This is not worth dying for

We've got to be the light

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It was a Wednesday afternoon in the nation’s capital and Grace McKinnon was heading back to her office when she saw the man crying out for help. The police officer was pointing his gun at Anthony and the police said he’s got a knife.  Anthony was in clear distress and unsure what to do and didn’t immediately comply with the officer’s instructions and we’ve seen this exact scenario happen enough times to know what comes next so Grace pulled her car over in the middle of the street and exercised the defiant and liberating act of compassion.

She captured the encounter on video which she later posted to Twitter.

"You see him trying to shoot me, I ain't done nothing to nobody,” Anthony tells her while the officer is holding his gun on him yelling. Sirens are wailing in the background to come assist the officer with the kind man who has done nothing.

“You saw me sleeping right?” Anthony asks her, near tears. “I had that knife in my possession, but I’m out here,” he says by which he means he’s sleeping on the streets.

The officer tells Grace to get back but she asserts her right to observe. Anthony becomes agitated as another officer arrives yelling that he doesn’t have any other weapon on him. “Get on the ground,” Grace pleads with him. “This is not worth dying for.” Over and over again she says it.  “This is not worth dying for. They’re killing us out here.” And then, when he does get on the ground she reaches out and touches him kindly.

I called Grace today to ask her about what compelled her to intervene in what could have been a dangerous situation. She’s a 24 year old social worker with a master’s degree who spent ten years herself off and on being homeless and lost her brother to suicide a couple of years ago. Since then she’s been trying to help erase some of the stigmas about suicide through her effort Roses4MyBrother, and, following this encounter, has started a GoFundMe for Anthony which has almost raised its $6,000 goal.

Anthony, who sleeps in Union Station in D.C., was the subject of an interview by the Invisible People project in March of this year in which he talked about his dreams of one day opening an orphanage if he got on his feet again. His mother had recently died of cancer and since her passing he hasn’t had a place to stay.

What’s your future like? the interviewer asked him.

“Hopefully once I get myself together I want to build an orphanage, to house orphans,” he says.

“Free, open house, kids, adult whoever. People that don’t have nowhere to go or who’ve been neglected. I also want to build a feeding program for homeless youths and feed kids. Also, if I have the money, or have people to help me, build a recreation program for after school kids that need help with work, studying, searching for jobs things like that.”

If he had three wishes what would they be?

“Have a house that’s over my head,” he says. “Be able to give back to others, and a nice job. That’s it.”

In your video we see the confrontation once it’s already underway. What did you see beforehand?

GRACE: I was coming back from a hospital visit, I’m a social worker at Community Connections in DC. I was on my way back from the hospital and in the middle of the street I see the man in the video, Anthony, really crying out for help.  I see the police officer with his gun pointed. At that moment I knew I had to stop. Any compassionate, sensitive human being would. It’s something that pulls at your heart. I had to stop.  So  I put my car in park in the middle of the street, pulled out my phone —  us millennials, we’re good for that  — and I started recording. I was trying to engage with Anthony to get his attention. I just went into an automatic, for me, thinking… how can I help this man. I don’t want him to get killed. Sadly that’s the  reality so often these days.

What did you say to him?

GRACE: In the video you see me talking to him, encouraging him, imploring him to please get on the ground. You hear me saying it’s not worth dying for.  I could tell he was homeless, you can see the pain in his eyes, the fear in his eyes. I’ve been homeless before so I know what that looks like, the clothes and presentation.

He said You know miss I wasn’t doing anything, I was trying to sleep. The police tried to get me to move back but I told the police I’m not going to move back it’s my right to record.  He finally got on the ground and threw his hands up and started crying. I was trying to hold it together in the moment because we both couldn’t be crying.  After that was kind of a blur. I almost saw someone die. To be able to be in that space at that time. I’m deeply thankful I was there to help and intervene. I’m thankful he’s alive and I’m alive. I’m still trying to figure out a way to get into contact with him.

I’ve reached out to the Capital Police to see if they arrested him and on what charges and I will let you know when I hear back. [UPDATE: Response from the police below]

GRACE: Thank you for that. The interview with Anthony really touched me. You can see him saying all these things he wants to do like start an orphanage, help kids after school. That’s the fabric that social workers are made out of. I’ve been crying for the past few days so full of emotion and gratitude.

