The sun was still hot in the early July evening. Too hot to wait for a bus, so we hailed a cab to take us to our swim club. The cabbie paid a little extra attention to my wife as she climbed in. He made some gentle, complimentary remarks about her. And looking over at her, I didn’t need the cab driver to remind me what a lucky man I am.
The cabbie seemed likable — someone who went out of his way to please. With a warm and friendly smile, he chatted us up. Asked about ourselves and about the swim club. Nothing obtrusive or unwelcome. Just pleasant conversation punctuated with a smile that made him seem like an old friend giving us a lift rather than just a stranger taking us on a short ride. He introduced himself as Keith. Said he was 51. He had a half-shaved look that is popular these days. His cab was neater than most. Well-cared for.
My wife Fran instantly connected with his outgoing personality. “How about you?” she said to the cabbie. “How are you doing?”
“Do you really want to know?” he replied, as if surprised that a passenger would want to know how a cabbie’s day was going. “Sure,” we both said. Me a little less enthusiastically than my more sociable wife.
The cabbie took something from his dashboard and handed it to my wife. It was a photo the size of a postcard. Fran’s smile disappeared instantly. Tears welled up in the corner of her lovely deep brown eyes. With a deep sigh, she handed me the photo. I looked at it. A good-looking young man with cornrows smiled back at me. He looked to be in his early 20s. The card was titled “MEMORIAL.” For a few moments, all of us were silent. “My son,” the cabbie said. “He was killed in the South Street shooting.”
The cabbie’s smile was gone. But he was still calm and conversational as he told us about his son, Kris Minners. You may have read about Kris or seen his photo on TV. He was with friends on South Street, celebrating his 22nd birthday on Saturday night, June 17. A youth counselor in the lower grades at Girard College. An idealist who thought he could make the world around him a little bit better. A dreamer who mistakenly thought he had a future. The smile on Kris’ face in the photo said, “I got this.” Keith told us it was his son’s go-to phrase. That Saturday night on busy South Street, a couple of guys with no future opened fire. They ended Kris Minners’ future. Kris was fatally struck and died on his way to Jefferson Hospital.
So? What’s so different about Kris’ story? Nothing. That’s the tragedy. Just one of 300-plus homicides in the City of Brotherly Love. A disturbing realization. If fate had not placed us in his father’s cab, Kris would’ve just been another statistic to us. Another young face in a newspaper photo or flashed briefly on a TV screen before five minutes of a weather forecast. We would’ve shaken our heads over another shooting while sipping our morning coffee and gone on to another topic. The slaughter of the innocents across America is no longer big news. Hey — we’ve got a heat wave going on, and how about that NBA star who took a $13 million pay cut to sign with the Sixers?
What made this senseless death penetrate us more than the others? We were face to face with the victim’s father — Keith Selby. We saw the collateral damage of the wanton shooting on our streets up close and personal. Watched him suppress his rage and sorrow in order to go on with his life. Were forced to confront this truth. That Kris Minners was only one of the growing number of people shot to death. Everyday folks like you and me. The sons and daughters of the proverbial butcher, baker and candlestick maker — and hard-working cabbies, too.
What can we say to these families and friends who have seen their loved ones cut down, often because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? What consolation can we offer? With an estimated 400 million guns in civilian hands and 40 million more purchased annually, what credible hope can we extend to them that things will get any better?
How long before the sheer number of killings causes us to become insensitive to these shootings? Human nature being what it is, we can feel the grip of numbness tightening its hold.
We mutter a few meaningless words of consolation to the cabbie. All we have left to offer are clichés. I place the photo of Kris Minners back on the dashboard. The cabbie’s smile is back. We’ve arrived at our destination. Glancing at Fran and her incredible tan as we get out of the cab, he reminds me again that I am indeed a lucky man. “If he’s ever out of the picture,” he says to Fran with a sly grin, “look me up.”
The cab drives off. The cabbie is still smiling.