The latest chapter in American death

Pointless, random, painful and never-ending.

The truck has 10 bullet holes in it and the seat is covered with his blood three days after police shot him in Fort Worth. His stepdad and I are looking at the truck together because we both want to know what happened. The stepdad gives me his phone number so we can keep in touch in case I end up writing a story for one of the publications I write for, which of course didn’t happen because it looks like police were relatively justified in killing JaQuavion Slaton, and in America in 2019 that is what you call Not a News Story.

Some would say it’s resiliency that less than 24 hours after a madman armed himself to the teeth with plans to kill a bunch of innocent people in a major American city, Dallas was pretty much back to normal on Monday afternoon when I dropped by the scene of Brian Clyde’s would-be rampage. Some would say positive things like you can’t scare Americans but I think it’s just dystopian that we can all process something like what happened on Monday so quickly, probably because things like that or much worse happen all the time.

I think it’s dystopian that I can be sitting at my desk on a Monday morning and then have to hop in my car, turn on my police scanner, and go downtown in the city I live to walk around and look at cops with assault rifles ushering people into work while I go into a 7-11 and get batteries and taquitos like everything is fine. Everything is not fine.

Any given day any one of us can be gunned down or blown up by a terrorist who has been radicalized in the dark corners of the Internet, like I suspect Clyde was. For years we feared threats like those coming from the Muslim world — teenagers from across Europe who had trekked to Syria and elsewhere to murder people in the name of the Islamic State or who had blown up some place in Europe under the same twisted ideology. We worried about them coming here and doing the same which has happened less than a dozen times since 9-11 and has cost fewer American lives than your average Texas freeway does in a given year.

Now, the threat is coming from our own backyard.

Clyde’s family told the Dallas Morning News that the 22-year-old had dealt with mental health issues and depression in the past and that he wanted to kill himself. For some reason the newspaper did not address any of Clyde’s Facebook posts showing what my colleague Kelly Weill described in our story on Clyde as a “familiarity with the right-wing Internet.” Swastikas, homophobic and transphobic memes — in line with what a gay classmate of Clyde’s told the News were some bigoted personality traits of his — and at least a couple references to QAnon dotted Clyde’s Facebook page as I scrolled through it Monday morning.

But it wasn’t just the memes from the far-right Internet’s radicalization engine — which Weill has written about extensively — that showed up on Clyde’s page; there was also general sense of dispossession and separation from the larger world that bled through his posts. You can blame Clyde’s actions on what his family says were unaddressed mental health issues but take a run through his Facebook page and any reasonable person would also conclude that his problems were exacerbated by the right-wing garbage he was consuming online.

“A modern gladius to defend the modern Republic,” he wrote above a picture of a sword the day before he strapped up and headed into downtown Dallas.

That is not something your average depressed young man says before deciding to die of suicide-by-cop, which is what his dad told the News he thought Clyde wanted. We don’t know everything Clyde was looking at online but his Facebook shows that his apparent depression and accompanying death wish probably weren’t getting any better by whatever he was reading.

Watch Fox & Friends any given morning and you get the extremely watered-down version of what that Clyde’s and a lot of other people’s worlds looks like: creeping marauders around every corner, strange foreigners trying to take something that you were given by birthright, an entire industry of fear and hate of the other that gives young, dispossessed men like Clyde a sense of identity and community that they’ve never had before. Sanctuary from the evil forces that are surrounding and outnumbering them.

Generally speaking: them fucking over you.

***

Maybe Slaton found a sense of community in the streets of Fort Worth before his brief, 20-year-old life came to a violent end on June 9. Maybe he just made a mistake when he fled from a traffic stop because he had warrants and hid in a truck, allegedly brandishing the gun he was carrying with him. Police say he shot himself in the head then, killing himself, as five officers surrounded the truck with their guns drawn. Or maybe it was one of the nine rounds they fired into the truck — hard to tell.

The medical examiner can’t say which bullet it is that killed him because that’s how multiple gunshot wounds work.

But that didn’t stop anonymous sources within the Fort Worth Police Department from going to the Morning News and saying that their investigation had concluded Slaton killed himself before the ME had released its findings.

At the press conference last week where police chief Edwin Kraus showed body camera footage of the foot chase that preceded Slaton’s death, I asked him if Slaton’s head had powder burns on it — something that is almost always present in close proximity shots, like someone putting a gun to their temple to end their life.

Kraus said he didn’t know because he hadn’t seen the autopsy report yet. A very smart reporter then followed up and asked the chief whether he could say with certainty that Slaton killed himself.

“I’m not going to speculate on that. I’ll wait until I see the ME’s report,” he replied.

I asked him, then, if he knew who from his department had gone to the News a few days earlier and closed the case in the public eye without having the report, the most important physical evidence there is in Slaton’s death. He said he didn’t know.

“I have no idea who that would be,” he replied.

***

We’re now at a point where this is done and no one really cares all that much whether another black kid was shot by cops for very good or no good reasons at all. Or that some kid professing a few different varieties of white, hetero grievance alongside weaponry fetishization on his Facebook page had enough bullets on him just a few days ago to kill 100 people, but apparently got scared and decided not to.

The locals cover these events because they happen in their communities. The nationals cover them only if the body count is high enough or if there’s some sort of political angle, like Clyde’s Facebook page. For a national to cover a police shooting in 2019 there would have to be major protests or very serious questions about the incident itself.

But because there aren’t usually reporters just standing around when someone is shot by police those questions can only come about by eyewitnesses and, most importantly, reporters talking to those eyewitnesses and getting their sides of the story.

That’s why I drove out to Fort Worth last week and wound up standing next to Slaton’s stepdad as we looked at the truck where his son died.

Eventually Slaton’s friends showed up and told the stepdad that, yes, his son did have a gun. In that moment, I could see the heartbreak in his eyes. Where before he at least had hope that the cops did something terribly wrong and he could dedicate his time to seeking justice for his son, now he knew finally that they may have justified in taking his child from him.

There may be fewer things that are simultaneously more painful and frequent than random American death.

P.S. All of the photos on this post are mine. Inside the truck where Slaton died, his stepfather’s friend — an ex-cop — showing entry bullet holes from Fort Worth police, and Slaton’s stepfather walking away from the scene.