The first time I saw Audie Mickens, he had just turned 19 and he'd been arrested as the shooter in an attempted murder in Northwest Baltimore. He appeared at a hearing in District Court, and as I listened to the prosecutor detail the charges against him, I wondered how his life would turn out. Would the young fool go to prison? Would he die an early death? Was there any hope for a better outcome?
Police alleged that, on the afternoon of May 3, 2007, Mickens had slipped a paintball mask over his face and stepped out of a Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a .45-caliber handgun. He allegedly fired at but missed his intended victim, another young man who managed to run away unharmed. The police found two bullet casings and one live round on the sidewalk. Later, when they located the Monte Carlo, they found paintball masks in the trunk.
After listening to the state's case against Mickens, the judge set it for trial in Circuit Court.
I guess, by that day, I had heard a few thousand stories like this — from police reports, from prosecutors, from witnesses at jury trials: young men with guns, settling beefs, or shooting junkies or junkie-dealers who owed them money, or killing people they'd robbed even after getting what they wanted. There was so much of that over the years, Baltimore's epoch of human violence.
I remember having those dreary and frustrating thoughts while in District Court, with the skinny "man child" Mickens standing there, wondering how he could ever get the thug-think out of his head.
A column about Mickens — along with another young man accused of murdering someone over a $20 debt in a separate case — ran under the headline, "City needs to reverse a culture of death."
I didn't realize it until recently, but Mickens was the Audie who spoke about 25 minutes into the documentary, "Hard Times at Douglass High," that aired on HBO in 2008. The documentary, about the challenges of educating teenagers from some of the poorest families in the city, covered the 2004-2005 school year, when Mickens was 17, repeating ninth grade and wandering Douglass' hallways.
He expressed full disdain for classes, and his profane words were jarring and memorable. "Don't nobody go to class around here, man," he said into the camera. "Academics? We gonna leave that to them nerd------. We gonna keep ... straight 'hood. We gonna keep it gutter."
In late summer of 2008, Mickens was found not guilty of the attempted murder in Northwest Baltimore. Records show some traffic violations, some arrests for drug possession and for riding a dirt bike in the city, but not much else. I'd forgotten about Mickens until his name turned up again — this time on a police report from Sept. 20.
Around 2 p.m. that day, an off-duty police lieutenant was driving south on Fulton Avenue when he saw a man in black clothing aim a gun at a group of men on the sidewalk. One of the men ran from the crowd and the one with the gun chased him down Fulton and fired. The victim fell near Presstman Street. The gunman fired one more time before running away. The lieutenant saw the gunman shed clothing and disappear onto South Mount Street, then onto a side street. The lieutenant returned to the victim and stayed with him until a Fire Department medic unit arrived and transported him to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
The report identifies the victim as Audie Mickens, 24 years old. He died at 3:35 p.m.
It would be easy to stop here and say that's that – the predictable end to a life that appeared, in District Court five years ago, to be headed toward prison or early death.
But there must have been more to Audie Mickens than foolish thug-think. There must have been something. A Facebook page was dedicated the day after his death. The cover photograph shows a smiling young man with braids and sunglasses atop a motorcycle. As of Friday, the page had 2,535 followers who had posted dozens of comments about Mickens.
The person who created the page called Mickens "a legend, a young dude with an old soul. Full of life. A daddy, a son, a brother and most of all a man."
The neighborhood postal carrier wrote: "I heard the shots when I was delivering the mail. I didn't know this gentleman, but i seen him plenty of times. He would always ask me if i needed a drink. R.I.P. young man and thank you for being kind."
There were so many comments like that. I found myself wondering what Audie Mickens might have offered the world had the circumstances of his life been different. We'll never know.