A Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.
In the aftermath of Tariq's death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.
Tariq's friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon is a timely story by an acclaimed author who won the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe Award for the Rock and the River, whose book X :A Novel (written with Ilyasah Shabazz) was longlisted for the National Book Award.
This title has Common Core connections.
About the Author
Kekla Magoon is the author of several books for young adults, including 37 Things I Love and The Rock and the River, winner of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award. She is a New York City-based writer, editor, speaker, and educator.
Read an Excerpt
How It Went Down
By Kekla Magoon
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2014 Kekla Magoon
All rights reserved.
Red. Black. White. That's all I remember. It was a blur, like a dream sequence in the sort of movie that comes with subtitles.
Red. Blood, spreading like spilled ink.
Black. His hair and skin, and the tar beneath him. He was kind of sprawled out, and it seemed almost right for him to be down there, like he blended in.
White. I couldn't make sense of it at first. It wasn't clean white, like snow. More of a wispy, dirty white, like clouds on an average winter day. I found out later he had a carton of milk in his hand. It got a bullet right through it, started leaking like a drain and puddling up on the pavement.
The spilled milk seemed wronger than the blood, somehow. I keep thinking that.
I'm not sure I had time to blink. It was over in a minute.
My brain coiled around the knowledge: The boy in the hoodie has been shot. The loud sound echoed in my ears, as did his final whimper. The soft clatter-crash of his fall. The sound — yes, the sound — of the look the shooter gave me. It had a voice, that look.
Sharp and clear like a bell.
I ended up kneeling beside him, the wrecked, bleeding boy. Flat-looking now, so flat.
My hands got dirty. Sidewalk dust, glass shards, blood.
I got blood on my lip. One nervous dart of my tongue, and I tasted it. My throat filled with the need to retch.
Except I was blinking now. Blinking down at the boy.
His eyes were open, unblinking.
They do it in the movies. Reach down and close the dead asshole's eyes. But I wasn't about to touch him.
He stared up at me, and it was fucking creepy.
Jennica knelt beside him, in the spreading gray-white pool. "We got to go," I told her, but she could not be moved.
"One-two-three-four-five," she chanted, though the life was gone from his body.
She wouldn't leave, wouldn't stop crying. I couldn't get her up. She stayed there, pumping on his chest and whatnot, a fierce kinda goddess in the half-light.
"We got to go," I said again, and she looked up at me, eyes like switchblades, like she'd fight to the death to put it all back, put it right. She was striking hot, perfection. All I could think was, I'm with that.
If it was up to me, we woulda bugged out right away like the rest of the Kings, but Jennica's too good for that.
Every fucking minute, another thing reminds me I'm not good enough for her.
Run. All that was in my mind was fucking run.
Couldn't think about T falling, or the guy who shot him getting away. Especially not him getting away.
Couldn't think about T dying, or how easy I coulda stopped it. Especially not how easy.
Maybe he won't die. I tried to think it like a prayer.
T's not a screwup like me. He's lucky. Two shots to the chest — yeah, he could make it. It felt wrong to run, knowing that, but I couldn't stop the steam under my feet.
I kept my eye on Brick's jacket and ran where he led me.
Tried to forget I had a piece in my hand. Sleek metal body, cold and strong.
Clutched in my warm, weak fingers.
I fumbled it down into my belt. Tried to forget I could have helped out Tariq with it, taken his killer down.
The piece felt heavy at my waist. Made running kind of awkward, but I kept on after Brick.
I need a gun. I know that. But what good will it ever do me if, when the moment comes, I can't stand up?
Out the open window
And I squeeze my eyes shut
Fingers in my ears
Make it stop
Make it stop now
Sirens mean bad news
WHAT THEY SAW
9-1-1 EMERGENCY RESPONSE — CALL LOG
[June 2, 5:32 P.M.–5:36 P.M.]
OPERATOR: 9-1-1, what's your emergency?
CALLER: I need the police. A boy's been shot.
OPERATOR: What's your location, sir?
CALLER: Shot. Some guy just shot the kid in the back. White guy. He pulled over his car and just — like —
OPERATOR: Sir, I'm notifying the police and EMTs. I need an address. Where are you calling from?
CALLER: I'm on Peach Street. They're right outside. 219 South Peach. He's been shot. He's on the ground —
[loud bursting sound, over static]
CALLER: Oh, God. He shot him again.
CALLER: [indecipherable muttering]
OPERATOR: Sir? Can you repeat that? Are you in danger? Please move to a safe location.
