As much as it might feel that we're drifting further and further apart these days, the truth is that we are all still tied to each other. You know people. You are related to them, or work with them, or go to school with them. Those connections lead to other connections, and thus we wind up all connected, whether we know it or not.
That said, for whatever reason, whether by design or accident, there are really two Little Rocks, and there have been for a while now. There is the city of people going about their business, fleeing to the suburbs or into alarm-protected houses after quitting time. And then there is another city, a place of hope shot through with despair, where a person can get killed over a cross word, a bag of weed, a prank gone wrong or a stolen CD player.
There have been 12 homicides in Little Rock so far this year. All but three of the victims were black men. According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report, Greater Little Rock has a higher per-capita murder rate than most other cities in America, including New York, St. Louis, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles or Chicago, and it's been that way for years. For most of the victims of homicide in Central Arkansas — many of them killed by handguns in the neighborhoods south of I-630 in Little Rock — the only time their names will ever appear in a newspaper will be the morning after their deaths, as cases wind their way through the courts, and in below-the-fold stories that appear the day after a perpetrator is sent to prison for the rest of his natural life.
This week and again in the future, Arkansas Times will publish The Homicide Diary, a series of stories in print and at our website, arktimes.com, featuring the voices of those affected by homicide in Central Arkansas — those who have lost someone to violence, those who deal with the aftermath, and those who try to keep young people alive by convincing them to talk it out or find another way. Every homicide — no matter who the person was, what he was doing when he was killed, or what he'd done before — is a stone dropped into still water. The ripples touch us all, whether we know it or not. It matters, and we should all care.
Girlfriend of Shoncoven Smith, murdered Jan. 25 near 33rd and Elam streets
Lyndsei Forbes and Shoncoven Smith have a daughter together. The girl will be 2 years old on May 5, and will probably grow up with no memory of her father, even though she still points him out in photographs and says "Daddy." As Forbes watched from the porch of her mother's bungalow on Elam Street on Jan. 25, Smith, 22, and a 16-year-old boy were both shot multiple times by a man police say was Steven Roshawn Hayes, a friend of Smith's. Forbes said she heard the shooting was over a car CD player. The 16-year-old, shot seven times, survived. Smith, shot in the arm, chest and head, later died at Baptist Health Medical Center. Hayes turned himself in Jan. 30. He has denied involvement, and has since been charged with first-degree murder, among other charges. It was raining the day Lyndsei Forbes spoke to Arkansas Times. As she recounted the details of Smith's life and death, and considered the prospect of her daughter's life without him, she looked through the rain to the place he fell and ceaselessly slid her palms over one another, as if trying to worry the wrinkles out of a piece of paper only she could see.
We actually started talking when I was about 17. I wouldn't say we were in a relationship, but he was a best friend to me. I could talk to him about anything. He had my back no matter what. We had a little chemistry, and before you know it, we had a child together. He was 21, and I had just turned 19.
He was a cool person. He was a person who people would come and talk to like a brother, like a father. He was somebody you could talk to about your problems. He took people in. He tried to show you the world. He was kind of crazy, but he always tried to put people on the right path. All of us got a little crazy, but shoot, he was crazy! It was a good crazy. Everybody has got their own type of crazy, and he had his. He wasn't the fighting type. He was just a loving person. He was a big ol' kid! He loved video games. I always told him, "You're too old to be doing that." But he was like, "Whatever."
I heard it was over an in-dash CD player. I don't think it was over an in-dash. I think there has to be more to it. I mean, why would you kill a person over a CD player when you can go get another one? That's just common sense. Somebody stole something? I'm not going to take nobody's life for it. This man had kids. He'll not get the chance to do nothing with them — birthdays, his little girl's first date, prom.
