BROOKLYN BAD BOYZ: THE NIGHT I WAS SHOT
The rainy night I was shot three times often replays in my mind like a bad movie. It was November 16th, 2011, and I was standing outside the front entrance of my Brooklyn apartment. Dressed in jeans, black Timberland boots and a hoodie, I thought I was alone. With the hoodie pulled up, my face was obscured as I found my key and stuck it in the lock. It was then when eight shots were suddenly fired. The bullets pierced the metal door, the concrete walls and my soft flesh.As a native New Yorker who had dwelled in the city during the worst of times, including the crimewave ‘70s and cracked out ‘80s, I’d never had anything bad happen to me on the streets. When I was a teenager I was mugged by two guys in Harlem, but I looked so sad they gave me back my money. Thirty-three years later, my luck suddenly changed when those multiple gunshots blasted me from behind. I tried to turn my head, to see the shooter’s face, but I only managed to glance at the reddish orange flames coming out of the gun’s muzzle. Everything became a blur and time stopped as I thought, “I didn’t know fire really came out of guns.” Then, just as suddenly as the shooter appeared, he was gone. He never said a word and I never saw his face.That day, I’d spent most of the afternoon putting together the last of my monthly rent money. As a freelance music journalist without a nine-to-five, money was coming in slow and my wallet was on E. I had spent the overcast day collecting on debts and favors. At 4:00 pm I’d gone to visit my friend Beverley at CRUNCH Gym on 38th Street in Manhattan where she was the manager. When I walked through the door, I saw her at the front desk. Start writing your post here. You can insert images and videos by clicking on the icons above.
Stepping from behind the counter, she gave me a hug. Seconds later, she stepped back as though zapped by electricity. “Are you all right?” she asked, looking at me strangely. “Something doesn’t feel right. I feel darkness around you.” I laughed nervously. “Give me a break with the voodoo shit.” We talked for a few minutes, and Beverley handed me an envelope with the two hundred bucks I so desperately needed to pay my landlady. As she spoke, I noticed she was still looking at me curiously and it spooked me out.
“Look, I have to get to the bank,” I said. I thanked her and headed out onto the busy street. It was already dark as I walked up Broadway to the Chase Bank. I looked around at the ever-changing city where new buildings sprouted from the ground like wild weeds. Though I’d always referred to New York as “my city,” it was changing rapidly.
After depositing the money in the lobby ATM on Broadway and 44th, I walked five blocks uptown to attend a listening session for Amy Winehouse’s third album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, at Quad Studios. Having written about hip-hop for years, I knew very well that Quad was the infamous studio where Tupac was shot in 1994 while waiting for the elevator in the lobby. On his way to meet then homeboy Biggie Smalls, the Thug Life representative was blasted and he always blamed the overweight rapper and Bad Boy Records boss Sean “Puffy” Combs for those gunshots that were heard around the world. While that incident was supposedly set-up by James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond, the Cali identified rapper would, with the aid of his Left Coast label Death Row Records, launch a full fledged war against Puff and Big.
Leaning against the wall while Winehouse’s dramatic cover of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You” played, I talked with friends, including writer Amy Linden and editor Rob Kenner. There was food and cocktails, and Rob introduced me to producer Salaam Remi. Four years earlier Remi produced much of Winehouse’s breakthrough Back to Black. After her smashing success, Winehouse’s crash, brought on by drugs and drink, was hard. She died on July 23, 2011 and four months later we were gathered to listen to her swan songs.
I left Quad at nine o’clock and rode the N train back to Brooklyn with Linden. We talked about, among other things, Winehouse’s sad music and Tupac’s mythology. At Atlantic Avenue, I transferred to the #2 train and got off at President Street. It was still drizzling when I exited the subway station. The thick fog hung over my Crown Heights community, making it hard to see.