CALLER: He's driving away! He's driving away. He's back in his car —
OPERATOR: Sir, the police are on their way.
CALLER: I can see the license. I'm going to try — [sound of door chimes]
OPERATOR: Sir, please step back inside. Is the shooter still on the scene?
CALLER: Oh, God.
CALLER: There's blood everywhere. [shouts] CPR! We need CPR!
OPERATOR: Is the shooter still on the scene? Sir, please go back inside. The police are on their way.
CALLER: It's a dark blue car. Small. KL7 — I can't see. He's just going ...
OPERATOR: Which direction is he going?
CALLER: Uh ... straight down Peach. No, he just turned right on Wilson. Or maybe Van Buren. It's a ways down. I could get my car —
OPERATOR: No, sir. Please stay on the scene.
CALLER: [shouts] That's the guy, that's the guy. Blue car, just turned. That's the shooter.
OPERATOR: Sir? Has the shooter returned to the scene?
CALLER: [shouts] Go get him! Go get him!
OPERATOR: Sir, who are you talking to?
CALLER: He can't just shoot and run like that.
OPERATOR: Do not attempt to pursue the suspect. I've relayed the information to the police. They will take care of it. How many people have been shot?
CALLER: One, just one. Oh, God. It's Tariq.
CALLER: Oh, God. His mama. [shouts] Push harder, girl! You got to blow into his mouth.
[sirens in the background]
OPERATOR: Sir, the police and ambulance will be arriving very shortly.
CALLER: They're coming. They're coming. I've got to go.
OPERATOR: Sir, please stay on the line.
CALLER: I've got to go.
I was coming out of the hardware store when I heard a guy down the street shouting, "Stop, thief!"
I look, and this is what I see: Farther down the sidewalk, a shop clerk with an apron on comes running out of the convenience store, waving his arms in the air. "Come back here!"
Streaking past me, just right there in front of me, goes a dark face in a black hoodie. The hood's fallen back somewhat, like he can't hold it in place while he's hurrying. He's trotting down the street pretty quick, his shoulders all hunched around his haul. I can see it on his face. He thinks he's home free. He slides past me.
Not so fast, sucker.
I step up after the little fool. There's a bunch of other guys around, but no one's making a move to stop him. By the looks, they're all members of the 8-5 Kings. They don't care enough to stop him, but he's not getting away.
Not on my watch.
I step up, clamp my hand down on his shoulder. I got a big hand, real meaty. Takes all of his shoulder under it like a handlebar. "Not so fast," I tell him. The Kings scare me, sure, but not this little scrap of a kid.
"Hey. Get up off me, yo." He starts squirming. But it's no work at all to hold him. "Come on," he says. "Let me go."
"This is a matter for the police," I say, holding firm.
"What's your problem, man?" he says.
"Woooooo," go the Kings, crowding around us. "Tariq's gonna take down the big man."
I read it all wrong. He wasn't just passing by the Kings; I guess he's one of them. They're calling out to him, egging him on. Maybe it's some kind of initiation.
Hoodie boy struggles. From under his arm, something small, roundish, and firm pushes out at me.
"He's got a gun," I hear someone say. "Shit, back it up!"
I can hold my own in a fistfight, but I'm not about to get shot to save some corner store fifty bucks in loot, or whatever this thug pilfered. I let him go. "Don't shoot." I back away. "I didn't mean nothing by it."
Kid spins around, face all stormy. His arms are full. My heart's pounding. My eyes drop to the gun in his hand. He's facing me now. I'm bracing myself, thinking, Why'd I have to try and get tough? Thinking, I'm about to die. But it's not right. I'm looking at his hand. Looking for that deadly glint of metal, but there isn't anything, and then out of nowhere, the kid is falling. He buckles like a hinge and drops. I hear a loud noise and the sound of glass breaking. Something liquid splashes over my feet. I jump back, but the kid is just down.
"Oh, shit," someone shouts. "Was that for real?"
"Tariq," someone says.
"We gotta get the fuck out." Someone else.
Three different voices.
I hear another sound, unfamiliar and close. A popping, kind of pinging, very loud. By the time I turn, what I see is a white man, hustling away. I see people running, ducking. Hear the jingle of bells on a door.
"What happened?" I say it out loud, to the air. "What just happened?"
We were a little high, me and Noodle both. I regret that now, but I can't undo it. We were across the street. I didn't see the first shot, 'cause we were cozying up on the stoop there like normal, but I saw the second one. Tariq was already on the ground. The guy standing over him put a bullet in him, right there on the sidewalk. Then he jumped in his car and drove off.
