A “buck wild” exterior didn’t stop neighbors on the streets from seeing Eddie “Tennessee” Tate as a helpful, industrious neighbor. Tate was one of two people killed in a shooting Sunday night on 16th and Shotwell streets. He was 51 years old.
Tate had lived on the streets of the city for decades and was well known for his compassion and big heart, according to his friends. They described him as a fast talker with a southern drawl, a country boy with a city twist. He had big front teeth with a gap in the middle, and rode around on a tiny motorized bike.
“He was always working on stuff,” said Alex Richardson, the so-called mayor of the 16th Street encampment where nearly a dozen tents and boxes have been set up for around six months. “He was a hard worker.”
He would repair things – bikes, flashlights – and help people build little box homes made of wood and other street scores.
Tate’s own box stood out in the mix. It was covered in wall paper printed to look like a brick wall, a Cubist collage of sorts.
Another street neighbor, Ana, said she was supposed to be getting help from Tate on Sunday night to build herself a box like his. Instead, she said, she cried herself to sleep and then woke up to someone asking her if news of his death were true.
“[He was a] knight in shining armor who rode around on a little bike,” Ana said. “It is scary to think that there is someone out there who is so heartless they could kill someone with such a big heart.”
Tate’s ‘brick’ box was gone as of Monday morning. All that remained were blood stains and some left over clutter.
A plywood board leaned against a fence with Tate’s nickname “Tennessee” written on it. Below his name, someone had written “5150” – shorthand for an involuntary psychiatric hold, and also a reference to the chaos of life on the streets.
“He was like the Duke. Like John Wayne,” said one neighbor Markael Raybon, who goes by Kaels.
Wesley, an older man with a pale face and yellow wispy hair who lives around the corner in a tent on Harrison Street, said he has known Tate since the 1980s.
One time Wesley saw Tate fight nine guys in a brawl that lasted 25 minutes. It started at the salad bar in Carl’s Jr at the Civic Center and ended at the General Assistance office on 9th and Mission streets. Tate emerged as the victor, said Wesley.
“He said what he meant and did what he said,” said Wesley. “And he had no qualms about beating your ass if you didn’t believe him.”
ET, a woman with blond hair and blue fingernails who lived in a tent up the block from Tate said he was good man, always available to listen and offer emotional support.
“He made it seem like everything was good, even if it wasn’t,” said ET. “He was like a brother of mine.”
Down on Harrison Street near Dandelion Chocolate, Jim reminisced about the time Tate gave him a sleeping bag after Jim lost everything in a city sweep. “He’d give you the shirt off his back.”
Like most of the homeless living in tents, Tate had his own troubles with the city.
He was one of the hundreds of people camping on Division Street when the city was planning to clear out that encampment in February. At the time, he hoped to stay in place as long as possible to hold on to his belongings.
“I don’t want to replace this,” he told Mission Local then, pointing to his plywood shelter with an attached generator.
He had only moved to Division Street in the first place when forced from his previous spot at Harrison and Fourth streets. “They told us to go here before because of the Super Bowl. They told me to move six times in four days.”
Just weeks before his death, Tate wheeled his box from a sidewalk near Public Works over to the the corner of Shotwell.
Rigo Trejo took over his spot on the Harrison Street corner. Trejo said he saw Tate the day before he was killed. Trejo and a friend were hanging out when Tate cruised up on his motorized bike. “My friend ask him if he had a motor on the bike, and Tennessee said ‘yup’ and flew off.”