A gunshot victim defies the inner-city code of silence.
Fools and babies. This is one of Ragland’s favorite sayings. He repeats it often, and says it explains his good fortune in life, of which he feels he’s had a lot of. Like the time the police surrounded a house he was robbing. Ragland crawled underneath a big pile of garbage bags filled with dirty laundry and stayed there for hours. The police searched the home but didn’t find him.
“I’ve always had a knack for escaping situations,” he says.
Ragland says he bought drugs from Keith Davis many times and he would sometimes sell stolen goods to Davis’ father.
“His father was always good to me,” says Ragland.
Davis—who’s been known on the street as Kidney since his twin brother donated him a kidney some years back—isn’t a big drug boss, says Ragland, but not just another corner boy either. Mid-level management. He’s 10 years younger than Ragland, taller and bigger-built. Around the time of the shooting, September 2006, about $1,500 worth of Davis’ coke went missing, enough drugs for Davis to be in trouble with his corner boss. The robbery was a development of sorts, since one week earlier someone had stolen a large jar of change from Davis’ car. The money was stolen in broad daylight while the car was parked in front of Davis’ stash house.
Davis suspected Ragland of taking the change.
“I was always the first candidate if anything went missing in the neighborhood,” says Ragland.
Davis confronted him. Ragland denied taking it—and still does.
“How am I going to come up here in the middle of the day and take something from you,” Ragland remembers telling Davis. “One of your boys would’ve stopped me.”
Davis’ boys were sitting on the porch of the stash house, laughing as Davis screamed at Ragland over loose change. Maybe that’s when one of them got the idea to steal Davis’ coke. Because the way the corner boss later explained it to Ragland, one of Davis’ own workers took the coke and blamed it on him. It was a set-up. Or, as the corner boss put it, a “misunderstanding.”
It was late and Ragland was heading down 54th Street to a deli. The street was desolate. Ragland saw Davis crouching down in an empty lot. He looked like he was hiding something. Ragland figured it was drugs. At the time, he says he didn’t know about the stolen coke or that Davis thought he took it. Davis asked him where he was going.
“To the store, you want anything?”
Davis didn’t answer. Ragland turned to walk away, thinking of the bad luck of it all—that if anybody stole the drugs he thought Davis was hiding, Davis would no doubt come at him for it and he didn’t need that drama in his life. And that’s when Ragland heard the footsteps hard and fast behind him and turned to see Davis pointing a revolver at his head.
The first bullet pierced his forehead and grazed his skull. The impact spun him around. The next bullet entered behind his left ear and traveled downward, shattering his jaw, bending his spinal cord and lodging deep in his neck. Lying face down in his blood, Ragland decided to pray.
After ten days in the hospital, Ragland’s mother wheeled him home with a wired jaw and an $80,000 medical tab. Doctors told him the feeling in his left side would slowly return. He convalesced in a small room at his mother’s house. Davis immediately sent people to his house saying he would pay him if he changed his story. Ragland’s mother wouldn’t let strangers inside the house, so Davis sent people who were close to Ragland.
“My own friends,” he says.
Ragland had expected an offer. That’s how it goes on the streets, he says. Davis would throw him some money and try to beat the case without having to draw any extra heat from the cops.
“People try to buy their way out of everything in the neighborhood,” says Ragland. “Especially something of the magnitude that he did to me.”
Veteran Homicide Detective Thomas Gaul isn’t working the case, but the only thing that surprises him is the amount of the payoff.
“It’s usually not as high as $5,000,” he says. “Maybe $1,500 or $500 or a drug package they can sell—some kind of informal street restitution.”
But Ragland was not happy about the $5,000.
“It was an insult to my intelligence,” he says. “They were taking advantage of my addiction. I’d smoke that up in a week.”
By now, Ragland’s mother had told him welfare would be picking up the medical tabs. So why shouldn’t he have some money to help ease the suffering, he thought. His pain was lessening by the week, but the desire to get high was growing by the hour.
“He was a drug dealer and I use drugs,” says Ragland. “I was going to take him for all I could.”
But he couldn’t shake Davis putting two in his head.