|Shooting the shooters: George Rice says he should've known better than to put himself in danger.|
After making a documentary about urban crime, a Germantown man
is held up at gunpoint.
by Kia Gregory
It was a Saturday night this past February that George Rice says
he got caught slippin'.
Rice had spent the past several hours hanging out with old friends
in the Northeast. Around 2 a.m. he found himself standing at Water and Tabor streets,
in the shadowy surroundings of an elementary school, a church and a funeral home.
He was on his cell phone with a lady friend, waiting for a taxi to take him home
"What's up, brutha," he nodded to a passer-by,
a young black guy in a black hoodie.
"What's going on," the guy said back, continuing
up the street.
Rice went back to talking to his lady friend.
Minutes later he felt the barrel of a shotgun dig into his back.
He heard the click of a gun being cocked.
"Come on, muthafucka," said the guy in the black hoodie.
"Take a walk with me."
They crossed the street to St. James United Methodist Church.
Rice couldn't believe this was happening. As he says over
and over in the retelling, he's from New York. He knows better.
"You look like a muthafucka that got some money," the
guy said, motioning Rice down the church steps and into a narrow walkway. He ordered
Rice to put his hands up against the fence.
"If you don't have what I'm looking for,"
the guy said, "I'm gonna blow your fuckin' back out."
Rice believed him.
For an instant he also believed he could take the gun, but pushed
the idea away.
"I could've lost my life," he says later. "But
I told myself God brought me to a better place. He wouldn't let me go out this
At 37, George Rice's life has been
filled with violence, which he finally resolved by making an antiviolence documentary
The film he made opens with headlines like:
"CHILD GUNNED DOWN NEAR PLAYGROUND."
"FATHER OF 8 DIES OVER PETTY DISPUTE."
"CHEESESTEAKS, PRETZELS AND GENOCIDE. WELCOME TO PHILADELPHIA."
In a barbershop a customer lifts his shirt to reveal jagged bullet
wounds. On a street corner people with speeches and signs rally against violence.
He visits the school where a 10-year-old was shot in the head at the schoolyard
gate and a funeral home where a mother cries over her 18-year-old son's casket.
In one chilling scene Rice is at a Germantown train station talking
to those who represent the victims and perpetrators of the city's gun violence-young
"You gotta find a way to put that money in your pocket,"
explains Jon, 17. "If that means sticking somebody up, selling drugs or knocking
somebody over," he says, shrugging his shoulders, "so be it."
It's a safe bet the guy in the black hoodie felt the
Later in the film Rice looks for answers with another group of
boys sitting on steps.
"If somebody looks at you the wrong way, you feel like, 'Oh,
he disrespecting me,'" says one.
"If you got that gun, you got some power," explains
another. "I don't care if he 7 feet tall. If he look at me wrong, I'm
gonna shoot him. That's the way most people think."
But Rice, along with the people he interviews, doesn't blame
a lack of education, racism, bad policing, unemployment, deep poverty or the
flow of illegal guns and drugs.
He blames parents.
He blames them for the apathy that allows kids to drop out of
high school, then sleep, smoke weed and do nothing all day. He blames them for the
kids who have no fear of death because they have no hope for life.
"I'm sick of adults pointing the finger at the youth,"
says Rice. "They care when a bullet comes whizzing through their window and
hurts someone they love. They whine and cry when their kids are arraigned, or at
a funeral. But what do they do before that? Not a damn thing."
In making his documentary,
which he's shown at churches and universities in various cities, Rice says
he attended more than 100 funerals. All of the bodies in coffins were male, and
most were young and black or Latino. Rice considers each death tragically senseless.
His own life story is a string
of tragic chapters, which he retells in the slow calmness that comes with either
acceptance or denial. His mother died of a brain aneurysm at 27. He barely knows
his Dominican father, who spent the early years of his life in prison as part of
a family of drug dealers. Most of his childhood friends, uncles, cousins and nephews
are either dead, in prison or on the run.
At one point, when he was moving from relative to relative, bouncing
from Missouri to Detroit to New York, Rice took up his father's family business.
"I was an animal, man," Rice says. "I used to hustle
crazy back in the day."
One day a friend he hadn't seen in a while welcomed him with:
"Nigga, you still alive?"
Rice was 22. The greeting served as a wake-up call.
Today Rice is an entrepreneur, a partner in both media and clothing
companies. His work has taken him to Tokyo and London, and next month he'll
travel to Durban, South Africa, with a local church group, to talk about his documentary.
He's also working on another film, and plans to hire some of the same young
men he featured in the first one.
In many ways he relates to them.
In the days after that frightening February night, he says he
ached to get a gun of his own and head back to the Northeast to look for any guy
wearing a black hoodie.
"After I had more time to think about it," Rice says,
"I realized that unlike him, I still have a forward life to pursue."
The guy in the black hoodie had his own pursuits.
"I do this all the time," he told Rice at the time of
the stick-up. "I don't want your personal shit. I want your money."
He then took Rice's cash, but left him with the one thing
Rice says he would've died for: an ID from 1972 that belonged to his mother.
Once he had the cash, the guy ordered Rice to take the battery
out of his cell phone and walk up Water Street.
When Rice looked back, he was gone.