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Interview By Marina Galperina
Published in: ANIMAL | New York | July 2, 2012

ANIMAL’s original series asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week, Clayton Patterson remembers a dealer who got shot on the Lower East Side in the early ’90s.

I Should Have Shot That! series is illustrated by James Noel Smith 2012
I Should Have Shot That! series is illustrated by James Noel Smith

Yeah, I got one. Alright, so I live on Essex, and where I live, there was always a really heavy drug area. And for the most part, out in front of where I live, they used to sell hits, which are two different kinds of pharmaceuticals that would make you really stoned out for about 12 hours. A lot of people from Jersey would to buy it. People would stand out in front and pound their hands together and that meant that they had hits. On the next block there’s this guy named Raymond. Now Raymond sold heroin, and he had a bag called “black,” and he was also right across the street from the school. He had a little bodega there on Stanton Street. He used to keep his weights at the guy next door Louie’s apartment. Eventually, they busted Ray, and Louie, who worked in a silkscreen place, because he kept it — his rent was like $200 a month or whatever, Raymond would pay for his rent. Louie ended up getting about 25 years, ’cause cops raided the apartment and it was Louie’s.

So anyway, one day in front of my place… Now for the most part, the Puerto Ricans ran the heroin: the Dominicans, coke; the Puerto Ricans, heroin and hits. So, Tony, he worked, y’know, selling hits, and somehow he got into a conflict with Raymond. Now Tony was in front by my place, which was between Stanton and Houston, and Raymond had the block down, plus the store on Stanton and whatever. Anyway, Raymond had these two little guys working for him and they were about 5 foot 1, little guys, and all of the sudden they come out one day and I see Tony running down the street and I see these little guys chasing him: Boom, Boom, Boom! They’re shooting at him.

I was able to pop off one shot but it was really blurry ’cause you just saw these two little dudes. Anyway, they got Tony down on Rivington and Essex. They shot him. I get down there. Now, there’s no ambulance. There’s no cops. There’s no nothing. So, there’s a car service there — Dominican car service, so the guy knew Tony. So we got Tony into that black limo. I jumped into the front and Tony was in the back.

So I look back at Tony… It’s about the size of my little finger, this burnt hole — like a cigarette burn in a white sweater, white acrylic sweater. I thought, “Ohhhh, I should take a photograph.” And I just never did it.

I had the image of how he looked etched in my brain and I always wish I’d taken a picture.

The driver knew exactly where the emergency ward was, which I didn’t know. It was way in the back of Bellevue. Tony, by this time, he’s almost ready to pass out. Where the bullet was, it would’ve been on the left side, above his heart. Maybe through his lung or something. He was having problems breathing. His lungs were probably filling up with blood. I mean, when you’re shot like that and the bullet’s inside, it’s internal damage - it wipes you out, y’know?

He collapsed while we were walking into the emergency ward. Some guy in green helped me pick him up and threw him on a gurney and pushed him down the hall, and I followed through. I helped push him into the emergency room and into the operating room. Once we got him in there, I stopped and popped off a shot on the camera. I was able to bang off one picture as the doctors were cutting off his clothes and the doctors fucking flipped out. They said “Get that guy outta here!” and I was done, but I missed the shot of the car. It turns out I was lucky to get that shot ’cause it was also the last shot and I got the shot of him when they were cutting off his clothes. But I wish that I’d had even more than one. I wish I’d photographed the whole thing all along. It just didn’t work out like that.

Y’know, I actually photographed Louie again recently. I photographed Louie and the guy next door, the bicycle guy, and now he got out after 20 years or whatever, I photographed him again, and remarkably, he looks almost the same. Now Tony, I haven’t seen for a long time, so Tony’s in jail — I photographed him quite a few times. I photographed everybody who sold drugs around here. I just wish I’d photographed him in the car when he was getting shot.

Clayton Patterson is a Lower East Side artist, photographer, videographer, folk historian and leader of the NO!art movement.

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