No one expected things to end the way they did.
It was the early hours of Sunday, August 14, at Prime Development, a vintage store and art gallery on 15th Street in Downtown Oakland. Saturday night was intended to be the last hurrah of festivities at the community space, which recently lost its lease and had been preparing to shutter the following week. Over the past year, the unofficial venue had become a hub for the next wave of the Town's underground hip-hop scene. DJ nights and rap shows there often spilled into the street and became spontaneous block parties.
But the last Prime party ended in bloody tragedy when a fight between unknown men turned into a reckless shooting. My friend Raven and I were there among the revelers hanging out on the block that night, just like any other Saturday. But, hungry for late night munchies, we said goodbye and left in search of food.
About ten or twenty minutes later, shots were fired. Raven received a text from a friend who had stayed behind. The message relayed that many of our loved ones had run for their lives as bullets flew. We heard our friend Terrence McCrary, aka T Mack — who we had been hanging out with only moments before — had been shot. In the morning, news spread across our social networks that he and another partygoer I didn't know personally, Craig Fletcher-Cooks, were killed that night.
The past week has been traumatic for young people in Oakland. Terrence and Craig were both Berkeley High School alumni and beloved in the community. Terrence and I had become friends over the past year, and some of my closest friends grew up with him. Conversations with him were always uplifting because of his goofy sense of humor, big hugs, and infectious smile (Sweet T was one of his nicknames). He wasn't afraid to be weird or silly, and brought a positive outlook to every situation. After his passing, I came to truly appreciate the magnitude of how many people's lives he touched in a positive way thanks to his active involvement in the arts and skateboarding.
It's impossible to make sense of the random violent act that robbed our community of two beloved people, and folks are still reeling. A lot of us who were at the party last Saturday night gathered for an informal memorial there the following Monday. It was tough to see everyone's tear-streaked faces in the light of day when we had just been laughing together the other night. We set up a small altar, burned incense, and cried and drank in the street.
It's a shame that this tragedy transpired on a block that provided us with a safe space to gather and create. While the scene that Prime served wasn't explicitly activist-oriented or politicized, it was incredibly diverse and became a safe haven at a time when the effects of gentrification, social inequality, and violence in Oakland are ever-present. For my friends and I, Prime was a place we could go and be guaranteed to see friendly, familiar faces no matter what was going on in our lives, the city, or on the news.
I think it'll be a relief to a lot of people if the person who shot Terrence and Craig is caught. But it's also disheartening, to say the least, that a young person will likely serve hard time for an act that should have never been committed. From this place of grief, it's hard to know what to do next except to wish for these cycles of gun violence and incarceration to stop.
While it would bring justice to this particular case, it's not going to solve this widespread problem of gun violence to lock up the person who shot Terrence and Craig. Our city needs to create conditions for young people to thrive, and to invest in our communities so that no one has so much disregard for others that they recklessly shoot a gun at a party not caring who gets hit. Our politicians and business people need to step up and invest in social services that would promote our collective healing, instead of looking to policing and incarceration as the answer.
All that aside, I just want my friend back. The memory of my last conversation with Terrence and the huge group hug he gave me and Raven on Saturday night is replaying in my mind.
Rest in peace, Sweet T. I'll always remember you as a light in this world.