Turning the corner onto Brooklyn Avenue where I’d lived for over a decade, I was surprised by how quiet it was at 10 p.m. The neighborhood, mostly Black and Hasidic, was never rowdy, but usually there were folks chatting on their stoops, families walking home from synagogue or someone standing across the street at the bus stop. That night there was nothing but fog until the gunshots came.
The author in Brooklyn, photo credit Martha Cooper.
Somehow, after being shot three times, I was still standing. Dazed, confused and in shock, it took me a few beats to realize that I’d been hit-up. I felt the liquid warmth of blood on my right thigh as I wobbled to the house next door. My neighbor Richard swung open the door and I collapsed into his vestibule. My thigh was burning and I began to cry. “They shot me. They shot me. They shot me!” Focusing on Richard’s shocked face, I mumbled. “I didn’t do anything to anybody. Why did they shoot me?”
Luckily, one of my Hasidic neighbors was an EMT. He was at the bodega down the block when the call came over the radio and he raced over on foot to help. “Don’t close your eyes,” he instructed. The block, deserted just moments before, was teeming with gawking neighbors gathered on the sidewalk and stared into Richard’s entryway where I lay shot in the arm, leg and the left side of my chest. When the EMS crew pulled up, they jumped out of their wagon, slowly rolled me onto the stretcher and carried me to their ride.
I felt, in a weird way, as though all of the craziness was happening to someone else and I was simply observing from a distance. I looked into the faces of friends and strangers as they carried me to the ambulance. My landlord’s boyfriend, who I only knew by his nickname Chance, stood staring at me strangely, as though he knew something, but what he wouldn’t say. Over the last few years, I’d seen Chance at the house often when he stayed with my landlady. He was always cool, always polite, but there was something about him that was intimidating.
* * *
Weeks later, I discovered Chance’s government name was Matthew Allen and he had formerly gone by the street name Scar. The name was a derivative of Scarface, the infamous 1983 film that inspired so many tough guys and drug dealers. Scar was a notorious Brooklyn thug known for his young life of crime. His most publicized act was starting an argument with Bad Boy Records king Puff Daddy (Diddy) on December 27, 1999 at Club New York after the star accidentally knocked over his drink.
Puff and Scar got into a heated argument that ended with Scar, or one of his friends, throwing a wad of cash into Puff’s face. The then 30-year-old record mogul stood alongside then-girlfriend Jenifer Lopez, bodyguard Anthony “Wolf” Jones and 21-year-old rapper Jamal “Shyne” Barrow, who was a former Brooklyn roughneck signed to Bad Boy Records. Neither he nor Scar was used to takin’ shorts. As folks near them scattered, customers screamed and shots rang out. One patron, Natania Reube, was blasted in the face, and two others were also wounded.
After the Bad Boy crew made it out of the club, they were chased down by police and arrested. Scar claimed that Puffy and Shyne both shot at him. Charges against Lopez were quickly dropped, but Puffy and Shyne both got locked-up. Puff was released on $10,000 bail while Shyne’s first single “Bad Boyz” was released five months after the shooting. The brutal track included the passage, “What type of nigga slang and bang in the streets? (Bad Boyz)/What type of nigga stay in the Trump for weeks? (Bad Boyz)/What type of nigga fly Bentley Coupes? (Bad Boyz)/Aim for the sky, cock the shit then shoot.” His second single “That’s Gangsta” further perpetrated the hood persona Shyne should’ve put on the shelf until after his trial.
Afterwards, though his testimony was needed, Scar disappeared and wasn’t found until a year later in Maryland. Page Six reported on the story on February, 9th, 2001, describing Scar as a Brooklyn street legend. “Allen is feared, but also respected,” Laura Italiano wrote, “because he’s cordial with the neighborhood elders, visits his mother and helps those in need. ‘If you needed money bad enough, he’d bitch about it, but he’d give it to you,’ said Leroy Williams. Williams, like everybody who talked about ‘Scar,’ clammed up when asked about the man’s occupation.”
