The police had just made what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. Wilbur Williams, a pigeon breeder, was opening his cage door nearby.

Paul Gomez || June/July 2021

It had been a long hard summer. Times were hard economically,  Nerves were frayed……

September 30, 1994, South Central Los Angeles.

4:55 PM:  The police had just made what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. Then the police, suspecting drug trafficking, directed the occupants, an Afro-American male in his late twenties, and a Hispanic male of about the same age, to kneel on the pavement as their car was being searched.

4:56 PM: Wilbur Williams, a pigeon breeder, was opening his cage door nearby. He checked around and began feeding his breeders and break-up birds.

5:02 PM: A driver, distracted by the arrest scene, momentarily took his eye off the road. The car in front of his stopped suddenly and he crashed into it, breaking the tail light.

5:03 PM: Wilbur finished with his routine chores and walked over to his kit box. He cracked the door open a bit and looked the birds over. “Guess it’s time for a couple of you to really show what you’re made of,”  he said. Then he swung the door open wide.

5:05 PM: Outside on the street, things were getting ugly. The drivers involved in the accident happened to be from rival “sets,” one a Crip. The other, a Blood.

One of the two young men the police had stopped recognized his friend, who was involved in the accident. He tried to get up, and was physically restrained by one of the policemen. A crowd had formed and some began shouting their objections in no uncertain terms. The cops called for reinforcements.

There’s no unanimously accepted explanation

for what causes the birds to flip — it’s an enigma.

Some say it’s due to seizures; others say genetics,

others instinct.

If We Can Soar,” Shanna B. Tiayon

5:07 PM: The kit was circling overhead. Several birds were spinning short or tumbling. Just as things were about to erupt below, a dun mixed-wing cock showed what he was born to do. Directly over the crowd, he peeled off sixty feet of lightning fast spin, so hard that some in the crowd could hear it!

Others, startled by the approaching object, looked up. “What the hell is it?”  one of the bystanders said. None had ever seen anything like it.

 Just as the dun pulled out of his roll, a dark checker and a rose wing began theirs, side by side, with scorching speed.

This time many in the crowd were aware of the birds above them, and stopped what they were doing to watch. The gang members, the onlookers, the detainees, the cops… every person at the scene paused to gaze at this truly miraculous sight of pigeons spinning in the air.

5:10 PM: The tension was now broken, everyone so fascinated by the spectacle. And their attention was rewarded. Just as the police helicopter drew near, the entire kit began to cascade: a funnel of roll, more than the average mind could comprehend. The people in the crowd, awestruck, could only numbly stand there, their mouths agape.

The birds had done their trick. Everyone below somehow now felt better. The police let the two young men go with a warning. The Blood shook the Crip’s hand and accepted an on-the-spot cash settlement. Several in the crowd had become instant roller enthusiasts, including, I might add, one of the policemen.

5:14 PM: “Wow! Those birds got off!” said Wilbur. From where he was standing he was totally unaware of the drama that had transpired out on the street. “I sure wish my bird buddies had seen that show!”

Paul Gomez is a former teacher, studio potter, and nurseryman specializing in palms. He’s enjoying retirement from teaching high school science and spends his time caring for his pigeons, gardening, playing music, and working on his art. The story and art in this piece come from Roller Dreams and Realities, his book of essays and short fiction about Birmingham Rollers.