Black Fire Matters Many people both inside and outside his home 'hood thought of Jimmy as a firebrand, his style as long as anyone could remember. At fifteen he organized demonstrations and led protest marches. The police picked Jimmy up several times, charged him with disorderly conduct and creating a public nuisance once each, but never convicted him of anything. Unlike many of his peers, he kept his nose clean—Jimmy never messed with drugs or with selling them. He was a thorn in the side of the authorities, but he was not a criminal—and more thoughtful observers thought of him more and more as a peacemaker. Jimmy spent two years at the local community college and two more at the state university to end up with a bachelor's degree in social work. Instead of going to work for a government agency, Jimmy had worked with a community-based social services provider in the neighborhood where he grew up. Seeing many of the community's problems deriving from politics, he decided to return to the university for a master's degree in political science and enrolled for the next academic year. In the meantime, a series of deaths-in-custody and other suspicious deaths of unarmed black teenagers at the hands of police led to a wave of angry protests. The law enforcement community didn't seem to get the message, though, and the deaths continued. Predictably, that eventually led to some people taking the law into their own hands and exacting vengeance upon police. Jimmy could see the situation easily spiralling out of control, so he contacted several influential community personalities and organized a series of meetings. At first, Jimmy tried to persuade each group that the best strategy involved negotiation and well-disciplined peaceful demonstrations, but he soon saw he risked being totally ignored and becoming irrelevant. Many of those who attended his meetings said, “We've already tried that, and we know it doesn't work,” or words to that effect. A few had already begun organizing groups of armed black vigilantes. In an effort to prevent the spreading conflicts from escalating into an all-out war, Jimmy chose to accommodate those groups. “You don't just go out and start blowin' honkies away. We don't want to kill honkies—or even white cops—just because they're white. That's jes’ as bad as them killin' us because we're black. Is that OK?” “Hell, no!” his small audience roared. “Exactly! So we don't want to do that either. We're talkin' self-defence. We only go after people who are killin' our bros.” “How about the head of Standard Oil?” came a voice from the crowd. “That'll have to wait 'til later,” Jimmy replied. “But they're killin' us.” “True dat, but right now we want only clear responses to direct threats. What we want to do is take out those cops that are killin' our bros—and nobody else!” Jimmy paused for a moment, then asked, “Does anybody not understand that?” Amid nodding and head shaking, a chorus of “Nah,” “Yeah,” “All good, bro,” “You go, Jimmy!” bade him proceed. “If the man is just doin' his job, even if we don't like it, we don't touch 'im. Everybody got dat?” “But, Jimmy,” said a large man in the middle of the room, a man Jimmy had known in high school, “this is our city. It's ours as much as it is theirs. We ain't gonna let them kill us off or drive us out of here.” “Of course we're not,” Jimmy replied. “I'm jes' sayin' we don't need to kill all of them off either. We defend ourselves. Anybody not OK wi' that?” “Right, bro,” and other sounds of assent encouraged Jimmy to continue discussing plans to defend the demonstration in front of the city hall the next day. His friends and neighbors trusted him and knew he was on their side. Even though many wanted to take more direct and comprehensive action, they allowed Jimmy to persuade them to try his way. Another half hour of discussion and an hour of organizing teams left Jimmy and the rest feeling well prepared for the next day's protest. The meeting ended with a positive vibe, and Jimmy went home feeling they might even achieve a breakthrough in their relations with the authorities the next day. The morning dawned grey and gloomy, with a light drizzle falling. “That'll keep our numbers down,” said Jimmy's friend and sometime lover Crystal, who had helped organize the day's actions. To the surprise of both of them, more than three thousand people had crowded onto the sidewalk (and into the street) in front of City Hall by the time the rain stopped at quarter to eight that morning. Unlike the rain, the stream of people showed no sign of stopping. Buses arrived, delivering supporters from other communities. One of Jimmy's three cellphones signalled an incoming text message just as the other one rang for a 'phone call. He answered the call and learned that the state police had begun stopping buses on the outskirts of the city. The text, from a different bus, conveyed the same news. He told Crystal and showed her the text, and she quickly arranged press coverage of the interceptions. By 9:30 the sky had turned blue and nearly ten thousand people, mostly black but with many white supporters, had packed the space in front of City Hall. By 10:30 buses succeeded again in getting to the city center, swelling the numbers to well over twelve thousand as the day grew comfortably warm—and still people kept pouring into the street. Official police estimates of the crowd claimed nine thousand demonstrators, but photographs showed the number approached twenty thousand. Surprisingly, considering the numbers, the first real trouble didn't occur until almost noon, when two policemen began using their nightsticks on a black teenager who had been standing quietly on the edge of the crowd. Several people intervened and were clubbed to the ground for their trouble. At the other end of the block, Jimmy stood relaying information to the vigilante teams in windows and on rooftops of buildings up and down the block. In particular, he told his teams where police snipers had been spotted. “Yeah, right in City Hall itself—sixth floor, fourth window from the left,” he told each of his teams in turn, then, “The roof of that big glass and steel building at the end of the block.” Across the teeming multitude, the black teenager lay unconscious but unmolested, as two large white policemen vented their fury on a middle-aged man who had tried to intervene. The man lay inert, clearly unconscious, but still the cops hit him. Suddenly, the face of one of the cops exploded forward onto their unconscious victim. The other cop straightened to look around him, and the back of his head spattered over several witnesses. Jimmy moved through the crowd toward the commotion surrounding the two dead policemen. He took a call and heard, “We movin' out. They comin' dis way.” That told him the team that had taken at least one of the cops was vacating the room they had used and were leaving it booby-trapped for the SWAT team that planned to apprehend them. Another commotion at the back of the crowd rose from a circle of angry demonstrators surrounding four white policemen using their sticks on a twenty-something black male, who was curled into a ball on the ground. As one of the cops straightened to swing a full-force blow at the man's head, a bullet through the cop's neck dropped his body onto his cringing victim. The other three cops looked wildly around and one spoke into his walkie-talkie, as the crowd began to close in on them. In response to a short 'phone call, Jimmy changed direction toward that new disturbance, hoping to calm the crowd and defuse the tension. He spoke into one of his 'phones as he weaved through the crowd. “No, bro, we don't want them tearin' these cops apart. That'd just be their excuse for more violence against us. I think I can quieten 'em down. You jus—” Jimmy's instructions were interrupted by a police sniper's bullet that entered his heart through his left atrium and exited through—and mostly removed—the wall of his left ventricle.
Educated as a scientist, graduated as a mathematician, Cora Tate has earned her living as a full-time professional entertainer most of her life. She attempted to escape the entertainment industry through work as a librarian, physics teacher, syndicated newspaper columnist, and city planner, among other occupations. Cora has written five novels, three novellas (two published), six novelettes (two published, one forthcoming), and ninety short stories, of which fifty-nine have appeared in sixty-seven literary journals in ten countries.