Both Puffy and Shyne went to court for weapon violations, attempted murder and other charges. Puff’s team included Johnnie Cochran and Ben Brafman, while Shyne was represented by Murray Richman. Though their trials lasted for seven weeks, Scar still refused to testify in court. Prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos claimed that Scar was “a gentleman not awed by celebrity.” but instead signed a statement claiming that both Puffy and Shyne shot at him.
In early 2001, Puffy and Shyne’s trial lasted for seven weeks. On March, 17, the New York Times reported, “Mr. Combs stood in a rumpled beige suit, visibly shaking, as the jury filed into the courtroom at 6:10 p.m., his hand tapping the defense table where he had sat listening to testimony for the last seven weeks. First a gasp was heard, then a whoop went up in the courtroom as the verdict was read. Mr. Combs, 31, was found not guilty of four counts of illegal possession of a gun and one count of bribery. Mr. Combs’s protégé Jamal Barrow, 21, a rap artist known to fans as Shyne, was found guilty of five of the eight charges against him…”
Later that year, while Shyne was preparing to spend a decade in prison, Diddy released his third album that summer, which featured the forthcoming studio gangsta single “Bad Boy for Life,” where he rapped, “Get it right, dawg, we ain’t ever left, we just moved in silence and repped to the death/It’s official, I survive what I been through/Y’all got trauma, the saga continues.” Shyne wasn’t released until 2009 and was deported to his fatherland Belize.
* * *
Two years later, I lay groaning in the back of ambulance as the attendants worked on me and the driver sped towards Kings County Hospital. I was still conscious when they wheeled me into surgery. The operating room was brightly lit and chaotic as doctors and nurses worked, barking orders to one another. When they sliced open my left side to insert a chest tube, the pain was like nothing I’d ever felt. Even getting shot hadn’t hurt as much.
Hours later, when the doctors were done and I was in an intensive care unit, two white detectives came into the room. One of the cops was a heavyset guy who sat down while his rude partner hovered over the bed. For some reason he felt it necessary to sit down and question me, his face close to mine. “Do you sell drugs? Did you get into a fight? Are you sleeping with somebody’s girlfriend?” The cop made me feel as though I was perp. “Did you see who did this to you?”
“I never saw his face,” I mumbled.
“What if we brought you mug shots to look at, would that help?”
“I never saw his face,” I repeated. “All I saw was the gun and fire coming out of it.” When they learned that I was a hip-hop journalist, they speculated that “maybe it was a rap thing.” I stared in disbelief and chuckled painfully. “I don’t think Drake had me shot,” I mumbled. After they left, my friend Tomika Anderson made it into the room. Her eyes were red from crying, and she tenderly held my hand. “Is there anything you need me to do?” she asked.
Perhaps it was the drugs, but my first thought was a story I was working on about the pop group TLC. I said, “Can you call my editor in the morning and tell her my piece is going to be late?” Tomika laughed. “You’re a born music writer, aren’t you?”
In addition to the music journalism, I was also dappling in crime fiction. A noir fan who had read everything by Chester Himes, David Goodis, Patricia Highsmith and Walter Mosley, my late friend Jerry Rodriguez, himself a crime novelist, encouraged me. Soon I was publishing stories through various crime fiction platforms including Pulp Metal, Crime Factory, Beat to a Pulp and the short-lived print magazine Needle edited by Steve Weddle.
A week after I was shot, one hospital visitor, I can’t remember who, claimed that I might’ve manifested my own cruel destiny through writing crime fiction. “Yeah, well, I write erotica too,” I replied. Later, my homegirl Sheila Jamison joked, “Well, at least you have one advantage over other crime writers. I bet you’re one of the only ones to be shot for real.”
* * *
“You must have angels on your shoulders,” the West Indian nurse taking my blood pressure and temperature said. It was a day later and I was transferred to a private room on the fourth floor. My lungs had collapsed, and there were tubes attached to my nose, arms and chest. I was in stable condition, but still worried that I wouldn’t make it out of the hospital alive. Turning over in the bed, I glanced out of the fourth-floor window and watched a lone person running around a track across the street.
