. 2003). And just as the story went to print, he was gone.

After I found out, I started to think more about the talks we had. I went back and listened to the tapes from the interview and something jumped out at me. Julian knew he was going to die. He told me. I didn’t believe him at the time – I thought he was paranoid or being dramatic. But he knew.

During the interview, he was cryptic in his answers and he refused to talk about most things. He lied to me about how old he was and insisted on using a fake name. He talked in circles, letting his sentences trail off before he said anything. One thing was clear, though – he had a lot on his mind. But I had no idea he was contemplating his own death.

Sadly, his life was stolen from him long before he was killed. Julian spent his entire adolescence in the system – group homes and juvenile hall. When he got out, he had nothing to build on. He was released to the streets with no prospects.

He knew if he was going to do anything, he had to get out of the neighborhood. He told me, “Niggas gotta get as far away from here as possible. I’d rather be going to college or something, but you gotta have money to do things like that.”

Julian saw a life outside of the drama, but he couldn’t tear himself away. He wasn’t an angel. He was out there, involved. He never told me exactly what he was doing, he just said, “It’s obvious to everyone who drives through here – you can look at the surroundings and tell what’s going on.”

Around the same time Julian was killed, DeShaun Dawson, 15, was shot on the bus and died a few days later. He was a 4.0 student at Balboa High and he tutored kids at the Boys and Girls Club in the Sunnydale neighborhood in San Francisco, where he lived. His name has been all over the paper ever since. Reporters and columnists are using his death to slam everybody from public schools to kids who won’t snitch.

But nobody is talking about Julian. He wasn’t an honor student “overcoming the odds” or an innocent bystander. He was in the life. So presumably, his death doesn’t matter. After he died, his mom said, “(Kids from Hunters Point) are at the bottom of the totem pole. It’s up to me to give him a proper burial and make sure he’s not forgotten.”

Julian’s mom knew he was in trouble. He told her that some people were after him, so she called the police to try and save her son. They said they couldn’t do anything. A week later he was dead.

He’s not the only one either. There are all kinds of young men in Hunters Point who are trapped. They say you can’t put a value on a human life, but what the world is telling me right now is if you’re young and black without options, your life means nothing.

The last time I talked to Julian, it was a quiet night in Hunters Point. I was walking to the store and as I passed his doorway, he called out to me. He opened the gate, asked me for a cigarette and told me to sit down. We sat there in silence for a while, until he smacked his lips and shook his head. Then he stared out of the gate and said to me, “The world is coming to an end, my nigga.”

I didn’t know what he meant when he said it, but now it’s clear. Julian knew he was going to die and he couldn’t do anything but sit and wait for it.