R.I.P Bafro: today it’s 2 years since IOW Skater Neil Peter White was shot and killed by the LAPD
I’m stripping paint off a wall, sweaty, tired having been up since 5AM soothing my 19 month old daughter’s cough, when I find the LAPD have shot my friend dead.
Los Angeles is 5439 miles from me. I’ve never been there. I’ve never even been to America.
LA is spatially and temporally worlds away. It is stupid Michael Bay films. It is 1980s television. It is 1990s rap music. It is Baywatch and a pissed-up David Hasslehoff.
I read the text message I’ve just recieved back again: “Taity saying Bafro’s been shot dead in L.A.”
I turn my smartphone off and back on again. This doesn’t make any sense. Bafro was a vagabond skateboarder from the Isle of Wight who left the UK with nothing but his board, a backpack, and a beaten old laptop to code on. I didn’t understand the coding and rarely understood the poetry and prose he’d often email in the early hours either:
“Bafro writing was Bafro living
a million ideas exploding like stars
sentences folded into sentences folded into paragraphs
fingers all fucked and chewed
oh whats the point me tryin to explain how the air smells at sunrise skatin out here in the desert???
motherfunkers only care bout smartphones and skunk anyhoo “
My smartphone buzzes back into life as a text tells me the LAPD killed my friend. The freest spirit I knew, the man I had warned about travelling alone in South America, survived life, lifts, and the food in the worst parts of Mexico, shot by police in the land of the free? Is this real? I do the only thing I can 5439 miles away. I Google it. 8:40AM July 9th 2015. Neil Peter White killed. The third report I find describes how the bullet entered his neck from behind. There is an aerial photograph depicting a huge pool of blood at the scene (weirdly, when I find myself re-searching for this photo today, all the versions I can find have had the blood photoshopped out of them). Baf was unarmed, although the initial police report apparently made a point of describing his skateboard as if it were a weapon.
“Initially, police reported that the man was fighting with officers with his skateboard… after investigators interviewed several witnesses, they discredited that report.”
I gradually turn over as many stones as I can via the internet. It’s utterly futile of course but what else can I do? I find shadows of Neil Peter White I didn’t know existed. A youtube video of him making pizza. His dad’s blog about the Bible and buses complete with a post about Baf’s funeral (there is even a clip of the service which I can’t get to play). Slowly, I find names of those who either witnessed his shooting or its aftermath. Patrick Comiskey, who saw two police officers trying to place a man’s hands behind his back during an arrest. He watched as the male officer reached for what Comiskey thought was a pair of handcuffs before he heard a gunshot.
“It was point blank,” Comiskey recounts, “All hell broke loose.”
On July 16, LAPD identified the shooting officer as Stephan Shuff. I exhaust stalking my dead friend, so naturally I move onto googling his killer. I learn very little. He is big. He is bald. He earned over $120000 in pay, overtime, and benefits last year. My chest tightens as my eyes begin to water. Neil Peter White is dead. Although the news is “new” to me, it dawns that Baf’s been dead for almost a year. I stop googling Stephan Shuff, open up my email, and look over the last message I sent my friend dated 3 weeks after his death. “Ba-Ba-Bafro – long time no yo! Hoping you’re out skating the wilderness and not dead or darkness!”
* * * * *
This entire post is about being disconnected and powerless.
It’s about reaching out. Holding something raw and real up to you in the hope you’ll read and share it.
I’m reaching out to the music community, to the skating community. I’m reaching out to anyone who knows someone in America, or even better in LA. There is no conclusion, no moral, no punchline. For now, it is as empty and senseless as Neil Peter White’s death exactly two years ago.
It took me over 9 months to find out Baf had been killed because of the geographical distance between us. That same geographical distance now makes it extremely difficult to push the Los Angeles police department for the truth.
Why is the truth important?
Besides the obvious point – an unarmed skateboarder is dead after being accused, let alone found guilty of, the initial villainy of breaking a window – there’s the simple matter of competence and trust in society’s armed overseers when these overseers have the authority to shoot-to-kill.
The eyewitnesses I’ve managed to track down so far have kindly helped keep me in the loop as to what they saw and also what is currently happening regarding Neil’s shooting.
At present, an independent police commission have reviewed events and deemed Neil Peter White’s shooting as “unjustified”. Stephan Shuff, the officer who opened fire, has returned to work. Apparently, in America an “unjustified” shooting in the back of the head isn’t murder if the perpetrator is a uniformed public servant sworn to “protect and serve”.
I think that’s bullshit.
I hope you think that’s bullshit.
There is, of course, very little any of us can do. But why not do something? Paint a picture, print a t-shirt, share this post, or just feel free to do your own thing. Everything has to start somewhere, even if it doesn’t feel like any of us can make much of a difference at the moment.
It’s two years since Baf died. Today we honour him.