Monday, March 17th, 2008 at 9:56 pm in Night Owl.
Today was a day of celebrating the start of a new Oakland locale and the mourning the death of Oakland artist Casper Banjo, who was shot and killed Friday night. It was quite a contrast to go from talking on the telephone to Banjo’s grieving niece, who was in shock over her uncle’s somewhat mysterious death, to the chatty crowd at Awaken Cafe’s sneak preview of the 14th Street Downtown java house — in less than five minutes. I hate to juxtapose the two. Awaken Cafe is readying to open a scaled-down, coffee-to-go version of the cafe by the end of the month. Maybe sooner. The owners transformed a Korean barbeque joint into a light, airy cafe. Renovation of the Golden Bull bar, which they also took over, into a full-scale cafe, night spot, gallery and performance space is still in progress but it looks grand even now.
That’s Oakland for you: The city giveth and taketh away.
It was just Friday that I was leaving the gallery opening for a show by Oakland artist James Gayles, who was a colleague and had done shows with Banjo, when I found out that someone had been shot by an officer. All I could write for the Saturday paper was the skeleton of a story because only the scantest information was available. But today the details were clearer.
Police said Banjo was waving a gun Friday night on 73rd Avenue outside the Eastmont Mall precinct, near his home. Officers ordered him to put down the firearm, which turned out to be a replica. No idea where he got it or why he had it. Everyone agreed, however, that for Banjo to be out waving a gun at night didn’t gibe with the man they knew, that he had been complaining about side-effects of the medication he was taking after major heart surgery a year ago and that he feared losing his low-rent apartment.
There will be more in Tuesday’s Trib story, which isn’t online yet.
What bothers me after writing the story is that a 71-year-old man could be poor, reliant on Section-8 housing and ailing not only from poor health but from his medication. He kept working in his small apartment because he was too ill to travel to a studio. He made do, in other words. What a sad ending to a talented artist.