On a perfect Sunday in May, police were searching amidst the flowering trees and bright green lawns of Queens Village for a handgun that had been used to shoot a 25-year-old police officer in the head the night before.
Police Officer Brian Moore and his partner, Police Officer Erik Jansen, had been working plainclothes in an unmarked car just after 6 p.m. on Saturday. They were coming to the corner of 212th Street and 104th Road with Moore at the wheel when they spotted a man fumbling with something in his jeans waistband.
That is the sort of observation that skeptics scoff at as just a pretext for conducting a stop and frisk. And, with the world the way it presently is, nobody could have blamed the two cops if they just cruised on past.
Moore had plans to watch the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight at a neighbor's house after he went off duty.
But training and experience and instinct told Moore and his partner that their man might have a gun—a gun that could be used kill an innocent. Murder is up 100 percent in their precinct, the 105th, compared to last May.
Moore’s foot went from accelerator to brake and he pulled over. Moore reportedly called to the man, asking him what he was doing. The cops had yet even to get out of the car when their instincts were suddenly proven all too correct.
The man responded to Moore’s question by pulling a handgun and firing multiple times. One of the bullets struck Moore in the head and exited through his cheek.
At Jamaica Hospital, Moore was listed in critical condition and placed in a medically inducted coma to facilitate intubation, but initially doctors described his wounds as “not life threatening.”
After four hours of surgery, he is said to have taken a turn for the worse, reportedly suffering brain bleed and swelling. He was fighting for his life while much of the city was out in the sunshine, enjoying a New York that had been turned into the safest big city in America, thanks to the efforts and sacrifice of Moore and his thousands of fellow officers.
Moore is the son and nephew of retired NYPD sergeants and they were keeping vigil at his bedside along with the rest of his family. A sister was hurried there from Florida. The hallway was lined with cops, some in uniform, others in civilian clothes, all sharing the same somber expression, knowing that the very worst can befall the very best of them.
One visitor left the hospital and described the outlook with a single word that seemed all the more impossible as the wondrous May morning had given away to an even better afternoon:
After the shooting, a neighbor had told police that she had seen the gunman vault a fence, cut through a yard and scurry into a house three doors down. Police arrested 35-year-old Demetrius Blackwell and charged him with attempted murder of a police officer.
But more than an hour had elapsed between the shooting and the arrest, affording Blackwell ample time to hide or pass off the gun. He had stood outside, smoking cigarettes and seeming like calm personified shortly before he was grabbed.
Blackwell was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court on Sunday. He was brought in clad in a white Tyvek jumpsuit. The prosecutor said that three witnesses had identified Blackwell as the shooter. The prosecutor noted that Blackwell’s street name is Hellraiser.
Dozens of cops looked on as the judge ordered Blackwell remanded. A number of them had come from seeing Moore at the hospital. They included the head of the police union, Pat Lynch. He has two young sons who are cops.
Back at the scene of the shooting, cops had combed through budding flowerbeds and revived shrubs and lush grass. They had even clambered up ladders onto roofs.
An NYPD Crime Stoppers van was now rolling slowly through the springtime splendor, its lights flashing, an announcement crackling over its P.A. speakers.
“Crime Stoppers will pay up to a $10,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the weapon in this incident.”
Just down 104th Road from the shooting scene, two uniformed cops were posted by a white tent marked NYPD CRIME SCENE UNIT. Cops in New York usually come out of the academy either just in time for the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve. One of these two had started his career with spectacular fireworks, the other with the famous ball dropping in Times Square. They now stood a few feet from where a storm sewer had been dredged in the search for a gun that had gravely wounded one of other own. The muck lay in small piles at the curb, as inky and vile as underlying truth.
A passerby suggested there should be protests over violence against police.
“Never happen,” said the officer who had started with the Fourth of July detail.
Crime scene tape still closed off the surrounding blocks and a small group of youngsters took advantage of the absence of traffic to go into the 212th Street with a green rubber ball.
“At least the children are happy,” a woman said.
But the kids were more subdued than might be expected on such a day, most particularly after a long, harsh winter.
One little girl became suddenly animated when the ball bounced past her and she chased it down toward the crime scene tape.
She got an anxious look that then vanished as she managed to snatch the ball before it rolled into the traffic beyond. She then returned to the less than boisterous game.
No doubt Demetrius Blackwell and his cousin, Kory Blackwell, had played more carefree games in these same streets. Kory had gone on to play football with the NFL. Demetrius had gone to prison for attempted murder in 2000, after he fired a gun into a car, that one not occupied by police officers.
On Saturday, Demetrius Blackwell was allegedly walking these streets with another gun. The difference between him and his cousin must have been the result of forces that are beyond the powers or responsibilities of the police. The police are just the ones who are sent out to cope with the result.
Blackwell knows the surrounding yards. The ease with which he allegedly fled after the shooting raises the question of why he could not have just fled and ditched the gun when he saw the cops pull up.
If he was indeed the gunman, maybe he panicked.
Maybe he had just reached a limit.
Maybe some of his run-ins with the police had left him bitter.
Maybe he had been affected by the rhetoric that brands all cops as bad.
This much is certain, whether or not the gun is recovered; if it were not for a gun, Moore would not have been fighting for his life.
On Monday, another perfect day in May, word came that the young cop had died.
Officer Brian Moore was the same age as Freddie Gray, and anybody who grieves the loss of that young man in Baltimore should also grieve for this young man in Queens.
Where is the outrage now?
#All lives matter.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated.