In so many ways, and despite all the international enterprises moving into the area, Greenville is still a small town. I know three generations of women connected to Chinue, although I did not know him personally. I know his mother, girlfriend and daughter, Mia Hashim (whom he never lived to see).
I was working in customer service when it happened. It is so vivid to me because I was working with Chinue's mother, Cynthia. We were on the same team, taking hundreds of calls a day at a major call center for a mega-corporation. She had a New York accent, and a very direct New York way of speaking. She wouldn't take a lot of shit from customers. She would interrupt them, pointedly asking, sir, do you want me to help you or not? If they didn't stop yowling, she would "introduce them to Michael Bolton"--i.e. put them on hold. I loved her.
I was one of only a handful of white people working on the floor when it happened. And afterwards, I could feel the tension. Of course, there was tension. I remember thinking that I had always heard that key phrase "police shoot unarmed black suspect"--but this time, I was working among the people who understood these events intimately. It wasn't a political rally or TV show. It was Cynthia's son.
It was in the newspaper.
The police raid was described to me in detail by Chinue's fiancee, Erica Mardis, who was then pregnant with Mia. She was sitting outside in the car waiting for Chinue to return, when law enforcement forcibly yanked her from the vehicle, slammed her to the ground and put a gun to her head. She heard a blast, and then "dozens of cops" invaded the house that Chinue had entered only minutes before.
And so, on February 19, 1998, twenty-year-old Chinue Tao Hashim, the beautiful, gentle, talented, unarmed son of my co-worker Cynthia, was dead. The same dreadlocked young man whose photo I had seen so many times, smiling peacefully at us as his mother talked to customers.
On the day after, Cynthia was not at work. African-American co-workers were whispering angrily in the restrooms and breakrooms, the white cops just shot him dead. At first, I didn't realize that the newspaper-story was about Cynthia's son, since their last names are different.
Within hours, I learned the truth. I was heartsick, and I wept.
The police raid and murder of Chinue was controversial enough to warrant a lawsuit, the details of which I don't know and aren't public. The raid itself was written up by no less than the Cato Institute in their groundbreaking report titled OVERKILL: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America:
A deputy in Greenville County, South Carolina shoots and kills unarmed drug suspect Chinue Tao Hashim during a SWAT raid.Erica says there was no "gun on the table" either, and that's all bullshit. He did not enter the house with a gun, period.
While negotiating a drug deal with Hashim, one undercover officer says over the radio, "a gun is on the table," meaning that a gun was part of the alleged drug bargain. When the SWAT team raids, Master Deputy John Eldridge interprets the radio remark to mean Hashim is armed. As the raid commences, Eldridge thinks he sees Hashim reaching for a gun, and opens fire.
A subsequent investigation revealed that what Eldridge thought was a gun was actually the glint from a wristwatch. Prosecutors declined to press charges against Eldridge.
But there is another detail missing: Chinue couldn't have been reaching for a gun, because he was holding a boxer puppy in his hands.