The police don’t see it that way. Cop cars are all over Abbottsford around the clock since Anderson’s killing; helicopters hover over the projects at night. Sometimes, when Anderson's cousin walks down to Uncle Willie’s, he says the cops shine flashlights in his face and harass him.
“The cops keep saying, ‘We know the retaliation’s coming. When’s it coming?’ I tell them no, it ain’t comin.’ And it’s not. No one here is stupid enough to do that. And [Allegheny] would be crazy to come up here right now, with all these cops around. But the cops, they makin’ it more tense around here.”
Anderson’s parents bristle at the notion that their son’s slaying represents a rekindling of gang warfare between the two neighborhoods. “Allegheny and Abbottsford, that’s been going on for years,” says Mincey. “I’m from Allegheny—I got jumped up here, and I came back. My son live here, they ain’t gonna run me outta Abbottsford. But it’s not gangs. It hasn’t been gangs for a long time. It’s just regular, stupid high school stuff. Jealousy, things like that. But the days of fighting … are over. Now it’s, ‘I’mma go get my gun.’”
“My boy was not in a gang,” she continues. “He didn’t start any trouble with anyone. He was focused on basketball and school. He knew what he had to do.”
She and Big Shawn believe the police haven’t helped matters by connecting their son’s death to the McDonald’s incident—both claim the shootings are unrelated. “The cops say that to take away from their responsibility. If they blame it on the turf, then, ‘This is gonna happen, they beefin’.’ But what are you as the protectors doing? People around here, they call the cops telling them people are harassing them or whatever, and no one comes out to see them. And why? Because they live [in the projects] … That’s sad. They only come out here after something like this happens, and then they harass you for no reason.”
Big Shawn also says the media have been irresponsible in describing what’s going on as a “turf war”—he says it makes the public think that his son was purposefully involved in something and maybe he had it coming to him. When a local TV news crew came out to talk to him shortly after the shooting, “the woman said, ‘I’ve seen [Shawnee’s] Facebook page—he’s got a lot of tattoos and he’s throwing up gang signs …’ I said, ‘Gang signs? They ain’t no gang signs.’ We like to party and have fun. We just havin’ fun, that’s all. I cut that interview short right there.”
Still, Anderson’s parents say they’re trying their best to prevent Abbottsford kids from avenging their son’s killing. “A lot of his friends have been Facebooking me,” says Mincey. “They’ve expressed anger and I tell them, ‘I’m his mom, there’s nobody angrier than me. Take his name and make something good out of it. If you go out and retaliate, then what? It’s not gonna bring Shawnee back. And then you’re destroying your life, your family’s life.’ I don’t wanna see another family go through this.”
Respected as he is around Abbottsford, if Big Shawn put out the word to retaliate, “They’d be lined up outside telling me, ‘What time we leavin’?’ But I tell the kids they gotta chill out. There ain’t gonna be no retaliation.”
Inside the family’s second-floor apartment, Big Shawn switches on the TV in the living room. He says he’s hardly slept, and finally ate some food for the first time since the shooting. “I think I’ve been doing more drinking than anything.”
A few years shy of 40, he’s lean and athletic like his son; the “Big” in front of his name doesn’t represent his physical stature so much as the respect he’s earned at Abbottsford, where he’s lived since 1977. A former taxi driver, he’s also known around the projects as “Transporter Charlie” for hauling Abbottsford residents all around Philly—40 to 60 miles a day, he estimates—for less cash than they’d pay to call a cab. “They was ridin’ with me when I had a taxi, now they ride with me and there ain’t no meter. They like that,” he laughs softly as he brings up a YouTube video on the TV. It’s a Shawnee tribute clip called “Cherish the Last Words” by young Philly rapper Shump Bucketz, posted two days after Anderson’s death.
Crammed on two couches are Mincey, Anderson’s stepmother Stephanie Young, his 19-year-old sister Rakeema, his 17-year-old brother Tre’Shawn, his 16-year-old stepbrother Andre, and Lashay Boseman, his girlfriend of just over a year. All of them are wearing Shawnee tribute T-shirts or hoodies. A handful more neighbors and friends filter in and out of the room. Big Shawn sits on a folding chair about two feet away from the screen, lights a cigarette, and stares at the slideshow of Anderson mugging for the camera at parties with his friends or elevating toward the basket during Roxborough games as the music plays. Everyone else nods their head to the beat and silently mouths the lyrics:
I cherish the last words, I wish I woulda said more,
Now shorty got me sayin’ rest in peace to one more.
He was cooler than most and he loved it on the court,
Why do good things gotta be so short?
When it ends, Big Shawn hits play. They watch it again.
“I watch it every day, at least two or three times a day,” he says.
“More than that,” says his brother, Tre’Shawn.
“I’d be watching it on my phone, too, if it wasn’t broke,” says Big Shawn. “He used to rap a little bit, too, he cracked me up.”
Was he any good? “Nahhh,” says Big Shawn. Everybody laughs. “He was always laughin’ and jokin’—he was a straight-up jokester.”
There are big plans for the future: a group home for boys, a college scholarship at Roxborough High in Shawnee's name, a citywide mentoring program, and a basketball league. But even in its beginning stages, S4S has already shown itself to be a promising tool in bringing youth together to help stem the city’s violence—without the preachy, off-putting approach the city often employs to little effect.
Anderson—the Roxborough High School senior and budding basketball star—was gunned down near his apartment in the Abbottsford Homes projects. Police now believe that Anderson’s death is related to at least two other high-profile shootings in the area.
Being Black: It's not the skin color