That Guy Was My Friend, Part 1

Katie, Dennis, and Jake, circa 2000

Today would’ve been Jake’s 30th birthday. As a tribute, I’d like to share a lesson I learned five years ago….

On April 4, 2005, at approximately 1:00 AM, my friend Jake Faust was pulled over by police officers while driving past the Golden West Hotel in downtown San Diego. What happened over the next few minutes remains a controversy to this day, but somehow, Jake ended up getting shot three times in the chest. The incident was reported all over the local news.

Two nights after he was killed, Jake’s friends arranged a candlelight vigil in front of the hotel. Unfortunately, I had been out of town, and by the time I found out about Jake, I had already missed the vigil. Still, I wanted to pay my respects, so I raced back to San Diego and headed downtown on my own the next afternoon. As I drove past the hotel, I could barely make out the small gathering of flowers and candles on the sidewalk. They seemed an almost insignificant speck in front of that massive building. Even after I parked, even as I walked towards the memorial, it all looked so small and trivial. Many of the candles still burned, and there were plenty of people walking along the sidewalk. But no one gave those flowers and candles more than a passing glance.

I knelt down, and I added my own flower and candle to the mix. And as I continued to kneel, taking a moment to Jake—and to myself—I started to catch the murmurs from the people walking on the sidewalk behind me.

Did someone die right there?

Hey, that must be where that guy got shot by the cops.

Yes, it was true. This was where “that guy” got shot. This was where “that guy” died. The thing is, “that guy” was my friend. And I wanted to turn around and scream at the top of my lungs to everyone who passed by.

Stop talking about “that guy!”

He’s not just “that guy!”

But what was the use? To all these random people walking down Fourth Avenue on this random Tuesday afternoon, he was just some motorist they read about in the paper. He was some unlucky guy who had a run-in with the cops. He was a footnote, a statistic, on a simmering issue of police brutality. As far as these people were concerned, he was simply “that guy who got shot.”

But to me, he was a friend. And this was the spot that my friend lost his life. I wished all those people walking past me would realize this, would understand this, but I knew he meant nothing to them. And so, as I knelt there alone, as the people passing by continued to cast curious but superficial glances over the flowers and the candles, I could only whisper to myself.

That guy was my friend. “That guy” was my friend.

And that’s when I realized how cold and detached people have become to the violence in the world. “Incidents” that we hear about on the news involve human beings. You may not know them, you may not have any feelings for them, but somebody probably did. And when you decide to tap your friend on the shoulder and try to start a casual conversation with, “dude, did you hear about that guy who got shot by the cops the other night,” someone who cared about that guy might be standing nearby.

So, the next time you feel inclined to make a passing comment about some incident that happened to some random person, please be weary of your idle chatter. It may come across as tactless to those whose hearts the incident struck close to. You’re not expected to be sympathetic to someone else’s loss. But maybe the least you can do is to be sensitive to it.

Jake Faust was my friend. And it saddens me that the rest of San Diego will only ever know him as another “that guy.”

Here’s a letter from Evan that I’d like to share with you, as well.


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  • I can’t believe it’s been 5 years…
    I found a link back to my site yesterday from Some guy thinks that Jake’s part of a Lost viral campaign. At least he lives on in the interwebs. We miss you Jake!

  • Pingback: That Guy Was My Friend, Part 2 « Musings on Life and Love

  • Wow, Dennis. That is such a sad story. And you’re right – we (as a society) really have become desensitized to violence. I’m sure I’m guilty of making those kinds of comments – thank you for opening my eyes and making me aware that I should be more sensitive of those who could be around me. And, I’m very sorry for your loss. (Cliché, I know, but it’s all I can think of…)

  • Ok, I think that Jake’s death was a tragedy, and I don’t want to belittle your loss, but I feel you exaggerate a little with the “detachment towards violence” bit (understandable, really, considering your emotional state at that time). I think it really has more to do with the lack of courtesy that the passers-by showed (they should have said something like “May he rest in peace” instead of “Hey, that’s the guy that got shot in the news”), which is part of the general lack of courtesy that many people have.

  • And about that “desensitivisation towards violence” part, I have two points to make:

    1. Biologically, we are programmed to deeply care only for members of our “inner circle” – family, friends – the farther people are from this circle, the less emotional investment we have – basically, the less we care. Cracked has a very interesting article about this called “What is the monkeysphere?”. While I don’t completely agree with this theory (it’s a little too narrow for me), I believe it is mostly true. And that gets us to the second point…

    2. IT’S NOT PRACTICAL for us to be empathic towards a large number of individuals – that is, and should be, reserved for a group thing, like a plane crash, or a tsunami, or anything like that. Honestly, for the rest of San Diego, Jake *should* be “just another guy” – do you think it would be good if all of San Diego would feel the loss of Jake, even if it would be just for five seconds? How about when some other guy or gal in San Diego dies? How about when someone else on the planet dies?! (especially since a person dies every 0.6 second or something like that!)
    It would be utterly debilitating! It’s a *good* thing that people are mostly “cold” towards violence, because that’s how we manage to go on living in face of life’s adversity and tragedies – otherwise we would be overwhelmed with grief and despair by our cruel and crappy little world…

    • I think you kinda missed the point of the article. Notice what I said in the second-to-last line:

      You’re not expected to be sympathetic to someone else’s loss. But maybe the least you can do is to be sensitive to it.

      I’m not asking people to be distraught over his death. Just to exercise some tact towards others who might be.

  • Ok, I think I may have been a little too cold in the last post… 😉
    Let me clarify things: by “cold”, I mean “tough hide”. I certainly don’t mean being an insensitive prick! I definitely don’t believe that douchebaggery it’s a necessary “quality” for surviving and prospering in our little world (though some people do seem to think so…). I totally agree with your third and second-to-last paragraphs – people should mind their manners and respect the feelings of those around them.

    Nonetheless, while I feel sorry for your loss, and for Jake’s death, they are some very mild feelings. I have enough stuff in my life to deal with, I don’t need to deal with the hurt for some stranger in a faraway land…

  • Hey Mr. Hong, or can I call you Dennis? After all, we’re all friends here, right? Right? Dennis? Ahhh, Mr. Hong? Riiight… Ahem. So, it seems I can’t reply to *your* reply directly, so I’ll do it through a new post: my second posting (the one with the “desensitivisation towards violence” part) is part a reply to your article, part a reply to Katie’s post, and part a way for me to let off some steam that I have because of people who believe that the modern society has become too comfortable with violence, especially due to its prevalence in news, movies, videogames etc. (unlike the “old society” – which, as we all know, was very kind, compassionate and humanitarian…). Perhaps this was not the proper place for my little rant, but I only considered that sometime after I pressed the “Add your Reply” button. Sorry about that, I’ll try to be a little more restrained in the future…

    • Yes, Dennis is fine. Or, you can call me Dr. Hong. ;-p

      But seriously, no worries. I figured your rant was based on your own experiences, which is totally understandable. I just wanted to clarify that that’s NOT what I was saying in my post.

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