By Sakara Remmu/Special to CHS
Since 2007, Sakara Remmu has been a reporter and commentator covering social and political issues for KBCS Radio, The Seattle Times, and a number of regional and national news print and online outlets. She is the Founder and Managing Editor of BOMBCo; Black Owned Media Broadcasting Company, and Executive Producer of the podcast series Under the Redline, currently featuring the story of the Killing of Tyrone Love.
In the late 2000s, shootings and murders — particularly of young black men — seemed almost common on the streets of Seattle. The Central District murder of Tyrone Love was different.
When the Seattle Police Department confirmed the identity of the man gunned down near 27th and Cherry February 15th, 2009 it was unlike anything most had seen or felt before. A city, across neighborhoods, race, religion, class and age, collectively knocked down, and stunned into disbelief, despair, and anger.
The bullets that killed Love hit his family, friends, his neighborhood, and the city at large. The funeral was standing room only. It was one of the few times the mayor himself, and not a delegate, attended the funeral of a homicide victim, specifically a black man. The mainstream media, quick to report such incidents as gang-related violence, initially did the same with Love’s murder, casting him an unsympathetic victim, blaming assumed yet inaccurate self-created circumstances. As far as the media was concerned, if Love was murdered because of gang affiliation, then in a way he was responsible for his own death; it’s a narrative we see time and time again.
Love was none of the things Seattle typically associates with shootings and murders of black men. He wasn’t a gang member or criminal. He didn’t have a criminal record. At 26, he was part founder and owner of a successful business with friends and business partners Jamar Jones and Bruce Williams. He was the provider for his family, including his mother, sisters, and girlfriend. Love had a seemingly stellar reputation in Seattle, with no known enemies. The night he was murdered, he was doing what he did countless times, going home from work. There was no particular incident leading up to the murder that provide clues about motive, or suspects; he didn’t argue with anyone and was thought to be alone as he walked. He was simply gunned down on the sidewalk, just blocks from his home.
His girlfriend, Margarita Quevedo-Walker, dropped Love off at work the night he was murdered. She was also the one who realized, hours later, that something was wrong. Love had not come home. In an interview with me in 2009, she recalled waking up around 4:30 in the morning and realizing his side of the bed was empty. She sent out texts to those closest to him, who sent out texts to their networks. No one knew where Love was. By 9:00 AM, the unimaginable was at the front door.
Margarita recounts, “I was upstairs in his room, and the…I can’t really describe it, the scream…I heard his mother Roberta Love scream, and I ran, I almost fell down the stairs onto his mom.” A man, dressed in dark clothes stood in the front doorway.” He didn’t belong, you know? He wasn’t a friend of the family, he didn’t look like anybody…he wasn’t supposed to be there.”
Tattoos on a body in the King County morgue were described to the family. The 26-year-old killed that morning was Love, and the memory of Roberta Love’s scream — a wail of maternal agony — is something Margarita will never forget. “I have dreams about that scream.”
Through the chaos in the immediate aftermath of the killing, one priority became paramount: reclaiming the narrative of Love’s life from the story being told by mainstream media.
Chukundi “Kun” Salisbury runs the SeaSpot Media Company and knew Love like a brother. He did not hesitate to use his media skills, networking, personal and professional relationships to mount a media offensive.
“The narrative in the paper was that Love didn’t have the right to be there at 2:30 in the morning. The mainstream media, instead of saying, ‘well why was he murdered;’ instead it was, ‘what was he doing there in the first place?’ The quickest way for them to get to a conclusion [on the media story] was to say ‘well, they sell dope on that block….so he must have been doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing. Well, I would see him walking in the CD because that was something he liked to do, Love liked walking in his neighborhood. I knew for a fact he wasn’t selling drugs, I knew for a fact that he went to work [that night]. I could say with conviction that he was good.”
What made the difference is “we have the media machine for that, to go on the offensive, but most people don’t. They are dealing with the trauma and the grief. But I knew Love and I was able to articulate his story.”
The work of Salisbury and others, forced the media to push the story in directions that accurately reflected who Love was in life; he worked at the Y and CDSA and had a strong relationship with Madrona Elementary School, which went on to create the Tyrone Love Unsung Hero Award.
Eight years later, no one has been charged with Love’s murder — a reality that has left its own lasting mark. It was assumed from the beginning the killer would quickly be caught, that someone would come forward with critical information. That no one has is its own kind of palpable shame and outrage, still felt today, whenever his name is brought up.
“Once we didn’t get to the bottom of it in the first five or six months, I resigned myself that it wasn’t going to be solved anytime soon, says Chukundi. “Even though people say [the police] aren’t doing anything, and as a person who has closely and kept an eye on police with Mothers for Police Accountability and Police Chief’s advisory and worked with the police over the years, I believe,the detective is trying and the detective wants to close the case. I don’t believe that these detectives don’t care killed Tyrone Love. I’m hopeful, that one day they will bring Love’s killer to justice. There is definitely a feeling out there, it’s known who killed Love and that the police know too.”
The lack of an arrest hasn’t quelled the rumors or theories about who killed Love, and why. There were rumors Love was murdered because he witnessed a shooting outside Vito’s on First Hill and was working with police. Those closest to him dismiss the idea, and the police would neither confirm nor deny. The latest rumor, is the department does know who killed Love, and have their own reasons for not bringing charges.
