One More Martyr in a Dirty War: The Life and Death of Brad Will
Brad Will always turned up where things were happening. Even to write that in the past tense seems strange, almost laughable, and nobody would laugh about it more than he would, with his conspiratorial raised-eyebrow chuckle, a laugh that let you in on a secret joke. To write it in the past tense negates the immortality that we often felt around each other. But he’s dead now, and so I have to write it that way, because it seems the only way to believe it enough so as to set some part of his story down. I still half-expect him to come rolling around the corner on his bike, dirty from traveling, eating a dumpster-dived bagel while gesticulating theatrically, recounting his latest adventures in Brazil or the South Bronx.
In a decade of living in New York City, time and again I would run into Brad in the middle of the action, whatever that action happened to be: a street protest at the Republican National Convention, a guerrilla dance party on the subway, a crowd of thousands fleeing the collapse of the Twin Towers. I once saw him, while being chased by the police among hundreds of bicyclists on a protest ride through Times Square, shoulder his bicycle and run right over the top of a taxi to freedom. He always gravitated toward the conflict and conflagration, loved getting close enough to touch before leaping back. He was fearless, and he usually got away with it, coming back with stories of how the cops were just inches from grabbing him, how the railroad bull walked right by his hiding place without spotting him. And later, as he went further, to countries where tectonic social conflicts rumbled just below the surface, drawn by that same impulse, some junk-craving of conscience and adrenaline, he spoke of how the bullets whizzed by without hitting him.
So when a friend of ours called me one morning in late October 2006, her voice cracking in that tone that conveys the worst news: it’s Brad … I already knew, but still didn’t believe. Everything else was mere detail, whens and wheres, unmoored fragments of fact: Oaxaca. Filming a street demonstration during the teachers’ strike down there. Twice in the chest. Never made it to the hospital.
He filmed his own assassination.