I have to take it day by day. I know I do. It's harder on me than it could be somebody else. When you see somebody get shot, you'll always see that image. That flashback. It was devastating. A part of me just left. Just vanished. Now that he's gone, me and all the rest of his baby mommas, we have a bond together. It took a tragedy to have that for us, for us to come together. It shouldn't have to happen like that, but it did. We have a bond like no other. I can call any of them, or they can call me. We're just a phone call away. We came together, and our kids are going to grow up and know each other. We're gonna make sure they remember their daddy. They'll never get the chance to see him, so we've got to keep telling them, "Your daddy was a good person. His life got taken, but we still have y'all. In y'all, he'll live on."
I haven't been thinking about what I'll tell my daughter about her daddy, because it's kind of hurtful. Every time I see my child, I see him. My daughter is the split image of him. But when the time is right, I'll be able to tell her, "You know, you didn't get the chance to bond with your dad like you should, but he loved you. He played with you every day, and he loved you." She didn't get the chance to know him. But I can tell her. The good things. The things he would have done. That's all I can do.
No little girl wants to grow up without her father. Every girl wants to have their father. Like me, for example. My dad, he got killed when I was young. I grew up without a dad and now my little girl is going to grow up without her father. I was real little when my father was killed. You always want to have that one little talk like, "Hey Dad, I've got a boyfriend!" But you can't do it if he's not there.
It's still hard. I picture it. I'm at peace with his death now, but if I look at pictures or my child, it's hard. Sometimes she'll see a picture of him and she'll say, "Daddy! Daddy!" That makes me want to break down, but I know I have to be strong for her. She'll feel what I feel. If she sees me cry, she'll think, "Well, Momma's crying, I need to cry too." So I have to be strong. Sometimes it gets hard, but I just keep going. I ask God to help me. Today is one of them days I feel like breaking down. But I have to be strong.
Lot of folks want to ask why? But you'll never get an answer. I want to ask the person that killed him, "Why? Just, why? What was going through your mind? Why? Why? Why shoot? You could have been a grown person and just talked it out. You could have come to a conclusion." But to take somebody's life? He's got kids. He's got family out here that love him. Now he's gone, and it just seems like a dream that I can't wake up from.
Grandmother of Jonathan Talley, killed on Feb. 10
Jonathan Talley, 21, was killed at the Quarter Note Club at 4726 Asher Ave. on Feb. 10. Police say that an argument inside the club escalated into gunfire, with four men, all in their 20s, shot. Talley, shot seven times, was transported to Arkansas Children's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The Little Rock Police Department hasn't made any arrests in the homicide. Maida Harris had a picture of her grandson on her cell phone once, but soon after his death, she sent the phone through the washing machine. She got another phone and put a picture of him on it, and dropped that phone in a cup of coffee the same day. After that, she figured she wasn't meant to have a picture of him on her phone. She makes do with a laminated snapshot of her grandson that she wears on a lanyard around her neck. It's a VIP pass from a nightclub party held in Talley's honor that drew several hundred people the month after he died. In the plastic, with the pass, there's also a rumpled dollar bill. She found it in her backyard a few weeks after he died. "I said, 'Jonathan must have left this for me!' " Harris said. "If he'd catch me with my car window down just a little bit, John would always stick a $20 bill through the crack. He knew MeMe always had a hard time."
Jonathan was a wonderful person. He would help anybody and everybody that he could. He didn't have a person in the world that I could say he pushed away. He had friends of all genders — girls, guys, gay, girls that were gay, guys that were gay. It didn't matter. It didn't matter what you had to say about them. If they were John's friends, he would hug them in front of anybody. It didn't matter what your race was, if you knew Jonathan, you liked Jonathan. Everybody showed up for his funeral: black, white, Mexican. People loved him. There was over a thousand people that showed up at every event we gave for Jonathan, his funeral included.
Jonathan was a smart student, and he made good grades in school. He's been working ever since he was 5 years old. He would cut yards, he would rake yards. He worked at McDonald's. He worked at Family Dollar. He would help you. I'd be raking the yard, and John would come over to the house and he'd just grab a rake. He wouldn't say nothing. He'd just take my rake or he'd go in the garage and get another one. "Lemme have that," he'd say.