I’ve been homeless and I know what it feels like to not have somewhere to stay and to be so young.  His mother just died. It just so much. He’s so kind and compassionate, even in the video you see the compassion in his eyes. How could I just drive by and not help? Compassion is the most important thing to me.

You also work on a project for suicide awareness?

GRACE: My page is Roses4MyBrother.  My brother Matthew died by suicide on October 25th, 2016. I just started it recently, it’s pretty much a support network for people contemplating suicide or who have a loved one who died by suicide … and the focus is education and awareness through storytelling and compassion. Telling my story, that’s what I’m passionate about. I think suicide is something we need to break the stigma around. Life is a precious gift, if you can stop and say hello to someone or speak to a person ask them how their day is going, who knows maybe my brother would be alive today.

Was your brother living rough at the time?

GRACE: There are a lot of causes of suicide, it’s a complex issue. A lot of trauma, and lack of perceived support. Sometimes people may not think they have support when they really do have people around them willing to help. Sometimes we’re isolated and don’t want people to help us and we don’t allow people in.  When you’re having a tough month or year those problems get compounded. My brother was super smart, he could tell you a million stats about fast cars and animals,  he just needed more support and motivation. If you put someone in a dark hole and they can’t see the light you can’t just tell them there’s light on the other side, they wont believe it. We’ve got to be that light. It feels so good to be kind to others. I know my brother is with me and I know he’s proud of me.

I’m sure he is. Do you think more people should do what you did? It seemed like a great help here but other people, particularly African Americans of course, could be putting themselves in danger by trying to intervene.

GRACE: That’s a good question. Every situation is different and everybody is different. I think it depends on you in the moment. If you feel comfortable you do what you can. That might be stopping and recording, whatever you can do to help someone else and also preserve your own wellbeing.  I’m a social worker so this is what I do I help people.  I’m also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and our primary objective is service. That’s ingrained in me. I love people and I think life is the most important thing. Some people told me that what I did was stupid, but I wasn’t thinking about myself. If I say I believe in compassion —  in Latin compassion means to suffer with somebody. If I say I am suffering with somebody I’m not thinking about myself. I didn’t even think about the fact I could’ve lost my life. All the comments online people saying you could’ve died too. I started crying I was like wow I didn’t think about that.

You said you were homeless, how long was that for?

GRACE: I was homeless in 8th grade. My family was living with my grandma’s family at the time and they kicked us out. After that it was a cycle of homelessness from 2008 up until about —  even in college —  about ten years living with friends. I’ve never had a room of my own. I still don’t. That’s something I’m working on. I’m hoping that the universe brings me goodness. I’m passionate about people that are homeless. I’m a social worker —  we use person first language, by the way. Saying “homeless people” devalues people. You say “people that are homeless.” I used to take showers at community college, get up at 4 am in high school and fall asleep in my classes. I took five AP classes in  high school, I had a 4.5 GPA . But sometime pressure makes you work harder. I finished my masters program in December 2017. I finished, praises up, and I’m a licensed graduate social worker.

I know now that if I can use my experience to help others my brother’s life will not be in vain.

I just want to thank you for what you did. I’m proud of you.

GRACE: Thank you and thank you for sharing my story.

UPDATE: The Capital Police responded with their report on the incident.

At approximately 3:40 p.m. on Wednesday, November 7, 2018, a United States Capitol Police (USCP) Officer observed an individual matching the description of a lookout issued by the Metropolitan Police Department for a man with a large knife.

The USCP Officer attempted to stop the Suspect, but he was agitated and uncooperative and began walking away toward the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Second Street, NE. The Officer commanded the Suspect to stop, but instead the Suspect drew a knife and turned toward the Officer.  The Officer drew his service weapon and commanded the Suspect to drop the knife.  The Suspect eventually complied with the Officer’s commands, but continued to walk away.   The Officer continued to give multiple commands to stop as the Suspect dropped several more knives onto the ground.  The Suspect ultimately complied with the Officer’s commands and was placed under arrest and transported to USCP Headquarters for processing.

The Suspect was charged with Assault on a Police Officer While Armed; Carrying a Dangerous Weapon; and Possession of a Prohibited Weapon.