Marcus didn’t notice the four men sitting in the idling car as he crossed the street. His mind was on lighting that cigarette before he reached his vehicle and dug out his keys. This momentary distraction would cost him his life.
By the time he noticed the car pull out and glide up to him, it was almost too late. Marcus’s only option was to run. The chase was on. Marcus turned and took off running between the houses to his right. This would buy him time, as he knew that they couldn’t follow him—he needed time to think about his next move. He wasn’t going to die today. The car would now be moving toward the first right turn in hopes of cutting off his escape.
Marcus’s legs grew heavy and he was slowing down. His reconstructed knee from an old high school football injury made it impossible to run for very long. He reached an alley six blocks away. His heart was pounding and his whole body hurt—especially that damn knee. He hadn’t sprinted this far in years. Marcus looked around and felt disoriented. This was not his turf. If he ran any further away from his car, he might never find it again. It was time to double back. If he could only get there, he could get away from whoever was chasing him. His breathing slowed as he reached the next corner and listened—no other engines nearby. He’d given them the slip.
Who is this person? he thought as he crept along the next block. They couldn’t be related to this girlfriend. Could they? No one knew about him and Angie. Still, he was taking a chance every time he came to see her. He had to come. He had to see their son.
That child had been their second mistake. The first was the love they had for each other, which put them both in danger from outsiders who wouldn’t agree with their union. Angie had been born in this neighborhood. Her world didn’t mix with his, and they had to be careful.
The black Ford Mustang shot out of the alley to his left.
All Marcus heard was the bounce of its wheels through a pothole, then it was picking up speed. He couldn’t win this race.
The more he ran, the more they chased, and soon he had a feeling he was going in circles. By the way the car kept appearing in his path no matter where he turned, the driver knew he was lost.
Sudden pain flared his left thigh. Bullet wound—and he hadn’t even heard the gunfire through his fear. Then he felt another thump and pain in his left shoulder. His legs stopped obeying him, and he toppled at the mouth of the next alley.
Marcus looked up at the shadow hovering over him as he clutched his left leg. The blood was pouring out and his vision was a blurry, dark tunnel. He was trying to make out the face before the shadow spoke.
“You goddamn motherfucker. What the hell you doing in our neighborhood?”
Marcus recognized that voice. It belonged to Damion Love, the neighborhood gangster who controlled the south side with an iron fist. Damion’s gang moved major weight in the city and the surrounding suburbs. His reach also stretched to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and even as far as New York. The last four police chiefs had tried to bring him and his gang down, fighting the battle on the streets and also in the courts. Both sides lost men, because Damion was not going to give up his very lucrative drug trade. His control and power were entrenched.
Before Marcus could answer, Damion spoke again.
“Not only are you in the wrong place at the wrong time, you are also the wrong motherfucker to be anywhere around my territory.”
The shadow shifted its stance, and the voice seemed to come closer.
“You know Angie’s my cousin, and when I found out she was having a baby, I had to find out who the baby daddy is. You can’t be messing around with anyone from the hood, right?”
And with that, Damion pulled out his 9 mm and shot Marcus at point-blank range.
Minneapolis was already on high alert as the homicide count climbed. The governor was on the mayor’s ass, the mayor was on the police chief’s ass, and the police chief was squeezing her precinct captains to do something. Anything!
Worse, the chief was already dealing with administrative issues. The stack of disciplinary files stared at her every time she sat down at her desk—she swore it was growing. Worse, one of her officers had been suspended and placed on desk duty for felonious assault on a civilian. The public was putting tremendous pressure on the district attorney to charge him. If that weren’t enough, morale was down. The countless meetings with the police union bore no fruit as officers continued to show up late, some calling in sick ten minutes before shift change. The rank and file hated that she’d gotten the job over a favorite son.
And above her, the mayor was haranguing her with phone calls throughout the day looking for answers, thinking that micromanaging her would get things done—including getting him reelected in the upcoming vote. He didn’t want anything to derail his bid for another four years in city hall.
She knew where he was really aiming, though. Mayor Daniel Austen was on an upward trajectory, and until recently, Lawana Brown had been an important part of that plan. He’d won his first term as mayor of Minneapolis in his early thirties. He was married to his high school sweetheart and was already a father of four, meaning that the only thing more important than his family was his life’s ambition for higher office. Ever since his first position on student council (a fact he’d touted in all his campaigns), he’d been aiming for the presidency. His staff had hired a polling firm to gauge his viability, and the results were his green light, justifying the effort of laying a foundation for a future run. Lawana got the sense that the mayor wouldn’t even mind making a stop at the governor’s mansion or a cabinet position if needed. As long as it gave him national name recognition.
But for now, in Minneapolis, the mayor had ridden to victory with a law-and-order message which resonated with voters who were concerned about rising crime during the last administration. Austen was a smart and calculating politician who knew that it wasn’t just about doing something—it was that the voters saw you out there rolling up your sleeves acting like reducing crime was the only thing you thought about each day of your life. “And,” he’d told her not too long ago, “that is why I want you as my no-nonsense chief of police.” After a whisper campaign, the old chief of police resigned.
