Jim Gifford walked up to the 7-11 about 6 o’clock Saturday morning.
He wanted a Post-Standard, a bottle of Coke, a package of donuts, and, for lunch, a can of soup.
He was 70, and a slight man.
He was also a meek man.
As in “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” He treated others the way he wanted to be treated. He loved his neighbor as himself.
For years he had been an elder at the Elmwood Presbyterian Church, and volunteered regularly at the food pantry, and before he retired in the cold mornings when he boarded the Centro bus he usually had a cup of hot coffee to hand to the driver.
And on Saturday morning before the sun had risen he walked up to the 7-11 to get the paper.
Romeo Williams was 18 and out on bail. It was a felony thing about a loaded stolen gun, one of four such arrests he’s faced over the last two years. That was just gun arrests. He had five others, having to do with theft in the neighborhood or violence in the jail. That’s nine offenses in two years.
And, of course, whatever’s sealed in his juvenile record.
And he’s walking the street.
And he was somewhere outside the 7-11 when Jim Gifford walked out with his donuts and soup.
That’s when he hit him.
One quick, unseen, ruthless slamming punch to the back of the head.
It was Romeo Williams and a few of his friends and when the old man came out of the store the police say Romeo came up behind him and sucker punched him right in the back of the head.
The police call it the knockout game. The Internet calls it polar bear hunting. It’s probably happened three times that we know of in recent months in Syracuse. An elderly white person, a bunch of teen-aged black kids, a sucker punch.
Jim Gifford dropped where he stood.
As he lay there unconscious on the sidewalk, Romeo Williams ran into the 7-11 hooting and hollering, doing his end-zone dance. He waved his hat in the air and celebrated his success.
Then he went back out to stomp him.
That’s the other part of the game.
Romeo Williams stood over Jim Gifford and started stomping his head. Seventy-year-old unconscious man, 18-year-old criminal monster. And the police say Romeo Williams smashed his foot down onto Jim Gifford’s skull, and then kicked him in the face over and over and over.
Until his pals grabbed him and pulled him off and they all ran away.
A passerby started CPR.
Jim Gifford died last night.
And this is three. Two of them are dead and one of them, a woman, lay unconscious on the sidewalk for an hour or two before she came to and made her way to a relative’s house.
Elderly white people snuck up on and attacked by a group of teen-aged minority kids. The same kids? No. The same animal savagery? Yes.
In Syracuse, New York, not that far from the university, a city, like so many anymore, where the most senseless violence is almost commonplace.
The mayor stood sternly and said it was “deviant.” The chief grasped the lectern as if to restrain his rage and indignation. They wore black.
It’s an ugly stain on a beautiful town.
Good met evil Saturday morning outside the 7-11. Good had the Post-Standard in his hand, evil had murder in his heart.
And evil won.