According to information released by Seattle Police Department at the time of the murder, after leaving a routine night at work, Love was walking alone on E Cherry when a man pulled up in a car, jumped out and shot him several times. The suspect then ran back to his car and sped off.
At the time it was reported the killer drove a newer red Dodge Charger or a Chrysler 300. The driver wore a puffy black jacket with a fur-rimmed hood, and police said there may have been two people in the car.
The story of Tyrone Love is not about police brutality. It is not about police reforms or failures, institutionalized racism, disproportionality in arrests, convictions and penalties. It isn’t about restorative justice or a new, radical approach to policing. It’s about the homicide of an innocent victim who just happened to be a great person who was brutally murdered.
Homicide detectives do not speak publicly or to the media about active investigations. For the department, it protects the integrity of the investigation and any future criminal prosecution. But for the rest of us, journalists, friends, communities, the curious, sometimes even family members are largely if not completely in the dark as to whatever is or isn’t being don’t on any given case. In a society where distrust of police across communities, particularly black and other communities of color, the lack of information, coupled with trauma of violent crime, and nurtured with unending media coverage of cops doing it wrong- being left in the dark is also like being left in a room with a blank slate; people start to fill it in. Rumors, speculation, distrust, paranoia, lies, truths and the completely irrelevant all mix together to fill in an often nonsensical canvas. In the end, we have no more answers or facts, and countless brushstrokes to separate.
Sharing his personal recollection, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb of the Seattle Police Department said, “Love was just a young man, just a really good guy, many friends, and no known enemies, just leaving work at the normal hour [event] promoters typically do, and for no reason, for no apparent reason he was shot and killed and there was a tremendous outpouring about, why? Why was this done? This wasn’t an incident where he was involved in a feud with someone else, this was’t an incident where he’d gotten into a physical fight with someone else and maybe they followed him, this was just a random act of sheer violence, and that’s what really sticks with me. It hurts the community, and it hurts the family.”
“These cases are so important,” Whitcomb said. “it is such a responsibility to safeguard these cases, information is kept close.” After police release initial information about crimes in Seattle, staying off the record, for detectives, is the norm. But that doesn’t mean police don’t want and need these cases to have the attention of the public.
“In the case of Love, I remember years afterwards during a news conference in the community with Love’s two sisters, and it was right there on the corner where it happened. Salisbury helped organized it, and it was a community driven event to commemorate this tragedy, and bring some added attention to it and so we were very happy to participate, just like this interview,” Whitcomb said. “People are not knocking down our doors asking for updates, and that’s typically how it is, the news moves on but the families are stuck, the friends are stuck, sometimes you have kids who grow up without a mother or a father. For us, we don’t move on either. This is an obligation. We will continue to work. Tyrone Love is not a cold case.”
In the age of crime TV, the public often assumes forensic or DNA evidence will eventually solve everything. Just as critical however, is individuals contacting police with anything they know, saw, or have heard in this case.
“No one should ever feel that the information they have has no value or will be dismissed, we always want to know, it could be second hand, third hand, rumor, if you are in possession of that one piece of the puzzle that is the difference a charged case and a suspicion, we need to have it,” Whitcomb said.
Even though it has been eight years, old rumors about the murder of Tyrone Love persist, and new ones seem to crop up seemingly out of nowhere. The latest: Police know who killed Love but have chosen not to arrest or charge him, instead counting him as a “confidential informant” to police on other, unrelated cases. If in fact such a rumor has taken hold, then a potential witness who has yet to come forward may believe the rumor and decide what they have to share is not important to police, and what police need in cases like Love’s is for people to say what they know, whatever it may be.
“The worst thing that can happen to a case like this,” said Whitcomb, “is the assumption that the police have already solved it. To specifically address this idea that the person who murdered Tyrone Love has a relationship with the department that could possibly be beneficial to the department is patently false. There is no truth to that. That would be saying that it’s okay for someone to kill. The problem with rumors like this, ‘oh the cops know but…’ that is detrimental. There is no confidential informant in the case of Tyrone Love, because that confidential information would be in jail. This case is unsolved.”
Love for Love
In the weeks after the murder, friends and strangers came together to raise over $20,000 to cover the costs of Love’s funeral, and provide for the immediate needs of his mother and sisters. The funeral was standing room only. It was one of the few times the mayor himself, and not a delegate, attending the funeral of a homicide victim, specifically a black man. A benefit concert saw attendees give single dollars, crumpled twenties, and crisp benjamins to honor the life and work of a man respected throughout Seattle.
But murder takes a toll. The loss of Love destroyed his family. Their lives were ripped out from under them. His sisters lived in fear of the killer or killers, terrified it might be someone they knew. His mother’s heart broke and her will to live went along with it. Roberta Love died a few years later, never knowing for sure who killed her son, or why.
After Love’s lifeless body was removed from the murder scene, a makeshift memorial grew at the spot he fell, dying, and Quevedo-Walker, his girlfriend went to see it for herself. Flowers, candles and pictures could not pull her attention from the five spray painted dots that marked where Love’s head, arms and feet had been. A scratched button from his clothes, discarded in the horror of murder, sat on the sidewalk. No one else seemed to notice. “I still have it,” she said, “the button.”
This article contains excerpts from Under the Redline, a Seattle-based podcast series. You can hear the full podcast about Tyrone Love with extended interviews and commentary at bombmediacompany.com.