‘Talk is cheap’ activists say after death of former Hamilton basketball player shot in head
MORRISVILLE, PA. >> They come to him when their friends die, crossing the “Trenton Makes” bridge to enlist him to create memorial T-shirts and banners that appear at makeshift vigils on too many Trenton blocks.
“Sad to say, I’ve done a lot of people’s shirts since I’ve been here,” said 41-year-old Derrick Coleman, a Trenton artist and activist better known as DC the Voice. “A lot of times what I try to do with the youth, when I get an opportunity to speak to them, I tell them that life is not promised. We have to take life seriously and appreciate everything. A lot of kids out here dying for the wrong reasons.”
Former Nottingham High School basketball player Kuyler Fowler, 19, of Hamilton, became the capital city’s most recent murder victim after he was shot in the head early Wednesday morning in a residential area near Greg Grant Park, in the city’s East Ward by the North Ward border.
Cops found a gruesome scene when they arrived after midnight as community activists like Coleman and Darren “Freedom” Green were left trying to reconcile the senseless violence.
Fowler was sitting inside his friend, 19-year-old Treyvion Laws’ Audi on the 900 block of East State Street when someone lit up the car, riddling it with more than 20 bullets. Another 16-year-old was shot, cops said, but Laws escaped unscathed.
“What we really need is you to come in office and help these youth see a better way and the community will flourish and grow,” said Coleman, who voted for the fourth-place finisher Green in the mayoral election.
Coleman doesn’t believe the next elected mayor, either 2014 runner-up Paul Perez or Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, is Trenton’s messiah.
“The only people that can bring about the change is the people of Trenton. I’m not going to put all my hopes and trusts in some man in a suit behind a desk,” he said. “Make whoever got that suit on go handle that business. We putting too much power in this one individual’s hand. No one individual can do anything. It’s like Obama said, it’s gotta start from the grassroots.”
Laws went Thursday afternoon to the Sip-N-Spin laundromat to pay and pick up the life-sized memorial banner from Coleman after he enlisted the artist, who has been drawing since he was six years old and attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia, to honor his fallen friend.
“That was my boy since the sandbox,” Laws told The Trentonian about Fowler.
The two went to Woodrow Wilson Elementary School together in Trenton and spent nearly every waking moment with each, playing basketball and video games, cracking jokes and going to LA Fitness.
“I know for a fact when I wake up in the morning; I got to call him ’cause I got a missed call from him ’cause he callin’ me in the morning, trying to get me up every day,” Laws said.
No arrests or charges have been made in the Fowler’s murder as detectives from the Mercer County Homicide Task Force continued to investigate what motivated the shooting.
Stung by the loss of his best friend — Fowler called him his “brudda — Laws, who goes by Trey Twizz on Facebook, took to social media in a series of posts remembering his friend, lamenting that he allowed Fowler into his car that day and alluding to possible payback.
But in an interview with The Trentonian, Laws distanced himself from the alleged threats, saying he wasn’t planning to retaliate. Any posts he made insinuating violence were rap lyrics, he said.
“That’s a song,” Laws, an aspiring rapper, said about the threats, adding that he plans to record a song honoring Fowler.
“His death just gonna inspire me to go harder with this music. I ain’t with all that other shit. The whole team behind. We push music. We gonna get up out of here with it.”
The two went shopping in the hours before Fowler was gunned, Laws said, offering little insight into why his friend was killed, though police sources who spoke on condition of anonymity believe Fowler was not the intended target of the shooting.
Sources believe the Laws was the intended target, though Laws said he was puzzled as to why anybody would target him.
“Wrong time, wrong place,” Laws said, claiming he wasn’t around when the shooting happened. “He just wanted to sit down and charge his phone inside the car.”
Fowler actually shared a Facebook post of Laws standing next to the Audi before his death.
Laws, who also knew the 16-year-old, couldn’t provide helpful information to detectives who interviewed him.
