If Quanice Hayes had been given my brain, he would not have been shot by Portland police.
No, if this 17-year-old black male thought like I did, he would have never put a gun to a homeless man’s head, robbed him of his food stamp card and then later, as police tried to arrest him, reached towards his waistband as if he had a gun stashed there.
My brain would have known better. If I woke up in a black body tomorrow, I would not stare down a bunch of cops who wanted to arrest me. I would not return their commands to keep my hands up by looking like I was ready to grab a gun from my waistband and shoot back.
Everyone has an instinct for self-preservation.
Police officers (whatever their race or ethnicity) don’t want to be target practice for gunmen (whatever their race or ethnicity). Where was Hayes’ instinct for self-preservation? Stuck in the antebellum South? Stuck in last century’s “Straight Outta Compton?”
Hayes lived in progressive Portland, Ore., in 2017. Perhaps he had fantasized about a cop killing him: His family would score a financial settlement, and he would be a celebrity with thousands of people taking to the streets to protest his death. He could have been Portland’s answer to Michael Brown.
Given the publicity of black men who have died resisting arrest, such a fantasy is not unrealistic.
In Hayes’ case, the fantasy hasn’t measured up and probably won’t.
As one of his victims, a Hispanic man, told the Multnomah County Grand Jury: “I wasn’t only robbed at gunpoint. I was held hostage for an extended period of time.”
I mention the victim’s ethnicity because Hayes’ supporters and the media have made much of his blackness.
The victim, recently homeless because of a job loss, was living in his car parked near a Value Inn Motel. He testified that on the morning of Feb. 9, he woke up to someone knocking on his car window. He opened the window “and here comes the gun. … A .45-caliber gun coming at me. I know of guns because I’ve been in a military academy.”
Hayes told him, “You’re lucky you’re not dead right now because in Chicago we shoot you first, and then we rob you.”
The victim couldn’t know that it was mostly bluster. Hayes’ gun was a replica. It only fired BBs. Hayes wanted the victim to drive him around so he could rob people, but the homeless man had run out of gas and had no money, just a food stamp card.
According to the 509-page grand jury transcript released this week, Hayes tore the car apart trying to find something else to steal. After a half hour, Hayes put the gun in his waistband and warned the victim: “Don’t call the police. I see cop cars … driving around, I’m going to come back and put two in you.”
The victim waited about 15 minutes then went into the motel to call police. The officer who answered the call told the grand jury the man was visibly shaking and clearly frightened. To the officer, that underscored the legitimacy of the call. Man with a gun.
Meanwhile, Hayes was breaking into a woman’s car parked at Banfield Pet Hospital, trashing it. Then he pounded on the door of a black woman’s home and demanded to be let in. She called police. He broke into the house of an Indonesian woman who was not home. Her security alarm went off.
His spree eventually ended with him being shot. A replica handgun was found near his body. The Multnomah County Grand Jury declined to indict Portland police officer Andrew Hearst, ruling the shooting justified.
Hayes’ mother and protesters from Portland’s Black Lives Matter movement and Don’t Shoot Portland disagree.
On an especially gray, drizzly day about 200 people showed up for Hayes’ memorial service at the Philadelphia Community Missionary Baptist Church in Northeast Portland.
Pastor Roy Clay offered an open mic and invited speakers to “share a couple of minutes … what this young man meant to you.”
A woman stepped up and thanked everyone for coming out. Then it sounded like she referred to the “very violent young man” she had an opportunity to meet several years ago. Violent? Did she really call Hayes violent?
I was standing in the back, and as she went on, it was clear I had misheard. There would be no surprises in this memorial service. What she really said was that Quanice Hayes was “vibrant.” She repeated it.
“He was so vibrant. His hair was done. … He was doing things. I was so proud of him. I thought he was going in the right direction. … Whatever the reason, I hope that God has his soul… .”
His grandmother called him a fun-loving kid.
“I want you to know this child meant a lot to me…,” she said. “I am going to greatly miss him.” (According to the grand jury transcript, Hayes was still considered a runaway, having been reported missing last year.)
Hayes’ cousin, Terrence Hayes, gave a eulogy that included complaints that he can’t let his son play with toy guns because the police might fear for their lives. That a replica gun contributed to Quanice Hayes’ death was apparently lost on Terrence. Either that or guns have become an integral part of black culture.
Over the years I’ve been to many funerals for young black males who have been shot – by other black males, by anonymous shooters and by police. Hayes’ memorial service did not have foot-stomping rage nor a rousing send-off to the Promised Land. Instead there was weariness.
Could it be that even those who felt sadness at a mother’s and grandmother’s loss also silently believed this young man had brought them unnecessary grief by his behavior?
As the casket bearing Hayes’ body was led out of the church and into a hearse, about 50 people gathered outside in a soulless and rote kind of protest: A woman with a bullhorn yelled, “Say my name!” and the crowd yelled back, “Quanice Hayes!”
Some of the protesters have been among those who have taken over Portland City Council meetings in the past couple of months, demanding the right to speak at length and demanding immediate reforms in the police bureau and immediate end to homelessness.
Hayes’ death will be filed away to later be brought out by protesters, politicians and media when convenient. His name will automatically be added to a list of other blacks killed by police, as if they were all one and the same, as if Hayes were Keaton Otis (killed after he shot and wounded a police officer), as if Hayes were Aaron Campbell (unjustifiably shot in the back with his hands behind his head; the city settled for $1.2 million).
A week before Hayes was killed, the movie “Get Out” was released, described by its screenwriter and director Jordan Peele as a horror movie made for blacks.
If Hayes lived to see “Get Out,” he would have seen a world in which white people are out to get him. Every single white person is a suspect in the oppression of black Americans.
In an interview with The New York Times, Peele (who is biracial) said he wanted to make a movie that “exposed ‘the lie’ of a post-racial America, one that grew after the election of Mr. Obama.”
Reviewers have focused on the racism of white liberals. When Rose, a beautiful young white woman, takes her black boyfriend home to meet her parents they and their upper-class friends fawn over him.
“I would have voted for Obama a third time if I could have,” the father says.
“It’s such a privilege to be able to experience another person’s culture,” he says later, showing off photos and multicultural mementos of his travels.
This is the perfect movie to watch in a Portland theater surrounded by nervous laughs from whites who have said such things to prove they are not racist. (Personally, I think everybody is racist, sexist, ageist, whatever. We all make snap judgments about one another, sometimes for good reason. It’s freedom of thought.)
For the visiting boyfriend in “Get Out,” the one note of alarm is that his white girlfriend’s parents employ a black housekeeper and groundskeeper, who exhibit a robotic subservience reviewers have compared to the Stepford Wives.
Peele said the movie takes aim at what he called the “liberal elite.” That’s fair. But hasn’t he also noticed that some blacks need a white “other” to play the racist?
What about black elites like the culturally powerful hip-hop royalty? They, too, have made money off of black bodies. They have taught young men like Quanice Hayes how to swagger — even with a toy gun.
Peele didn’t make “Get Out” for someone like me, but I loved it. The movie is more thought-provoking than perhaps even he realizes.
He has created a world where whites can look in the mirror and not recognize the black face staring back at them, where a racist white girl can love her black grandmother and grandfather.
And something that Quanice Hayes might not have noticed had he lived to see this movie: The guy who saves the black hero wears a uniform and drives a car with a siren and flashing lights.
– Pamela Fitzsimmons