About a week ago, while I was back home in Far Rockaway, I was talking with my mother when she delivered what to many would be frightening news.
” You know somebody got shot out here the other week,” she said in a tone that was all too familiar. One that was sincere and yet not at all surprised.
Are you serious?” I replied back in the same tone. “Mhmmm.” She said. “A little girl…shot in the leg…all of a sudden all I heard was people running, screaming and carrying on.”
“Someone was shooting the other day right outside the building too.”
And then there it was. That all too familiar uncomfortable silence that follows whenever people in the community hear this type of news. It was then I realized that no matter how much I wanted to believe that things changed from when I grew up they really hadn’t. I was just removed from it. But it was still there and these conversations were still happening all over the country, with that same tone.
This situation in Ferguson gave me the same feeling ever since it started a week ago. It is on one hand disgraceful and upsetting, but on the other hand it is eyeopening. It sheds light on issues that we as a society are always told were eradicated in 1865, then reinforced in 1965. But I cannot tell to be honest. This morning I woke up heavyhearted. It started as disbelief, which then turned to sadness and then anger. I could not understand how a city could essentially declare war on its citizens for protesting a situation caused by the officers who are supposed to protect those same people. Some might say the word war is an exaggeration, but when you see police in riot gear, on tanks and using military grade weapons on unarmed protesters — and children who are marching peacefully for crying out loud — I don’t know what else to call it. The word atrocity does come to mind.
As black man in America I have conflicted feelings on a regular basis, but these days those have been intensified. I almost feel guilty about succeeding in life. I grew up in a neighborhood that not too many people make it out of and I have been able to do great things at a young age. But what about the people who had too many obstacles in their way to overcome? Sure we were all poor in my neighborhood, but I’m not foolish enough to believe that some people I grew up with never got a fair shot because of things that they couldn’t control. What about them? I knew plenty of guys like Michael Brown growing up. Why was he shot in the street like the worst of criminals? Why were his parents left in the dark for hours about what happened? Why do they have to defend their son’s reputation through the media against the word of the police? Why does his community have to be ravaged by police because they want justice for one of their own citizens? Why do I, someone who lives thousands of miles away from Missouri, and other black people around the country have to defend the right not to be treated like three-fifths of a person 50 years after the Civil Rights act of 1964 was enacted?
Issues regarding race relations, in this country, go well beyond Michael Brown and excessive force used by police, as many people love to point out. I’ve hear people bring up black on black crime, the images that “some” black people portray and how that contributes to young black men being more susceptible to these types of situations.
“Pull your pants up and maybe we don’t have to kill you.”
“If you didn’t look threatening maybe we wouldn’t be afraid of you at night”
“Black people kill each other everyday…why do you care just because the officer was white?”
These are just a few of the poisonous attitudes shown toward black and brown people. Others like to point out that black people are just too sensitive. They get offended that black people are offended by their offensive statements. The ultimate irony.
“Why are you so serious all the time?”
“You don’t have to get all angry..everyone is entitled to their own opinion. You don’t have to like it.”
My rebuttal to those people…
You think that black people are threatening, not because their pants sag or they have on a hooded sweatshirt..it’s because of the color of their skin. Nobody shoots down white computer programmers and skateboarders when they wear the same things on a regular basis. I care because I have the right not to be shot in the street like a rabid animal. I’m not advocating black on black crime or crime by anyone. I want all senseless crime in communities like my hometown and across the country to stop. I’m serious because I’m tired of walking around pretending that I don’t see these things that are as clear as day. I don’t have the luxury of changing my skin color or my history just so I can be oblivious to the way the world is. And while you are entitled to your own opinion, I don’t have to agree with it, especially when your opinion directly interferes with me living my life with the same freedoms you do.
Things that I noticed have not been properly represented are the things that scare me the most about this situation. The police are antagonizing the crowds of people and firing tear gas at them, while there have been reports of outsiders stirring the pot against the police to create a more violent situation — as if the police needed anymore reason to overuse their force. A country that is full of agendas at almost every level of government and a town that has little representation to reflect its population — Ferguson has a population that is over 67 percent black — is all of a sudden trying to do what is right by enforcing a curfew and beating people senseless if they don’t comply? And the shooting of Brown was justified because they believe, after the fact, that he may have been involved in a robbery? None of these things add up, make sense or seem fair, but are being pushed through to the media daily as the situation gets worse. These thoughts are the kind that would have me labeled as an “angry black man” just making excuses or a conspiracy theorist. But how can I make up what is happening in front of all of our eyes?
That same evening I had that conversation with my mother, we went out to dinner and eventually as it always does the conversation turned to the obvious situation that none of us could avoid forever. My mother and aunt grew up during the era where social activism and were very prevalent. In fact it was the norm.
My aunt’s attitude was that a part of our struggle is knowing how to withstand these kinds of injustices and keep moving. It is how our people have survived. It’s how we made it to where we are today. And in a way she’s right; from the slave ships through the cotton fields and all the way up to Dr. King, we have endured injustices from all sides and persevered on until we got what was long overdue to us. But why should we have to continue to endure these things 50 years later? Did my elders not march, and sit-in and go to jail and get hung from trees and burned and decapitated and gunned down so that me, my brothers and Michael Brown’s all over the country could walk down the middle of the street of our own neighborhoods?
Why is it that we still have to make excuses for this systematic injustice and the constant poaching of our culture by others while we sit idly by?
Like I told my aunt, I’m tired of that. I don’t want to live my life that way. I don’t want my little brother or my cousins or my children to live their lives that way. And as much as I get fired up I turn on the news to see more protesters, reporters and citizens getting arrested, beat on and treated like war criminals for what to me seems right. And in that moment I feel helpless because I have no answers. Just a ton of questions that remind me that things haven’t changed the way I thought they did, at least not for everyone.