It was about 10:30 in the morning and visitors had already started coming. I sat up in bed and smiled weakly. Luckily, the bullet that hit me in the chest missed my heart, lungs and other major organs. I didn’t have any family in Brooklyn, but still my room was packed. Though there were only supposed to be three visitors at a time, at one point there were about twenty people in the room.
On the side table was a stack of graphic novels courtesy of my buddy Danny Simmons while my “homegirl posse” consisting of Lisa, Audrey, Amy and Charlotte visited in shifts. Audrey brought me a cell phone and Charlotte carried in an entire Thanksgiving dinner. Even rapper Foxy Brown, whom I’d interviewed years ago and remained friendly with, came to visit. It was like being at my own funeral, except I wasn’t dead. In my mind I heard the detective’s gruff voice saying, “You might not know who did this, but they were definitely trying to kill you.”
For the next two weeks that hospital room was my home. It was there where I thought about the few times in my life when I’d been in the presence of guns, the first time being in 1977 when a fellow freshman at Rice High School flashed a pistol he had stashed in his locker. “My brother works for Nicky Barnes,” he explained. Barnes was major drug kingpin, but that same year, after appearing on the cover of the New York Times magazine section, he was busted. Puffy’s dad Melvin Combs, himself a low-level gangster who was killed in 1972, had been friends with Barnes and other uptown mobsters including Frank Lucas, the man the film American Gangster was based on.
The year that film was released, Brooklyn native Jay-Z teamed with Puffy on American Gangster album inspired by those back in the day bad boys. In fact, Puffy’s entire dapper gentleman gangster persona, which Biggie also adapted, was modeled after those men, as well as Fred Williamson’s character Tommy Gibbs in Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem. The latter title was the original name of his debut solo No Way Out.
Scar, on the other hand, was a real Brooklyn “bad boy,” the kind of guy M.O.P. rapped about on their criminal minded anthem “Ante Up,” the sort of grimy dude Gang Starr talked about on “Just to Get a Rep,” one of the gun clappers Big immortalized on “Things Done Changed.”
On November 26, my friend Paul Price checked me out of Kings County Hospital and drove me to writer Asha Bandele’s apartment. Asha was a good friend who lived across the street from me on Eastern Parkway. She had heard the shooting when it happened. I was moving slower than an old man. Mrs. Stewart, an older Jamaican woman who was like Asha’s “other mother” cooked hearty meals, changed my bandages daily and helped me take a shower. When in pain, I took Oxycodone tablets. Lying down in Asha’s bedroom, I silently stared out of the window.
Across the street, I saw the front door of my building, that same ugly yellow door where I almost lost my life. While it was painful to look at, I couldn’t look away. For the next few weeks, I moved around quite a bit, afraid to go home. A few days before Christmas, I finally returned to the house and ran into a neighbor. “I guess you already heard what happened, right?” he said.
“What are you talking about?”
“That dude Chance, your landlord’s boyfriend, he got killed. There were some dudes looking for him and now he’s dead.”
“Are you serious?”
“Nobody was trying to kill you. The whole thing was just a mistaken-identity. It was him they were trying to kill that night. Those bullets weren’t meant for you.” I shrugged. “I guess nobody told the bullets,” I joked bitterly. I didn’t know what else to say as tears came to my eyes. “They called him Scar, but his real name was Matthew Allen.” I felt as if a burden had been lifted as I shook my neighbor’s hand and wished him a happy holiday.
A few hours later, I Goggled the name Matthew “Scar” Allen. I discovered that he’d been killed on December 4th in front of a Brooklyn club called Footprints. One shot to the dome, his cap was peeled back and he was gone. For a moment I felt ill, upset that someone I knew had been murdered as well as the fact that I too was almost killed. Another mouse click away, I discovered a website called Rhymes with Snitch that included testimonials both pro and con about Allen’s stick-up kid days robbing, raping, assaulting and kidnapping.