Noodle said I was like some kind of hero. The guy drove off, and people were screaming, but Noodle said I just walked right across the street to where Tariq was lying. I don't remember doing that.
I do remember I got blood on my hands. From the CPR. I got it on my clothes, too, on everything. I remember being on my knees in this terrible pool and pushing up and down on his chest with my arms locked, like I learned.
We took this class in school last year, about how to save a person's life. I guess I should have signed up for it again this year. I didn't know enough. I couldn't save him.
My eyes got all blurry, and his mouth was all bloody, and I couldn't bring myself to breathe into it. Maybe that was wrong, but I also remember worrying I might blow blood down his throat. Can that happen? I wanted to ask the ambulance man who took over after me, but I couldn't manage the words. I still haven't tried to find out.
I'm not sure I really want to know.
Leave it to Tariq to mess up my afternoon. We were sitting on the stoop, Jennica whispering all sexy in my ear. We were waiting for Brick, but I was about ready to bail on meeting up with the guys and find a quiet place, just the two of us.
Then I heard Tariq's voice, chirping from all the way across the street. Loudmouthed little punk. I quit kissing on my girl and looked over there. Tariq was talking to Brick, who must've come up right about the same time, a couple other guys along with him.
Jennica leaned into my neck, all high and turned on. And I was pissed then, because I should have been enjoying it. But there went T, arms full of milk and stuff. It figured — he would be too cheap to pay Rocky five cents for a grocery sack.
He had some nerve, talking shit to Brick after everything that went down last week.
Brick was trying to get T to step up into the Kings for real, instead of dancing around the edges like he had been. I never could figure why he wanted that chickenshit dabbler as his lieutenant. Neither of them seemed to understand what they were saying when they talked about being number one and number two — that it would make me number three. Plus, Tariq is almost five years younger than me. What, I'm supposed to take a back seat to some punk kid who didn't even really want in? No way should T step up to outrank me. But Brick was determined about it; I still don't get why.
Across the street, Tariq had to go and drag the big, light guy into it. Guy looked like a refrigerator, but T was talking smack, as usual. Now things were looking up, I thought. I'd seen Tariq in a fistfight. He didn't have the skills to go up against a guy that size. Fool. I don't know what Brick saw in that pile of mess.
The Kings crowded in closer to watch the fight. I craned my neck up, trying to see past their shoulders. If Tariq was about to get his ass beat, I was sure as shit gonna be watching. But my view was blocked, partly by the guys and mostly by the car that stopped in the middle of the street.
White dude jumped out. Hauled ass up onto the curb.
Someone — Sammy, I think — shouted, "He has a gun!"
I leaped up, startling Jennica. The Kings backed out, in a loose circle around Tariq and the big man. The big man threw his hands up.
Tariq turned around, facing the new guy. His voice, typically loud. Annoying. "Mind your own business, cracker." All his shit falls out of his hands. One arm stretched out in front.
Then the shots. One, two.
I thought, Damn. That motherfucker's about to get made. T's talking shit one minute, the next he smokes a whitey right in front of Brick? That'd earn him a straight shot to the number two spot. No question.
But it was Tariq who fell. Slow motion. The Kings peeled off and scattered. White dude scrambled to his car. The gun in his hand was silver. Nine millimeter. His arm, straight down. Finger still on the trigger. Wild eyes.
I threw myself down on top of Jennica. We landed awkwardly against the stairs. Her fingers fluttered against my shirt, around my ribs. "Oh, God," she murmured. "Oh, my God."
I stayed like that — I didn't know what else that crazy white bastard might do — until the car rumbled off down the street with a squeal of tires.
"Was that for real?" Sammy screamed.
"We gotta get the fuck outta here," ordered Brick. "Now."
Jennica pushed me off and ran across the street. "Tariq," she cried. She planted her hands on his chest and started CPR. Jake came running out of his liquor store, phone up against his ear, shouting, too. Halfway down the block, another white guy stood frozen, watching.
Jake's voice and Jennica's crying — those were the only sounds on the block. The other Kings had disappeared. Everyone else had gone inside. The rumble of the car faded, became part of the distant background hum.
I followed Jennica across the street. Couldn't see no choice about it — that's my girl. Stood on the curb, looked down at T's flat, leaking body.
He was asking for it, I told myself.
If that guy didn't pop him, someone else was gonna, that's for damn sure. Kid couldn't keep his mouth shut for a hot second, 'less he was stuffing a snack in his face.
Brick must have been tripping; no way was T ever gonna be good enough to replace me. I looked upon his slack cheeks, open eyes, and all I felt was relieved. Good riddance, Tariq Johnson.