At Lawana Brown’s swearing-in ceremony, which introduced the chief to the city, the mayor had professed that Chief Brown was going to be the steady hand that guided the city’s new outreach program. Her previous experience in Boston proved her ability to lower crime through community policing. The key part of her approach would be to increase her officers’ presence on foot—out of their cars and interacting with the people. Her motto, which was understood by all the officers in her city was, If they can’t see you, they can’t trust you. Her job was to get the same results in Minneapolis, which would be measured, for the mayor, in adoring headlines. City council registered their approval in a unanimous vote for Lawana Brown as the next Minneapolis chief of police.
Her job meant more to her than headlines and votes, though. A divorced single mother of one, Lawana knew the importance of having good role models for kids to see and interact with. She had met her husband in Boston while they were both attending the police academy. Not long after their wedding came their son, who was unplanned but welcomed. Over the years of raising him together, the strain and pressures of their jobs frayed their family. Lawana and her husband finalized their divorce six months before Mayor Austen offered her the appointment in Minnesota. She had decided that it was important for their son to have stability in his life, and since he was already in high school, she didn’t want the fight of having him follow her to a new city. He’d stay with his father, who was relieved that there wouldn’t be a knock-down-drag-out custody battle.
But every single day, she still regretted not fighting harder to have him with her, even though she knew her work in the new city was already hard enough. In one of her first acts, she had set out to separate the troublemakers from the trustworthy. It took months to review every police complaint, attend every citizen review board meeting, and meet with almost all the officers under her command. Her chief of staff helped her select community liaisons. In the end, she fired three officers, after a lengthy legal process, encouraged five to retire, and reassigned seven from the streets to other areas of the department. Throughout this process, she made a lot of enemies, but the mayor was on board as long as it resulted in positive headlines.
Today, Chief Brown was attending roll call at the 4th Precinct.
The meetings with her precinct inspectors weren’t finger-pointing meetings. Chief Brown was there to visibly give them her attention and support, showing up at a different precinct each week. She made sure all the precincts worked together and shared information, but this style differed so radically from the previous chief’s indifferent style that these rotating visits were still critical even after more than a year. His hands-off approach was so ingrained that people wanted to slide back into his status quo—which amounted to being left alone until the next photo op in a high-profile arrest. Chief Brown was different. She expected her precinct inspectors to know the statistics for not only their own areas but also for the other precincts. She reminded them that the policy manual was rigid and could only cover so much. She wanted them to be innovative in their police work—that part wasn’t a suggestion.
“Try something, do something,” she told them, even in her anxiety dreams.
Today’s precinct was Darnell Goodroe’s. Darnell was a detective of fifteen years out of the 2nd Precinct. Lawana respected him—he’d raised his kids solo because he’d lost his wife to cancer when their kids were young. He never remarried but was always there for his kids, somehow while keeping a staggering case-closure rate. She promoted him to inspector of 4th Precinct as a statement: don’t expect promotions to land in your lap just because you’re next in line. You have to deserve it. And Inspector Darnell did; he was a go-getter and had not disappointed her.
Darnell and others were not surprised to see the chief at roll call. Lawana took a seat up front facing the lectern as he took attendance, inspected uniforms and equipment, talked through incidents from the vampire shift, informed officers of the current BOLOs, and reminded them to be careful. With a glance at her, he closed with the chief’s famous words before dismissing them for their shift.
“If they can’t see you, they can’t trust you.”
Chief Brown didn’t add anything during this visit or any other. She was there to show support to the officers, supervisors, and the precinct inspector. She might stay for hours during each visit, hanging around talking and listening to anyone who wanted to share thoughts. The conversations weren’t always police-related. She’s talked about pets, grandparents, kids in college, kids in juvenile detention, you name it—she wanted to have a rapport. Everyone under her command had her mobile number and could call her at any time. The only thing she asked is that they follow the chain of command and inform their precinct supervisor that they reached out to her.
Chief Brown stopped in the women’s restroom before departing the 4th Precinct. She wanted to freshen up before heading back to the office downtown. Two women officers came in, and not realizing that she was occupying one of the stalls, they started making small talk.
“If they can’t see you, they can’t trust you, my ass,” said one of the officers.
“I’d like to see her ass out there patrolling these streets and see what she thinks then,” said her partner.
Chief Brown couldn’t believe her ears. She knew her style and her approach to policing wasn’t widely accepted, but she was counting on making inroads and convincing them that her approach would save lives and build more trust between the citizenry and the police. The chief knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but she expected to have won more supporters by now, especially from officers not in the old guard.
Right before the two officers left the restroom, one made a comment that hurt even more.
“I wish the old chief was still here.”
“We could get back to the way things were and not have to make small talk with people who want to kill you the first chance they get.”
Chief Brown waited until they left, and after washing her hands, she left the precinct without a word to Inspector Darnell. She would have a deep conversation with him later about what she just heard.