I grew up in some interesting places — the projects of Los Angeles and Watts mostly, but I can’t say I’ve ever lived where I could walk nonchalantly over, by and around, a place where a person was shot and killed. Yet, I drive by such a spot, most days, twice.
It’s the M&M Food Mart on Montpelier Avenue. That’s where Andre Taylor was shot on a rainy Monday in early April, and where he lay near the side entrance to the store’s parking lot near death. He would die the following day after 39 short years of life. Calvin Stapleton, all of 40, is now charged with shooting Taylor in the back of the head along with criminal street gang activity. As I pass the spot now, I regularly see people — not gathering in mourning over what happened there — rather passing by as if nothing happened there.
That was just the latest incident at the store at Montpelier and Pansy Avenue. But the history of this block, sometimes violent, is no recent tale. In April 2016, the store was one of 21 convenience store outlets raided by law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions for illegal gambling practices.
This past March, Verconus Redding pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault for a home invasion where he shot two people as he tried to gain entrance, but charges from a May 2015 shooting at M&M were dropped as part of a plea bargain. In that incident, Redding allegedly fired several shots at a car parked by the gas pumps. Inside the vehicle were a woman and her infant. Redding was already on probation.
In 2015, Michael Hardy was shot in the right hip as he was walking out of M&M, also known as the old Young’s Grocery. Back in July 2010, two men were shot in separate incidents after leaving the store. One on July 6 and the other on July 8. And more shots were fired outside the store on July 20. According to a letter from Sheriff David Davis to the mayor in response to the renewal of the businesses alcholic beverage license, in the past year Davis’ office has had to send deputies to the location 144 times. Do the math, that’s, on average, four times a week.
While the store might be the center of attention for this column it is by no means the reason for the violence along this stretch of Montpelier. The store is simply a focal point where certain factions of the neighborhood happen to cross paths leading to sometimes deadly outcomes. But here is what I don’t get. Is there any honor left, even among gangbangers?
Taylor was shot in the back of the head as he walked away from an argument. Hardy was shot from across the street as he was leaving the store after midnight. The others were shot within a a few blocks of the store after leaving there by unknown assailants.
If Taylor so dissed Stapleton to the point of murder, didn’t Stapleton take a millisecond to think that shooting someone in the back of the head on a rainy day shortly after noon would be 1.) Pretty stupid, because there was no chance of escape, surveillance cameras and witnesses were everywhere and, 2.) What’s the point of shooting someone in the back?
What pulls at me more is how we accept the end of life by violent means. We walk over, mill around, stand on spots where men, women and children have taken their last breath as if their lives and deaths never happened, leaving no lessons to be learned from their demise. Instead, events gets stuck in a Groundhog Day loop and happen over and over again.
Are there any positives? Taylor, will never see his son, former Stratford Academy star now at the University of Wisconsin, Quintez Cephus, play again or see him reach his dream of joining an NFL team. The store, the county commission is leaning toward pulling its alcohol license, but that could lead to more rival gang confrontations.
If there is a positive, many of the people crazy enough to commit these crimes are quickly removed from civilized society, making it safer for you and me and the other 20,000 or so folks who travel Montpelier Avenue daily, but I’m thinking about adjusting my route just in case.