Last night I listened to a podcast episode of Snap Judgment, called Counted: An Oakland Story. The episode was about how Oakland’s homicide rate has declined from a high point of 140 one year to 77 in 2017.
“And about those 77, we wanted to let you know about these artists, singers, students, activists, teachers—they are the Oakland family. They are what make beautiful Oakland, edgy Oakland, woke Oakland. Every loss, makes this place less special. So we’re going to do something a little different in this episode. We’re going to tell you who some of these people were.”
There’s a website associated with the project, and on its “In memory of” page each victim is featured—all with their date of death, some with sketches of them, and most with their names included. But 7 of them—with a sketch of either a rose or a candle in the place of their face—say, “Unidentified man.”
This morning I was still thinking about those unidentified men. How does that happen? And I wrote this short contemplation.
The unidentified man
I’m one of 7. I died in Oakland in 2017 on:
- February 15 or
- May 30 or
- September 28 or
- October 21 or
- November 23 or
- December 12 or
- December 16.
Imagine for a minute that you—yes you—are walking down the street, late tonight on your way home, and you get killed. Can you think of 3 people who could identify you? How about 5? 10?
There are so many ways to identify me, but they had no luck. No luck for me that my fingerprints or DNA weren’t in “the database.” And I thought that was a good thing.
I didn’t have good teeth. That wasn’t the reason there were no dental records to match. There were no dentists in my life.
I know why my family isn’t looking for me. There was no father, or mother, in my life. They had their own lives to live. And I was an inconvenience in them.
And don’t think nobody on the street knew me. I did know one other member of this club, a club none of us wanted to join. And that person definitely knew me. But someone got revenge on him for someone he killed.
My favorite member of the club? It has to be Jason. They said about him: “He actually didn’t live on the streets, but inside them. Inside the hollow cement pillars that hold up that off-ramp, where he made a room for himself—he even wired cable and internet inside with a projector, a couch, and a mini-fridge.” That cat was hooked up. I was not so resourceful.
But resources can’t help me now. At least I count. I count among the 77 of 2017—even as I lie in an unguarded tomb, unknown.