As of the last time I updated this blog post, police have murdered a total of 1,025 civilians in the year 2016. This total only includes the murders that have been reported. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unreported murders that we will never know happened, countless names that will never be among the trending topics on social media, bodies that were never returned to their families, bodies that were returned to their families but with fabricated stories and explanations, people who no one could mourn because no one knew about them. What shakes me to my core is knowing that the names and the stories that I know, are not all of them. There are so many that we don’t know.
There used to be a time when I thought that the state sanctioned violence in this country had limits, was contained, its remains could only be found in history textbook. But then, on February 26, 2012, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was murdered walking home from a convenience store after being racially profiled by a neighborhood watchman. That murder and the lack of justice served shook me, but I still did not entirely let go of my initial beliefs. My first thoughts about the subject evolved into the belief that only Black boys who were caught in the dark in southern states like Florida could be killed. I used to believe that this violence would never be close to me. I used to be certain that my father was safe whenever he left the house and on those late night drives back from teaching sociology at the local colleges. Again, another part of my faith in America was chipped away when video of Eric Garner suffocating due to being held in a chokehold by an NYPD officer surfaced in July of 2014. That video was everywhere. That was the first time I’d ever seen someone being murdered on television without censoring. That is when it finally began to resonate with me that because we are seen as subhuman and disposable, our murders do not need a censor. The public shrugs in the face of our extermination as if it is just another one biting the dust. Even after this, I held on to the belief that at least Alex is safe…at least I know my little brother will be here every day when I get home from school. As soon as I began to heal from one murder, another one occurred. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered while playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park on November 22, 2014. Tamir was said to have looked like a grown man with a weapon and potentially dangerous. I wish I could ask those officers why they murdered a child within three seconds of their vehicle pulling up in front of him. I wish I could tell them that I know it wasn’t because of a fucking toy gun. Ohio is an open carry state. If Tamir were an adult with a gun, there’d be no violation of the law. Even if there was a violation of the law, since when were officers elected judge, jury and executioner? Before I could even worry about my body being perceived as a threat or worry that my life was at risk, Sandra Bland “killed herself” in prison after being arrested during a routine traffic stop on July 13, 2015.
Every time I hear another name or have to close my eyes as I scroll through my timeline because another video has surfaced, it is further engrained in my head that every single beautiful Brown and Black person I had the privilege of coming to know could die. For no reason and at any time. I might not see one of the most amazing friends that I’ve made since I started college tomorrow. The Black girl with the dark, curly afro who sits next to me in my Foundation to Radio, Television & Film class may not make it to class on Tuesday. The elderly man who bags groceries at the grocery store a few miles from campus could stopped by an officer and not survive to be the ray of sunshine and positivity that makes me smile as I hand the cashier my card. The sitting president of the United States, even with all of the security in the world protecting him….
One of the most frightening parts and one of the biggest obstacles we face is the fact that the police have inherited the power to shape the entire narrative surrounding each of these murders.
“I was scared for my life.”
“He looked suspicious.”
“He looked like a grown man.”
“She came at me.”
“The victim looked as though they were armed.”
“I thought it was a gun.”
“There was no way to deescalate the situation.”
“I had to stand my ground!”
“These inner city kids have always been trouble.”
The police lie through their teeth, their superiors use rhetoric to make White Americans afraid of us to justify the violence and the media dehumanizes my Black and Brown kin and demonizes our resistance without stopping to take a breath – without ever stopping to think about “what if that was my ____” because it will never be their anything. There will never be a call on the phone saying that Rebecca was taken into custody and “committed suicide” in her cell. Tommy won’t have an officer scared for his life and leave him with “no choice” but to put several bullets into his back. Charlie won’t be murdered for playing in the park across the street. Neither James nor Julie will be followed home from the convenience store and murdered by the neighborhood watchman. When your White son, your White daughter, your White father, your White mother, your White classmate, your White coworker or your White friend is pulled over they think, “Hello, sir”, “This won’t take long” and “Maybe they’ll just let me off with a warning”. They never think “Please, don’t shoot me, sir.”, “I didn’t tell my mom I loved her this morning” and “It’s going to happen to me, now”.
