During one summer that I spent with my grandfather, he would tell me stories of his years, growing up in Jackson, Mississippi. I will never forget him casually sharing with me how it wasn’t at all uncommon for someone who shared our skin color to get lynched around that time.
It occurred to me recently that the stories I tell my grandchildren will share that same detail.
June 8, 2020, officially marked the two-week anniversary of the harrowing murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. I spent a considerable amount of time contemplating what, if anything, I could offer by way of explanation or maybe even consolation. It was to no avail. In my 25 years of life, I’ve watched films, read stories, and listened to innumerable personal accounts illustrating the vitriol directed toward the black community. However, this particular incident was representative of a tipping point. The protests that we see on various news stations (typically void of context) embody generations of trauma, provocation, anger, and just plain helplessness that a majority of our community feels concerning the police force. There are persisting images in my mind of the many black children marching and taking part in the countless protests across America. Not only is the absence of innocence disheartening in these moments, but also the knowledge that a Caucasian child of the same age owns the privilege to simply…be a child.
One could argue that significant strides have been made in just these two weeks of protests. From all four officers involved in the Floyd murder being arrested and charged to new police and justice legislation being put forth by the Congressional Black Caucus. If passed, the legislation, as a result, would ban no-knock warrants in drug offenses, as well as the use of chokeholds (which Eric Garner fell brutally victim to). This is a hopeful development, but I often wonder what the remedy to structural racism will ultimately be.
Upsetting that America hasn’t fulfilled its promise to the citizens that perhaps deserve it most. We’re currently bearing witness to a question that’s gone long unspoken: will it be given or taken by force?
“I am an invisible man. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” ~ Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
For me, the most shocking turn of events has been witnessing the worldwide demonstration of anti-racist sentiment. Demonstrators have protested in Rome, Glasgow, Paris, Berlin, and numerous other pockets of the globe. Is there any irony to be found in the fact that many countries except for the one that we call home recognize the injustice that is afoot? An especially noteworthy occurrence took place Sunday, June 7, 2020, when protesters tore down a statue of a 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, and proceeded to throw it into the Bristol harbor.
A refreshing yet befitting display of poetic justice. These types of -now seemingly common- occurrences undoubtedly lead you to question your place in America as a black man or woman. I started driving in 2011, but not before receiving “the talk” that is customary for many black teens in America. This talk consists of behavioral guidelines that one must follow in the event of being pulled over by police. Hands-on the wheel at all times. No sudden movements. Each instruction emphasized then demonstrated to underscore the potential life-or-death stakes that accompany each of these encounters. The gravity of my parent’s words was illuminated no less than a year later by the murder of Trayvon Martin.
Eight years later and I’m still as fearful during each police encounter as I was during my first in my teenage years. In each instance of fatal police brutality that we have seen, it’s hard not to picture yourself in place of the victim. When the only criteria these victims share are skin color, how do I not fear for my life when interacting with law enforcement? While I know better than to view all police as predatory, instinctually my first thought is always self-preservation. How do I make it out of this interaction alive? I am hopeful for a day in which that isn’t the case.
In the wake of such grotesque tragedy, few things can be said to quell the heartache that we all feel, collectively. May George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the other countless victims of unnecessary police brutality rest in peace. We will never let your names or legacies die. Black lives matter.