I told John before this happened: Stay prayed up. It was Jonathan who brought me back to God. I was raised in the church as a little girl, but after becoming an adult and not going near a church for several years, Jonathan was the one who introduced me to a show that comes on called Shepherd's Chapel that teaches the Bible. John told me, "MeMe, you can learn anything on this show."
I was asleep when we got the call. I heard my son's voice. He was saying, "Somebody just called me and said John had been shot." I had a full knee replacement in January, but when they said that, I climbed out of the bed and got ready to go, because I knew we were going to have to find Jonathan. When they said Jonathan was dead ... I didn't know what to do. I was devastated. I just wanted to put my arms around him.
I've never seen so many young men — grown men — cry as I did at his funeral. His big brother had went to jail right before John was killed, so he had to come from jail to John's funeral. When they had the service, he got up and he said, "I don't like to see all y'all crying, so I'll tell you what John would have said, he would have said, 'Turn it up.' " There was not a lot of music going on, so I guess he meant, "Turn up your spirit." People were standing all around the walls and everything. They started smiling and got happy, and then they opened that casket. And once they opened the casket, things changed all over again. People started dropping and everything.
We had an event for John at La Changes nightclub, and they were full to capacity. The owner of the club said that his club had never been that full. And there was no violence! No shouting! There was no arguing. Everybody got along. I stayed there until the lights came on. It was so much fun, and I haven't been in a nightclub in a lot of years. I said, "It's stupid love up in here!" That's the way the young people say it. We can't get people to quit coming to our house. They still come in with their arms stretched out, hugging us. They come in with plates of food, saying they come from their moms.
I don't know if I can forgive the people who killed him. I don't know. I think what's going on is I'm just stuck right now. I'm stuck and wondering. How could they want to hurt him? I don't know. All I know is that Jonathan was loved.
Mother of Adrian Broadway, killed Feb. 15 in Southwest Little Rock
Of all the homicides so far this year, the most confounding — the most senseless and heartbreaking — has to be that of Adrian Broadway. Around midnight on Feb. 15, Broadway, 15, and several friends had scattered handfuls of leaves on a car sitting in the driveway of a house at 7211 Skylark Drive near Baseline Road, the home of a school friend who they had reportedly engaged in a back-and-forth series of pranks. Broadway and six other friends in a Hyundai Sonata came back to the house around 45 minutes later and threw eggs, mayonnaise and toilet paper on the car. As they went back to the Hyundai, police say, a man named Willie Noble allegedly emerged from the house and fired multiple rounds at the car with a handgun, riddling the driver's side of the Sonata with bullet holes. Adrian Broadway, who was sitting in the front passenger's seat, was shot in the head. She died at Arkansas Children's Hospital around two and a half hours later.
She walked at nine months. She talked at nine months. She was always a great character. She made you laugh. They used to put on little shows where they'd dress up in my dresses and my mom's wigs. When she was a baby, she used to pull up to a chair and climb out of her walker. We'd put her back in and she'd climb right back out. After that, she just decided she wanted to walk.
When she got older, it was cheerleading. In elementary school, she was a cheerleader for Booker T. Washington, the Wildcats. She did cheerleading and drill team in junior high. At Dunbar, she was co-captain of the drill team. In high school she was a cheerleader. She was a Praise Dancer at church. They dance to gospel music, and they do the words to the song. Always a straight-A student, an avid student. She was visiting colleges, but she wanted to go to Duke. She was going to be a surgeon. She just wanted to help people. She had big plans.
She was going to be on the Homecoming Court. We had already bought her dresses and everything. She had a long, red dress, and then she had a black almost like a tutu type dress. They were both pretty. She passed the week before Homecoming, but at McClellan High School, they put a seat there in memory of her with flowers.