Sally, Jane, John, and Steven will never be on the other side of police officers in riot gear. They will never be chased after and attacked by dogs. They will never have to bury their mother, their father, their sister, their brother, their husband, their wife, or their child because the police decided to be the judge and the jury in sentencing that person to death. They will never have to set fire to a fucking CVS for the world to pay attention to the public executions being delivered by those sworn to serve and protect us. They will never have to figure out how to function in a world that perceives their entire race of people as disposable and as taking up too much space. They’ll never have to worry that their parents will see their photo on CNN with the words “Unarmed Black teen dead in officer involved shooting last night…more details coming at 6” being spoken from the reporter’s mouth. They will never have to figure out how in the world they are supposed to embrace their identity and love themselves while constantly being afraid because the rest of the world has demonized their identity and they could be vilified or killed because of it. They will never know how hard it is to wake up every morning and just be unsafe and terrified, but have to just push through it because our murders are unavoidable and we could be killed for something as simple as reading a book.
I don’t hate Sally, Jane, John, or Steven for that. I don’t hate White people. I don’t hate police. I don’t hate the government. I don’t hate America. I hate what they can do to me and to everyone who looks like me. I hate what they have been doing to me, and to everyone who looks like me. I hate that they are so quick to shut down the conversations about my people being murdered in the streets. I hate that they have allowed Donald Trump to become the candidate representing an entire political party. I hate that they will not take responsibility for the anti-Black world that they have created and helped sustain. I hate that I can’t even get a sorry from people when I tell them that “not racist” thing that they said hurt me. I hate that Marc Jacobs’ models are beautiful and making a fashion statement in their dreads but everyone was saying Zendaya looked like a pothead in hers. I hate that they can choose to be “colorblind” or “neutral” in the violent, dangerous world that they created while my people must reap the consequences of this same world. I hate that their response is “go somewhere else” when this isn’t even their land to tell me to go somewhere else from. I hate that Black people have to live this way. I hate that I have to be so scared and so careful. I’m tired of being so scared and so careful. I did not ask for this life. I did not ask for the anxiety and the trauma. I did not ask to see people who look like me being murdered up and down my timeline. We do not deserve to live like this.
I’d like to remind every Black and Brown person that I love and embrace who I am and that I will always be here to love and embrace you. When, I say every, I mean every. I mean every transgender or non-binary Black and Brown person. I mean every lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual person. I mean every economically disadvantaged and homeless Black and Brown person. I mean every Black and Brown person , regardless of whether or not you’re a CEO, a sex-worker, a teacher, unemployed, a student or if you’re not quite sure what is that you’re doing. I mean every Black woman. I mean every Black man. I mean every Black child. Everyone. We matter. Our pain, our happiness, our culture, our history, our lives matter, even though they don’t believe we do and even when we may not believe we do either.
The trauma that communities of color experience following police shootings is real and it is valid. We NEED to talk about it. We NEED to check on our brothers, sisters and non-binary folks. For more information on the impact of this trauma, see the information below.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (24 Hour)
LGBT National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564
LGBT National Youth Talkline: 1-800-246-7743
LGBT Elder Hotline: 1-888-234-7243
Black Mental Health Alliance: 410-338-2642 or BlackMentalHealth.com
NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness regarding Mental Health in African-American communities
Mic’s article 6 Actual Facts Show Why Mental Health Is an Issue in the Black Community, explaining why black folks with mental illness are often dismissed and unable to get care.
The Huffington Post’s 5 Self-Care Practices Black People Can Use While Coping With Trauma shares five helpful tips we can practice after police shootings go viral.
Featured Image Credit: Photo via Blair Ryan Photog