A Brave Little Girl

In Opa-Locka, Florida, 1988, five-year-old Jennifer Royal became one of the youngest people ever to testify in an American courtroom. Caught in the crossfire of drug bullets, she was wounded and her eight-year-old friend, "Peaches" was killed. Jennifer identified Michael Ward as the murderer.

Journalist Valerie Gladstone sat down and talked with Jennifer about her experience.

In the morning I ate breakfast and brushed my teeth. We was playing outside. Peaches and me play ring-around-the-rosy. Little boys was fighting about a dollar in front of the house and it scared me. Then I see Michael Ward -- I didn't know his name then -- and he say, "Anybody move, I shoot," and he shot me. It scared me.

When the bullet got me, it felt like a firecracker. My head hit against the door. I had a long scratch on my head. Peaches almost made it. Then I knew Peaches was dead. Mama was froze. The policeman held me. He was crying. It was hard for me to talk. I swallowed my throw-up. Then the doctors put me on a board to go to the hospital with my mama and my auntie. The bullet fell right out of my back. I told them, "I'm not going to die. God's not ready for me yet." But there was blood coming out of me. Michael Ward. He shouldn't have did that to me.

It felt funny in court, everybody looking at me, all the people on the jury. The ladies was pretty and the men was handsome. They were like my friends. The judge -- he's white -- got a head just like my cousin's. Real long. And I just point at Michael Ward. I tell the truth. I want to tell everybody what I saw because they know then it won't happen again. It won't happen again. Nobody should have guns because they will kill everybody and everybody in this whole city is going to be dead.

At my house the drug boys throw bottles and rocks outside. The drug boys aren't nice to me. When I come home, they say, "Hi, asshole." They will steal your stuff, they will steal your purse. Last week the police took them boys to jail. Ten of them. They put their hands up and then the police put those things on their hands. But they come back. They sit and play cards and smoke drugs. Put their nose in their hands and go sniff, sniff. I have to stay inside with my brothers and sisters and play in my living room with my toy house.

I has other toys too. I got me a jump rope, and sometimes my mama let me go outside if the drug boys don't bother me. They have guns. They showed them to me. I say, "I'm not gonna bother you." And they say, "I'm gonna get you, little girl. I will take your jump rope." I just went in the house and lay down and go to sleep and be quiet.

I knows about drugs. Drugs make you get sick. And I knows other people do it in my grandma's backyard. They do it the whole day. They do it right in our face and they say, "Don't tell, don't tell," but I tell grandma.

I'm going to school soon. That's what I want most. We are going to learn everything at school. I want to learn my numbers, my alphabet. Play with friends. Songs. My grandfather teaches me all the songs he knows. We sing, "It's Gonna Rain."

Someday I want to be a cheerleader for football and I want my boyfriend to play baseball. When I grow up I want to be one of those people in an office. A secretary. I will write letters to everyone who likes me. And I want to go to New York City and ride around on the bus with grandma and go in a big white limousine with a TV and radio and cookies and wine. I love the snow. I like the beach too. I like getting wet all over. I like to wear jumpers and pants and skirts, and I like any color that I pick. My teeth are almost coming in. They don't hurt. It hurt when they started shooting me.

I saw Peaches at the funeral. She had on pretty ol' dress, a pink one. And some nice shoes. I cried at the funeral. We went to the graveyard and buried her in the dirt. I saw three angels there, and they took her away.

I dream about Peaches. She's up there with God. She eats beans and rice and chicken with him, and plays and sleeps. I saw her in the pink dress. I talk to Adrien and Jamie about Peaches, but I don't worry about her no mo'.

One time I dreamed, coming home from school, I saw a fox. I see him across the street. Everybody at home is asleep. He ate my arm up. He killed me with his mouth. I just shook my head. I said, "No! I don't want you to eat me up."

Valerie Gladstone