Saturday, March 9, 2013

Becoming a Heroine

Brandy Hamblin

"A heroine, like a novelist, can convert the least promising of lives into art by the way she looks at it." 
Rachel Brownstein, Becoming a Heroine

Along with tens of thousands of others, I first encountered Brandy Hamblin in print, or more precisely, pixels on a screen. I read her words as reported in the St. Louis Post Dispatch article in which she was describing an anguished final telephone conversation with her ex-husband (and father of her son) on the night he was exterminated by Farmington, Missouri law enforcement, and cronies. But I couldn't help but notice that even through her upset, she was scrupulous about conveying the main and telling detail for anyone who cared to see it:
"I heard rapid gunfire," she said in an interview Tuesday. "It sounded like an ambush, like someone had lit a whole block of Black Cats (firecrackers)." 
What an astute young woman, I remember thinking at the time

Reading those words again now...sounded like an ambush, like someone had lit a whole block of Black Cats...I remain struck by her keen intelligence: both her personal smarts and what she lucidly seized the opportunity to relate. Another woman might have succumbed to the panic and dread of the moment, sunk into a quagmire of the kind of emotionalism so rampant around here. But Brandy didn't. Not at all. Her brain didn't switch off just because her heart had been shattered, and her son traumatized. And that's where my admiration for her began.

A necessary digression: Farmington, Missouri, which Brandy has called home since 1998, and which is also my home for the past two years, is currently the subject of a probe by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri with respect to its use of SWAT teams, military-style gear and ops, and tracking devices. With just over 16,000 in population, it's rather amazing that our town is coming under ACLU scrutiny along with the City and County of St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri.

The next phase of our relationship, Brandy’s and mine, came to be as members of a private Facebook group she co-administers: RIP Callion “Smoke/Kinloch” Hamblin. This is a somewhat delicate task because a number of the mourners in the group were Cal's lovers, some from the time after their marriage ended, and some from the time before. But as Brandy recently wrote me with her special brand of humor and generosity: 

LoL that man did get around but you know in my old age I don't even care I have moved past all of that. We ALL LOVED CAL! And that's why we are doing this.

Brandy is such a genuinely lovely person, I’m sure I speak for everyone in the group when I say that one always looks forward to her posts and comments on others’ posts. Hers is a sure and steady kind of friendly leadership, the kind that sees you all the way through, without drama. Posts like: 
Merry Christmas Cal, u have been heavy on my mind lately. Have been missin you bunches. I know u were here with us in spirit today..........wishin you could "get a plate". Lol Just thinking of you puts a smile on my face. You may be gone from this earth but you will live in our hearts forever. We love and miss you so much.

Seasons passed and it came to be that the Facebook group committed to organizing a commemorative rally on the one-year anniversary of the taking of Callion’s life. I took a shine to Brandy at our first meeting. I remember her as being open, refreshingly so for this area, but at the same time nobody’s fool. 

Plus she’d come to the meeting after a long shift (She works at an area nursing home as an LPN in an Alzheimer’s ward) and was game to try what I was serving, a delightful beverage that involved a tumbler of icy apple cider stirred with an ice-breaking pour of Jameson’s whiskey. 

Brandy did a lot of talking that first meeting, which was wonderful for us all. So much had been bottled up for so long, she needed to get it out and we needed to hear it. Because every word she was speaking was all true, every bit of it had actually happened; it was real, not some horror movie we'd all seen or nightmare we'd weirdly shared

No..., they really had killed him in a hail of bullets, they actually did leave his desecrated body to bleed out on the frozen ground from 2am to 6am, even though an ambulance was already on the scene. If they had tried, maybe they could have saved his life. But they didn't even try.

Photo from the St. Louis Post Dispatch
 The day before the rally (pictured below), Brandy fielded questions from a journalist writing a national story for the Associated Press in which he publicly revealed the details of the autopsy report for the first time, as well as a very high-profile radio webcaster from NYC. In Alan Scher Zagier's story that appeared all over the country on February 19 and 20, 2013, Brandy made this excellent point:
"I know Cal was in the wrong,"  said Brandy Hamblin,"..."He should have turned himself in. I just don't think that should have served as his death warrant."
Brandy's responses to Ed Champion's tough questions begin around the 27-minute mark, just after the county coroner confirms that Callion took six bullets to the back from all angles
Keandre, age 11, and Xavier, age 12, Brandy's son with Callion (on right)

Brandy tells the story of the events of that night in our video (soon to be completed!) which is to be called: “Shown No Mercy: Remembering Callion Hamblin.” Her account, while conveyed with utter poise, is not for the squeamish. It’s hard not to admire a woman who in one fell swoop goes from never having spoken on camera before to telling a very tough story with a lot of grace and compassion for her listeners. 

Drawings by Callion Hamblin

In addition, Brandy has given a number of very fine radio interviews, and doubtless will have to give countless more as this story continues to grow in consequence and resonance.We spoke after her interview with KDBB, it was a very emotional interview for her, her first with the local media since the news that Callion had taken six bullets to the back. 

She laughed because even though she had felt herself to be prepared she got a little flustered, and instead of saying "Know Your Rights" the words that came out were: "Right to Know!"

The ACLU will be sniffing the air in Farmington, MO this Wednesday, March 13, 7pm at Long Memorial Hall

A second necessary digression: KDBB Bonne Terre is also running a more in-depth story about Wednesday's ACLU program sponsored by our group this Monday. This expanded coverage is most welcome because not only have the local papers not written in a fair way about our event, they won't even allow it to appear on their "community" calendar listing, even though I dropped by their offices twice in Park Hills and spoke with their IT director, so I know for a fact it's not a technical snafu. Just pure out and out suppression. The other local paper (all part of the same corporate outfit), printed this uninformative opinion piece.

It's risible that, like children, they wish to pretend that if they don't pay attention to our event, that it isn't happening. Earth to Lee Enterprises: Not only is it happening but we will have plenty of news coverage of the event with or without your deliberate disinformation campaign. 

The last thing I'll say about my friend Brandy is that her courage is contagious. While I was posting flyers of our event in Park Hills, Missouri, a neighboring town, I chanced upon the office of one of the bail bondsman who gained $25,000 by helping to make sure Callion Hamblin was good and dead. I couldn't resist, I snapped this shot:

My Not So Very Silent Fuck You to Mike Cross and the Horse He Rode In On

Mostly because I hoped it would make Brandy laugh. I'll ask her when I see her Wednesday at Long Memorial Hall, if it did!

1 comment:

  1. Charlee Byington, the mother of Callion's son Keandre, age 11, pictured above with his brother Xavier, wanted me to make sure that everyone knows that Callion was the father of two sons. She was concerned that the way the caption of the picture of the boys was worded that that might not be clear. She would have left this comment herself but had technical difficulties.

    So thank you Charlee for both your input and the chance to remind this blog's readers that the absurd killing of Callion Hamblin left not one, but two, boys--Keandre (Charlee's son) and Xavier (Brandy's son)--fatherless.

    Justice for Dre and X!


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