“…we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So…we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.” — Jesse Williams
My curiosity made me do it. My head rested on the small of Jermar’s back while I read and circled and scribbled in the margins of a friend’s manuscript, I only half listened to whatever video Jermar watched on social media. But, in the next moments, I fully heard his sigh, felt his body heave and recognized the sorrow in his voice when he said damn, another black man shot by the police…this time is really bad.
I had to ask him three times, each instance more urgent, before he reluctantly handed me his phone while quietly advising me against watching the video.
I watched the first 30 seconds, un-phased by the imagery as I’d seen it before on the video with the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island concrete; I’d seen it before when Officer Casebolt wrangled baby girl’s bikini-clad body to the ground and sat atop her like she was a rabid Rottweiler; I’d seen it this summer in St. Louis as I slowed my car to watch black boys with tank tops and shoulder length dreadlocks being roughly mishandled for whatever latest sin in addition to their skin they’d committed against society.
In those first 30 seconds I was numb because of Black Lives Matter protests, because of election year rhetoric, because of biased media, because of community violence, rank ass gun laws, local news, family matters, wedding planning, checkbook balancing, what to pack for lunch tomorrow morning…
But somewhere between 31 seconds and the end of the video, Alton Sterling is shot while on the ground beneath two police officers.
A woman in the background– I imagined her initially defiantly videotaping the scene, talking shit as she filmed it– is now grief stricken, horrified, crying and screaming in angst and disbelief as she has just watched in real time what she’d perhaps previously only seen on tv.
I had to catch my breath along with her. I got out of bed and paced the floor. I felt the water well up in my eyes. I told Jermar he was right. I went to the living room and sat on the couch. I opened my computer and searched online. I saw Alton’s big brown face, his gold teeth, his wife and kids. I read about his criminal history, the testimonies of his friends, an account of the scene from a witness.
I thought about the black men I know, some who peddle goods for a living, others who are coming or have already returned home from prison, their gold teeth and round brown faces. I felt the sadness and frustration rise up within me once again.
Don’t talk to me about justice or peace. Don’t tell me to be “this mad” about the violence that is perpetrated in our community—I am already angry about that. Don’t point your finger at this man, Alton Sterling, and tell me that he didn’t deserve the same chance to live and love and work and care for his children that a gun toting, shit talking, big, ole white man would have had.
White privilege is knowing that for all of the inappropriate, disgusting and downright unlawful shit a man with blonde hair and blue eyes could do without punishment, a black man would get killed for doing half of it.
And this is domestic abuse: to be terrorized, mishandled and murdered in America by the people who are supposed to protect us. There are no other resources, no place to take shelter, no safety plans to put in place for Black people against the police. There is nowhere for us to go. All we can do is stand up and fight.