I was shocked when an attached news report claimed that Brooklyn rapper Foxy Brown was good friends with the slain Allen. From her old Twitter account Foxy Brown described him as one of “Brooklyn’s Finest,” which was the name of a duet between Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z on the latter’s debut Reasonable Doubt. Some people went to great lengths to say that, despite his extensive arrest record, Scar was a great guy. Others claimed that Shyne or Puffy must’ve been responsible for Scar’s death. It was all speculation, ghetto rumors.
Meanwhile, one long post was signed by a woman named Aisha, who claimed to be Scar’s fiancé. She went on a long rant defending his so-called good name. At first I was confused, because my landlady was also named Aisha, but I could tell by the writing that it wasn’t her. Months later, I found out that Scar had two girlfriends with the same name.
On the website, Aisha wrote about how much Scar was loved, “which became evident on December 9, 2011 with over 1000 plus mourners at his wake…for me to say he was a clean cut, straight and narrow guy would be complete blasphemy, but what I can say is that he was the BEST, I repeat the BEST that ever did it to this date.”
* * *
For the next year I recuperated slowly while also dealing with PTSD that could be set-off by a car backfiring or a firecracker exploding. I spent hours in the apartment, scared to be out after dark or for people to walk too close to me. At night, I found it hard to sleep and began working on a hip-hop related crime novel called Uptown Boys. At dawn, as the morning sun began to shine, I’d lie on the couch staring at the ceiling, speculating on my life and Scar’s death, and wondered who it was that had changed both of our lives.
In October, 2012, my door bell rang. I looked out of the window and saw one of the Brooklyn detectives assigned to my case. I had called the station a few times since my shooting, but there was never any news. Looking at the cop, I was just happy it wasn’t the rude one who had questioned me as though I’d committed a crime by almost being killed. “I’ll be right there,” I yelled. I ran down the stairs and stepped out of the new, bullet hole free door.
Outside, a chilly wind blew making our impromptu meeting that much colder. “We know what happened,” the detective said. I was surprised. “Really?” I replied. “I thought you’d given up on me.” For the next twenty minutes the detective explained how Scar’s other girlfriend Aisha Babilonia hired a killer to take him out. At first I believed it might’ve been an insurance thing, but later learned that Babilonia claimed that Scar was abusive to her.
According to documents, Babilonia told others about the abuse she suffered and it was decided that his death would be her revenge. She supplied a photograph of Scar to the hired shooter, and on November 16, 2011 he drove to “the location in Brooklyn where they had been told Allen was staying. The shooter, it was noted, “shot a man who turned out to be an innocent bystander.” Of course, that innocent bystander was me, who looked nothing like the photograph of Scar.
I’ve assumed there was more to the story since Scar was originally supposed to be killed in front of his other woman’s house that November night. As it turned out, the shooter’s crew was also running drugs and being watched by the F.B.I., which was how everything eventually toppled. Back upstairs, I slouched in the kitchen chair, finding it crazy that with all the illegal business Scar had done in them streets his death came at the hands of a woman who claimed on the Rhymes With Snitch blog, “Whether good or bad he was a wonderful person.”
Two years later, after her trial, but before Babilonia was sentenced to 60 months, I was asked to send a letter to the judge. For days I struggled with the words. That letter was the hardest thing I’d written. “It seems strange to write about a woman I’ve never met,” I finally typed, “but whose selfish actions had such an impact on my life to the point that it almost killed me. Whether this was a matter of greed, jealously or a deadly combination of the two, I will never know. But, what I do know very well is the pain she caused me, my family and my friends. The fact that I somehow managed to survive after being shot three times from a total of eight bullets fired is a miracle in itself, but that brutal experience has left me scarred in ways that go beyond the physical. Scars, I’m afraid, that won’t ever go away.”