A Shooting At a Downtown Church
"People have a shorter fuse. It’s almost like – ennui – like a cloud that hangs over society itself.”
The front doors of the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, at the corner of Central Avenue and M.L.K. downtown, are an 800-foot walk from the front doors of the Georgia capitol. They are also a thousand miles away.
I know about this church. I have been inside it before. I have spoken to its parishioners and its priests. But I don’t know this church. I haven’t put in the work here. And it would take work, for me.
That’s because I have a roof over my head and money in a bank account. Which is to say, I have a bank account. I have a phone that works. I have friends, who also have bank accounts and phones that work and roofs over their heads.
“Amazingly, you become very comfortable with the discomfort of people,” Gracz said. “There’s a lot more anger among the people on the street, clearly upset because their worlds have been turned topsy turvy. People have a shorter fuse. It’s almost like – ennui – like a cloud that hangs over society itself.”
Bruce Sanders got shot here yesterday morning, during the morning sandwich and snack ministry.
“Someone was on the hunt for someone else,” said Monsignor Henry Gracz, the priest in charge of the shrine. “Clearly it wasn’t a random shooting. It would have been harder if it was random.”
Jamarius Rogers, 34, pulled a Glock 30 out of a backpack. Sanders saw the gun and took off running, but was shot twice in the back of the neck, according to the police report. Rogers then took off running.
Rogers escaped through the church hall, then through the crypt and basement before running through a side door, he said. He then ran up the hill to Washington Street and jumped from the top of the bridge to a parking lot.
That is a solid 20-foot fall.
Police found Rogers hiding under a bridge near the incident location in only his underwear. He apparently stripped to avoid identification, and left his clothes in a security booth.
The AJC interviewed a witness, Eli Smith, who chased Rogers out a side door after being knocked down. That is to say, a 22-year-old church volunteer chased a gunman into the street with nothing but a phone in his hand … and didn’t get shot.
I’m shouting so that I can be heard by the guys who play in their bedrooms with 15 pistols and no gun locks, proudly proclaiming that they would never walk an Atlanta street without being armed, shuddering as they fantasize about being in a position to legally execute someone someday as a demonstration of their virility.
Men like Smith are useful. Men like these others are not.
People with money are not, generally, the ones getting shot. Never mind that they are almost never anywhere near street poverty. The targets of violence are poor people who lack the means to fight back and lack the social standing to effectively call for help or hold someone accountable.
They’re men like Robert Washington.
I talked with Washington yesterday while he was waiting for service of the evening meal at the church. He’s been homeless for about a year, ever since getting out of jail. He has a psychiatric condition that the prison did next to nothing to prepare him to manage once released.
He pointed to a welt over his right eye. “This guy asked me to bring cocaine to someone down the street,” he said. “I said no, and he shot me with a BB-gun.”
Washington described the encounter casually. It’s something that happens all the time, he said. Washington didn’t call a cop, because that would probably make things worse. The police can’t get him off the street, the crime is marginal for prosecutors looking at murder cases, and serving as a witness is more likely to prompt some gangster to replace a BB-gun with a real one than the swift administration of justice.
Dozens of men and women lined up for the evening meal. Most knew about the morning shooting. In a world where violence is common, hunger prevails over fear.
Police have not discussed a motive for the crime. But court records show that Jamarius Rogers had some low-grade charges for selling marijuana in his past and had been served eviction papers only a week ago.
Rogers told police he gave the gun to another guy before they caught him, “a black male with gold teeth, wearing all black clothes, and tattoos all over their face.”
There’s a story here. It might take a minute to figure out, if anyone cares to do so.
Atlanta is two worlds superimposed on one another. In one world, my former editor can remark upon how a house in her neighborhood sold this month for just under a million dollars. In another, I can look up the legal history of an alleged gunman and find that he had been evicted from his home a week before this crime.
This church always needs volunteers and money. Start here.