He didn’t reveal to The Trentonian where he was when the shooting happened other than to say, ”I was chillin’. It’s personal, but I was chillin’.”
Asked if he was afraid someone may be gunning for him, he said he was “all right, I’m good. I don’t have nothin’ goin’ on with nobody. I don’t know what’s goin’ on with that, bruh, to be honest.”
Fowler, who went by the nickname KSwerve and Chef, attended Nottingham High School where he studied physics, according to his Facebook. He also played basketball for the school most recently in 2017, according to an online roster.
Nottingham boys basketball coach Chris Raba, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, tweeted about Fowler’s death.
Nottingham Basketball Family’s heart is broken. RIP Kuyler. You will never be forgotten. pic.twitter.com/jy9d3GpYj7
— Chris Raba (@coach_raba) May 30, 2018
Friends and family took to social media to urge people not to count Fowler out after he was taken to the hospital in “extremely critical condition.”
His cousin, Meesha Robinson, posted on Facebook that she remembered changing Fowler’s diapers feeding him as a baby.
“He had so much curly hair yo and used to be crawling fast asf backwards,” she wrote. ”We said he was moonwalking.”
Fowler proudly repped the East Side of Trenton and hinted at his hardscrabble life. He grew up at his grandmother’s house on Hart Avenue, which he tattooed on his arm to remind him of his roots, after he lost his father at a young age, Laws said.
“From the struggle so that’s who I do it for: 22 Hart Av,” Fowler wrote in Feb. 12 post with a picture of his tatted-up arm. “The harder the struggle the greater the triumph. #EastSide #RipL #RipCag #RipFats #RipLance #RipMeer #RipDad.”
Laws said, “His love for her is unconditional. That’s all he talked about.”
Fowler posted pictures of himself smiling with large stacks of cash.
Laws suggested in a Facebook post he tried to steer Fowler to stay on the straight and narrow.
Stemming the violence on the streets of Trenton has been hot-topic discussed by the mayoral candidates.
With Green out of the race, Coleman is skeptical.
“You see some of the candidates come around,” he said. “These candidates only come around in the community when they want to get elected. And that’s fraud. That’s phony. We don’t even know you. … If you don’t give the youth options, what do you expect. I’m definitely tired of seeing my young black brothers and sisters falling victim to a street life that’s designed to destroy them. These kids didn’t ask to be in this world. They was born into this world and then left.”
Green, who got behind Perez after he was eliminated from contention, said he’ll be in the 2014 runner-up’s ear if he’s elected.
Deterring violence starts by offering the youth “safe havens and safe spaces,” said Green, who grew up with Trenton’s since-abandoned weed and seed program.
Some candidates have kicked around the idea of beefing up Trenton’s rank-and-file which hovers under 300 for an 8-square-mile city whose force was devastated by layoffs.
“We don’t need more police. Police just agitate the situation,” he said.
Coleman pointed to Trenton’s stunted social life as a factor contributing to the violence among youth.
Ignoring the problem perpetuates it, Green said, adding that re-educating residents about how they view cops and encouraging them to cooperate to help solve crimes is critical, the longtime community activist said.
“If a 19-year-old can get his brain blown out and a mayor and the city council don’t say a word, that kinda means his life didn’t have value,” Green said. “Silence is the greatest form of betrayal.”
Coleman believes “music and art are the language of the spirit” that can rehabilitate Trenton. He’s just tired of the lip service from leaders.
“You gotta be the vision so they could see the vision,” he said. “We the industry. Together we stand. Divided we fall. That’s the secret. They divide us all. Talk is cheap. [The youth] been hearing talk all their life. Walk with them. Do you love them enough like that to walk with them?”
Inside the laundromat, harsh reality sank in as Laws and Coleman held up Fowler’s banner, marking the streets latest casualty.
“A lot man,” Laws said, unable to arrive at a number of friends he’s lost. “Same ones he’s lost.”