I was there. I saw the whole thing. Fucker had it coming.
You can't fault a brother for getting heated. Tariq be talking shit to me, like usual, coming down the street. That little punk. I taught him everything he knows, then he up and flaked out on me, talking about college and turning his back on his homies.
I shepherded that son. From the time he was little, I saw he had this energy, this flow. He coulda run this street with me, if he put his mind to it. But no.
So, yeah. When he come down the street, talking shit, hell, yeah. I started hassling him back. He was saying shit about my moms. I don't let nobody say shit about my moms. So I start talking about his moms. I see the carton of milk in his hand, and I say something about how he shouldn't have to go to the store so often, 'cause he got a cow at home.
That's when he starts kicking at me. I dodge him easy and start laughing, sure he's gonna blow a whole gasket and start losing all the shit he just bought all over the sidewalk so he can come and get me.
I was howling. Tariq be dancing all over, trying to kick me. He goes, "I'ma come back. I'ma come back in five minutes and I'ma lay you out."
I just go, "Woooooo." All the guys howl behind me, like backup singers.
Some big-ass punk, a pale-looking brother, steps out of a store and grabs Tariq, outta nowhere.
We all thought he must have some real bad bone to pick, thought Tariq's ass was about to get whupped into tomorrow, so we crowded around to watch. We was still howling. Tariq and he start tussling.
"Shit, he's got a gun," Sammy says. He's looking over my shoulder, toward the street.
I don't know when Tariq pulled the gun. Next thing I know, big guy's backing off of him, all freaked out. "Don't shoot."
Tariq's still got all the shit in his arms, and he's holding out a gun at the light-skinned punk — blackest motherfucking gun I ever saw.
"Back the fuck off. I'll put a hole in you, cracker," he says.
For a second there, I got real proud of Tariq. I thought, Fuck college. My boy's coming home to the street. For a second there, I got real proud.
I had agreed to loan Jack Franklin my car for a few days while his was in the shop. He came down to pick it up round four in the afternoon. We got to talking. The weather was good out there on my back porch, so we cracked a few beers and got to drinking. Couple carefree guys, living the good life. That's what I was thinking.
So I walked Jack outside, showed him the car and all, handed over the keys. We shook hands. He said, "Thanks. You're a lifesaver."
Excerpted from How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. Copyright © 2014 Kekla Magoon. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
2. What They Saw,
3. Ripple Effects,
5. The Vigil,
8. Locked Door,
9. Ashes to Ashes,
10. Dust to Dust,
11. What's Next?,
12. Sharp Things,
15. Helpful People,
16. Death Shroud,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I got way more into this than I was expecting. It’s the story of a shooting in an inner city told from the point of view of different witnesses and people connected to the person who was shot. No one has exactly the same story or feels precisely the same. I tried to understand each perspective and feel what they felt. It’s not really the type of story that gives you any answers. It may change the way you think about things though.
The multiple voices that tell the story in *How It Went Down* constitute a symphony of grief, rage, bewilderment, exploitation, and despair in the aftermath of a black teenager’s shooting death at the hands of a white man. Mirroring the too numerous cases we see in the news these days, the black teen (Tariq Johnson) might or might not have been armed. The shooter (Jack Franklin) might or might not have been justified in his actions. The witnesses—one a would-be do-gooder (white man Brian Trellis) and the rest members of a street gang that Tariq might or might not have belonged to—might or might not be telling the truth. The only thing that’s certain in this narrative—and all of the real-life narratives that this novel emulates—is that truth is a construct and reality (along with meaning) often eludes our grasp. Kekla Magoon skillfully orchestrates eighteen perspectives in telling the story of Tariq Johnson’s death and its aftermath. The shooting creates permanent ripple effects throughout Tariq’s community, among his family, close friends, and acquaintances. Reminiscent of Faulkner’s *As I Lay Dying*, *How It Went Down* eschews any pretense to narrative authority as it relies completely on the inevitable fallibility of first-person narration. Omniscience, Magoon seems to imply, is itself a fiction, and the only truth available to us is the one we are able to construct and live comfortably with. An undeniably stark and powerful work of fiction, this novel addresses one of the sad realities of racism in contemporary American culture. It examines not only the senseless violence that claims the lives of innocent victims—it also takes an unflinching look at the impact of that violence on the ones left behind to mourn.
This book is mentioned in my new blog feature: Curtain Call! It also mentions a tv/film. http://bit.ly/1M6aarv
Difficult because of the honesty, but beautiful and timely.