It was November 24, 2014 and I was sitting alone in my living room. I was tuned into CNN with the rest of America, waiting to see if officer Darren Wilson would be charged for the murder of Mike Brown. Mike was a young black man who was unarmed when he was killed by Wilson. His body lay in the street for four hours in the heat of August before coroners picked him up. Malik was in my belly then, his due date coming around the corner in January. I sat waiting for justice, but there was none. I’ll never forget the heat that rushed through my body as the tears began to flow. I was 22 then; trying to fathom how to navigate a world in which my precious baby boy could be shot and murdered simply because of the color of his skin. I was trying to wrap my mind around protecting him from the police and I hadn’t even seen his beautiful face. I turned 28 this year, and I still haven’t the slightest idea. Since then, there have been many other tragic incidents involving police brutality and the murders of black men.
In fact, just over the last week, stories emerged on social media about Ahmaud Arbery, a black man shot while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood. If I’m being honest, I scrolled past them all. I didn’t need to know the details and I didn’t have the heart to read another story with a tragic ending. However, this particular night as I scrolled past Ahmaud, I began to see a video of a young man from the Indianapolis area pop up over and over again. I’d heard about a shooting in the city earlier that day, but I was unfamiliar with the background story. I pressed play and what started off as a silly live video ended up in a police chase with Sean Reed literally running for his life. What followed next were gunshots. And then the running stopped. I couldn’t believe what I’d just watched.
Running. Gunshots. Silence. The once rapidly moving camera was now fixated on the blue sky. “Looks like it’s gonna be a closed casket.” That’s what the officer said as he stepped over Sean’s lifeless body.
I couldn’t breathe after that. I still can’t. I don’t have all the facts of this story, but with the history of police brutality and black men in this country, I don’t care to hear it. What I know is that it doesn’t take emptying a clip to slow a young man down. I know that my son can’t walk to the store in a hoodie. I know that he can’t play with a toy gun in public. I know that he can’t go to the gas station to buy gum. I also know that I can raise him right, work my ass off to put him in the best schools, put our family in the best neighborhood, and he can still be murdered. And in our own city of residence.
I try not to think about it, the fact that one of the brightest stars in my sky is a member of an endangered species. I try not to read the stories. I try to scroll past the videos. How many times can you read about unarmed black men being murdered and still be okay? How many live accounts of police brutality can you watch on social media and still feel safe in a room when you’re the minority? How do you read about Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Laquan McDonald, or Tamir Rice and still convince your children that their lives matter? These young men were all minors when they were murdered at the hands of a police officer or failed to be protected by our beloved justice system.
One day I’ll have “the talk” with my son, and I’m not talking about the birds and the bees. I’m talking about the “best case scenario is that you go to jail and I’ll have the blessing of bailing you out” talk. I’ll have to tell him that the police aren’t here for us. I’ll have to tell him that while we have the same rights as everyone else in this country, exercising them may mean losing his life. I’ll explain that if he has white friends, when he’s out with them he must be on his best behavior. I’ll tell him if he’s pulled over, do whatever the officer tells him to do. Don’t try to be strong, don’t stand up for yourself. I’m going to tell him to shut up and if he listens, if he lives, I’ll be there flying like a bat out of hell to get him. I hope that discussion is a long ways away, but Tamir Rice was only 12.
Do you know what it’s like to walk around knowing your son can be shot? To know that your father, your brother, your nephew, or your cousin can be taken from this world and the justice system will excuse it? We’ve seen it countless times; murders caught on camera that only lead to mandatory paid vacations and acquittals. The more important question, how will my son feel when I take that innocence away from him? How do all the little black boys all over the world who already know this feel?
I remember being in the car with my mom one day when a police officer got behind us. I noticed she seemed sort of squeamish, but at the time I was just a teenager who thought her mom was being weird. A few minutes later she said, “I always get really nervous when a police officer gets behind me. Ya know, ever since what happened to [my brother]”. When I was a child my uncle was a victim of police brutality. My grandpa said he was beat up and probably would’ve been killed if people weren’t nearby. I remember seeing a staple in his head and sadness in my mom’s eyes when she talked to him. If the mere association with someone who’d been a victim of police brutality caused that much discomfort for my mother, I wonder what it did to my uncle. I should ask him, but I don’t want the question to trigger trauma. Because there’s always trauma, and resentment too.
If I’m being honest, I’ve found myself shying away from befriending white women, especially those with children. In my heart of hearts, I genuinely believe that my white friends love me dearly, but it doesn’t change the fact that our realities are in two completely different worlds. It seems as if everything is all good until that time of year when police brutality pops off and they can’t help but to ask the god-awful question, “Well, what did he do?” A question packed with ignorance, oblivion, and white privilege.
While they’re often able to sympathize, empathizing is a little harder. This isn’t to say that a friendship isn’t possible, it just takes more effort than I’m willing to give; especially when I’m surrounded by people who already understand and relate to my struggle. Many will say that they can empathize, but how hard can it possibly be to understand that what he DID doesn’t matter, the treatment isn’t the same? What he DID doesn’t matter; he didn’t get the courtesy of a bulletproof vest or an insanity plea. What he DID doesn’t matter; he was unarmed. What he DID doesn’t matter because he’s dead, without justice or even the benefit of the doubt. How many times can you explain that without being pissed off every single day?
What we want the world to know is that we are hurt. We are angry. We are scared. We are overlooked. We are ignored. We put our hands up. We run for our lives. We let people know we can’t breathe. And we are still killed.
We can’t fix it. Harriet, Rosa, Martin, and Malcolm tried. We can’t pray it away. Dylann shot the church up. We can’t protest it away. White protestors are given far more courtesies. We can’t legislature, bill, law, senate, or politic it away. We’re just left with the blame. We’re left with people asking us, “Well, what did he do?” He was black. That’s it, that’s all. My God, this hurts. And it will hurt again the next time.
What will it take for our black men to be seen as humans? I don’t know, and I’m not one hundred percent hopeful that it’ll ever happen in my lifetime. In the meantime, can someone just tell me what to do? Should I wait for Kim K to say that this is wrong? Should Rihanna make a “Pull Up” PSA? I mean, we’ve fought and we’ve been peaceful. There has to be something, right? Anything?
Mother’s Day is right around the corner. My heart goes out to all of the mothers dealing with this kind of pain, and any other hurt today.
I’m tired, and I know y’all are too. My prayer is that for every life that is taken, for every injustice that we experience in our community, God will rain down blessings on our children. May the fight be a little easier for them. I pray that we remember where we came from, kings and queens. That’s why we’re hated. I pray that we educate ourselves on the tactics that they use to pit us against one another. We’re stronger together. And some of us will go down in the fight, as we have seen, but for every life that is taken I pray we come back ten times harder with the greatness that is bred within us.