Last Thursday, The Observer was assigned the sad task of going down to the lot off Asher where police say Michael Sadler ran over 14-year-old Michael Stanley with a van and then beat him after Stanley snatched Sadler's wallet and fled on a bicycle. Stanley later died. Sadler has been charged with first-degree murder. A version of what follows appeared on The Arkansas Blog. Note: There's some strong language. But then again, who doesn't want to resort to strong language at a time like this?
The lot at 27th and Oak where Michael Stanley was run over is weedy, and seeded with glass. By 4 p.m. his family had gone, though someone had left behind a homemade cross and a blue teddy bear at the crest of a low hill in the middle of the lot where it happened. A gutted TV set sat nearby.
Next door, at the Asher 1 Stop, a crowd had gathered. When I asked the man behind the counter if he was willing to talk about what happened outside, he pointed up at a big-screen TV hung high on the wall. "There's what happened," he said. "Watch."
On the screen were three panes of a grainy surveillance feed with a timer at the bottom, the minutes and seconds of that morning ticking past. Almost everyone in the store was looking up at it, waiting for the van.
A man in a black do-rag standing in front of me spoke to a woman standing beside him. "I saw Lil' Mike riding his bike out here in the parking lot this morning," he told her. When I asked him if he knew Michael Stanley, he scowled, glancing down at my press tag, and said: "Yeah, but I ain't talking to you about it." It's the way it often is in neighborhoods like the one around 27th and Oak when something terrible happens: Lots of people know a little something, maybe even enough to make some sense out of it if you could put it all together somehow, but no one is talking. Instead, we stood, and watched the screen, and waited for the van.
After five minutes, the clock on the screen ticking past 11:35 a.m., the time when the first 911 calls reportedly came in to the LRPD, I turned to leave. As I did, I saw that a tall black man — at least 6'8" and solidly built — in a royal blue shirt had come in. I had seen him next door at the lot, pulling up in a new SUV. As I watched, he spoke to the clerk, then tried to push a wad of money into the clerk's hand, begging him to give it to any children he saw in the store who might need something. The clerk handed it back to him, saying he'd have to talk to the owner about that.
The man in blue went out onto the sidewalk. I followed him out. I soon learned his name is Jay Webb, a Little Rock native who lives in Minneapolis now, where he said he runs a holistic pharmacy and summer empowerment camps for kids. He grew up nearby, and used to ride his bike to the State Fair. He was in Little Rock visiting his family, and had heard about the death of Michael Stanley.
When I asked him why he was trying to give the clerk his money, Webb started to answer, saying that he didn't want kids in the neighborhood to have to resort to theft, but his voice soon broke and he couldn't continue. We stood there together on the sidewalk as the traffic slid by on Asher, Webb looking west toward the weed lot as he wiped his eyes.
When he could speak again, Webb said it was him who got run over that day.
"I was born here," Webb said. "I wasn't supposed to make it, but I made it, because God pulled me up. Everybody said I wasn't shit. And now kids don't even have anybody to tell them they're not shit and to encourage them. People think that money is so much — that you can beat someone to death. It's not. Two people died today. Two people died today, not one. Two people."
"I don't know what else to do," he said, his eyes welling up again. "Just God bless them and cover them, all the kids. If you see somebody, you give them this." Then Webb tried to press a rumpled bill into my hand.