It was a normal night. I had seen her earlier that evening. She was at a friend's house, and I'd called her. She said they were having a girls' night. They were going to go to the movies and out to eat. I gave her some money. She was walking away from the car, and she turned back and looked at me and smiled, and she told me she loved me. That was the last conversation we had. She told me she loved me.
It's a comfort to me, to know she was happy. When it happened, I believe she had no idea. She was having fun at the time, and that keeps me going.
A lady called me from Adrian's friend's phone and told me. It was after midnight when I got the call. I thought it was a joke. I didn't take it seriously at first, but she assured me that she was not joking, so I got up and made it to her. She was already on her way to Children's Hospital by then. But I was there when she took her last breath and had her last heartbeat.
I still can't believe it. I'm still in awe about it. I know she's gone, but I still can't believe it. She had so much going for her. It's all senseless. The guy's son had did their friend's house, and out of fun they did his car. Now this. When his son did their friend's house, they cleaned it up. They didn't go to his parents or complain. They cleaned it up themselves. That's common sense.
We see counseling. The Centers for Healing Hearts has helped us out a lot. God knows best. I believe that. Everyone says to us, "God had better things for her." That helps. I'd still prefer for her to be here with us, but if it's for the greater good, you know?
I don't know why he didn't think. Just think. He was in no danger. So just think. To take a life, that's major. To take a life means you don't value life. He was a kid once. We all were kids. He's a grown man. Think about things.
A week or two before, I was talking about how our young kids are just dying. And then for that to turn around and happen to me? It's unreal. It's unreal. I'm looking at the news, and all these young people are dying for no reason. She was happy. Everybody loved her. She was loved. But she had to go. Senseless.
I'm really not sure what his side of the story is. What I've heard is, they were leaving, and you came out of your house shooting? You weren't up in the air. You weren't down at the ground. You weren't afraid. You pointed your gun to hit what you were shooting at. I don't get it. I don't even understand why we have to have a trial. I don't understand any of that. He said he did it, and he waited on them to come back. So why have a trial?
I don't hate anybody. But he deserves to pay for what he did, and he will pay for what he did. The law, God, he has to pay. He shouldn't be out with us. He killed somebody. He's sleeping good, eating good. He's with his family. He can see them every day. We're in pain. We can't see her. Hopefully the justice system will prevail, and we can go ahead and mend our lives. But there's a piece missing — a big chunk missing — that we'll never get back.
Funeral director Charles Hardy Sr.
Hardy Funeral Home
Funeral Director Charles Hardy Sr. has owned Hardy Funeral Home on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive since 2003. He started his career in 1982, and he's buried a lot of young black men. Some days, he goes to thrift stores and buys shined shoes in bulk, handing them out to the guys he talks to at the car wash or the corner store. A lot of those young men, he said, have never owned anything but sneakers. The product of a single-parent household, raised by his mother and grandparents, Hardy said he never spent a single night under the same roof as his father. If a lack of a father in the house leads to a bad end, he said, he should be in prison or dead. So far this year, Hardy Funeral Home has handled the arrangements for one homicide victim: Jonathan Talley, who was killed at the Quarter Note Club at 4726 Asher Ave. on Feb. 10, during a shooting that wounded three others. Charles Hardy has known Talley's family since he was young.
I've been in it a long time. I bury from a newborn baby to 100 years old. Black, white, Hispanic. We bury probably 10 to 15 homicides a year. That's a lot, and we're just one funeral home. It's been a really bad year this year. It reminds you of 1992.
I've seen a lot of young men lost to violence, especially in our black community. Families have to come in here and they're all tore up because of a senseless crime. Useless. Worthless. It didn't have to happen. I lost a cousin in 1999, murdered in North Little Rock over some stereo equipment. He and his friend were lured to a house, and they were robbed, beaten and shot in the back of the head, then they set the car on fire over in Protho Junction. So I've experienced when it hits home.
