Like many US cities, a steady appetite for gun violence has gripped Rochester for decades. Getting shot and living to tell about it puts people in a certain kind of club. At first, City Councilman Adam McFadden did not want to be identified in this story of what it feels like to be a victim of gun violence. He was only 14, and his issues with it have not changed much.
We meet at his house for our interview. He's playing Mr. Mom this weekend while his wife is away, but aside from one large-screen TV, the house is quiet. This is the first time McFadden has talked publicly about something that happened to him 19 years ago. Even some family members do not know about his experience.
McFadden feels his story is fairly representative of many urban black and Hispanic men. While he recognizes that he is one of the lucky ones, he fears that gun violence in this city has gone from being underground to commonplace with no immediate end in sight. This is what it feels like, in McFadden's words, to be shot.
"Myself and two other friends, we used to go up to Ponderosa on Brooks at Chili, and we would walk up there and get the sundaes and pay for the salad bar just for something to do. And, this one time, we decided to take the shortcut by the railroad tracks. It wasn't really a shortcut. It was probably more of a diversion back there playing on the tracks. But there was a small building back there and these guys from the neighborhood were there turning over cash for drugs. It was a big deal they were doin' and, I don't know what we did, but they caught us. They saw us. The first time, they turned to us and told us 'Get the fuck outta here!'
Well, of course, we didn't listen. We pretended to leave and went right back around the place, and continued to watch. When they saw us the second time, they came out shooting. And that time, we thought they were only intending to scare us. But down the road, we were getting ready to hit the bike trail, and my friends turn to me and one points down and says, 'Man, your sock, it's all bloody.' He points to my foot. I look down and, sure enough, my foot is covered in blood. I look further up under my pants, and then I see this wound in my leg with blood comin' out everywhere. But I was numb. That's the best way I can describe it --- a numbing experience. I didn't feel anything at first. I didn't think I was shot. I didn't feel the bullet hit me, and at first I didn't feel any pain, but then I began to feel the burn."
The bullet made an entrance wound on his left thigh just above the knee. It's a grizzly looking scar with a hole that looks more like a pocket.
"My friend, his mom, I don't remember if she was a nurse or a doctor, but he took me to his house, and she took the bullet out. It was a little hole. She didn't have anything sew it up with, so she cleaned it out with peroxide. Then she removed the bullet. And, oh God, that was very painful. So she bandaged it up and for the next week or so, I would go over to his house and she would clean it out and bandage it back up for me.
It might have been a .22 handgun. I don't really know. We were at a distance. It wasn't point blank. But the thing is, I didn't tell anyone. We were all freaked out. We were afraid. I mean, I didn't want to go home and say I was watching a drug deal. I kept saying over and over to my friends, 'I'm in trouble. I'm gonna be in so much trouble.' But here we were --- just kids --- getting shot. We shouldn't have been so afraid of telling the truth about what happened, but I didn't want to tell my family. And we were afraid of what those guys could do to us.
Now everything has changed. A 12-year-old can walk down the street and purchase a gun. Guns and drugs. There isn't one without the other. Dealers are going to do whatever it takes to control their territory and sell their product.
That's the thing that is so disturbing, because they [guns] shouldn't be getting in so easily. There are people in this community that most folks would look at and say are fine, upstanding citizens. But they're out there in the suburbs orchestrating the shipment of guns and drugs into poor neighborhoods. They're profiting from the systematic destruction of poor people. This isn't about race. This is a fight between the classes. I worry that what happened to me will happen to my own. My daughter does not know what it is like to walk to the corner store alone."