When you bury a young man, you feel like he didn't get a chance to enjoy the fruitfulness of his life. I'm 56 years old, and I feel like I'm just beginning to live, so it hurts. I buried a young man two months ago who was killed down on Asher. I knew his grandfather. I knew his mother and his grandmother. It just hurts that his life was cut so short so soon. I'm in the funeral home business, but trust me, I have children, and it hits home when we go back there and there's a young man lying dead on the table. We want it to stop. We're in the funeral home business, but we prefer to bury the natural deaths. That could have easily been one of our kids. So we feel that pain.
I'm a lecturer out on the street to young men. You can't be an influence from your office. I think that's what's happening. We sit up in the offices and try to touch these young men through the telephone. You've got to go out there. You'll never know how deep or cold the water is if you don't get in it. So I try to go out. At the car wash up here, they respect me, "Mr. Hardy, how you doing?" I have them wash my car and give them $10 or $15 just to put some money in their pockets. I've worked with this place out on 12th Street that helps guys who come out of prison. I've given them jobs and let them work around here — cut grass, wash cars — to give them a second chance and let them earn some money. The young men will call me and say, "Is there anything I can do?" I work with them. They have to be given a second chance. But the system is not designed for second chances. It's designed to bring you back.
You have to reach out. A role model is more than just buying some shoes that say "Michael Jordan." It has to be people who go and talk to these guys, and that's not happening. We have to go to them. The Bible says, "If you see your brother needing help, go to him." So we have to come out and go in the communities.
I'm going to die thinking there's hope. The key to stopping all this is that we have to show young people a different life. We have to show them that, first of all, we care about them. I just think that sometimes you have to let them see a different life. I go to Goodwill and The Compassion Center, and I buy shoes. I try to pass shoes out to young men. I say, "Don't wear tennis shoes every day. Don't go on a job interview looking any kind of way." I have a ministry at the church I'm working with now where I'm going to buy 10 suits. I want 10 young men to dress up. I'm going to show them how to tie a tie. I'm going to show them how to keep their shoes shined. When you do things like that, you're heading them toward the right path. You're showing them: You can be a businessman. You can own your own funeral home. You can own a carpentry business. There's more than crime. There's more than dope. There's more than that, but if they're not around people who are trying to be successful, that's all they know.
It's a war. Somebody has to be out on the battlefield, and I think in the black community, you don't have many soldiers. We have commanders-in-chief who sit in their offices at these programs that are trying to help. But they don't go out there and see firsthand what's going on. They don't put their arm around these guys and tell them, "There's a better way. We want to create some jobs to help you find that better way."
There was a time when black men were the best bricklayers in town. We were the best concrete guys in town. I have uncles that made good livings as plumbers. What happened? We've been told those are dirty jobs, that you need to go get a college education. But everybody is not cut out to go to college. So it's gone. You take all that out of the black community and what's left?
If you're going to lock a man up in prison, why don't you teach him a trade so that when he comes out, he'll have something to do? Teach him how to cook. Give him something other than just going out there sweeping up or picking up paper. Give him a skill. You want to stop young men from selling drugs and killing one another? Offer them an alternative.
I love these young men. There's hope for them. I will never, ever give up on trying. And if I can just save one from the streets, I'll feel like it was worth it. If we all just reached out to get one, we could make a difference. If I could talk to one young man who is thinking about going out and shooting somebody tonight — if I could change his mind — it would be better than winning the lottery. If I could talk to him, I'd say, "We all get angry. But just take five minutes to think about the aftermath. Think about the hurt that you're going to create, not just in his family, but in your family." When you have a homicide, both families are hurt. Both sides. They lost a son, and you're locked up for the rest of your life. Over nothing.
I hope that I've buried the last homicide this year. I really do. I hope that every funeral home has buried their last homicide this year. Yes, we're in business to bury people, but we can wait on that. We can wait.