Despite Darren Wilson's Ferguson Grand Jury Ruling, I Refuse to Let the Courts Tell Me That My Life Does Not Matter
On Monday, when the Ferguson jury acquitted Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case, it made me think of the first time I realized that police officers could hurt somebody I loved for no reason.
I was watching a news report about a traffic stop gone wrong that had been captured on camera. I watched the dash-cam footage as a white cop pulled over a black man and, as the man stepped out of his car, the cop attacked him, punching him in the face. I can’t remember the names of the victim or the police officer, but I remember the shock of seeing that video, and I remember the pictures of the victim’s bruised and bloodied face.
“But he didn’t even do anything,” I said to the TV.
That was the moment when I became scared. I saw with my own eyes that the rules and laws I'd been told would protect me could be so easily thrown out the window when it came to a black person. I watched this man get attacked for no reason and I couldn't stop thinking of my loved ones.
That could be my father. That could be my uncle. That could be my brother. That could be my cousin. That could be my mother. That could be me.
I was still in college when George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. In the course of the case and the national attention it received, I heard of the Stand Your Ground law for the first time, and for the first time I watched a young black man be put on trial for his own murder. Martin was just a teenager. Zimmerman wasn’t even a cop. He’d been told not to pursue Martin, an order that he’d blatantly ignored. And yet it was so easy for people to call Martin a "thug" and reference traces of weed in a backpack he wasn't even wearing on the night of his death to justify his murder. Some people were even gleeful about it. When the Ferguson grand jury released its decision on Darren Wilson, I felt as numb and fearful as I did when Zimmerman was similarly acquitted.
And now added to that is weariness because between Martin's murder and Monday night's devastating announcement, so many more black people have been attacked and killed by police officers and citizens who see black life as a threat. The same year that Martin was killed, Jordan Davis was shot and killed in November by Michael Dunn because of loud music. In November 2013, Renisha McBride was shot and killed after knocking on a stranger's door. On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died of heart attack while being held in an illegal chokehold by an NYPD officer. In August, John Crawford III was shot and killed by police officers in an Ohio Walmart while talking on the phone and holding a pellet gun sold by the store. Just this past weekend, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by officers while holding a toy gun that the 911 caller said was "probably fake." And just to provide more context, these last two cases took place in Ohio, an open carry state.
And these are only the more recent stories from the past couple of years. So many black people were killed before then and, unfortunately, I fear there's only more to come. When I think about these victims and their families, I know that the only things that separate me from them is location and opportunity. What happened to them can easily happen to me and any of my loved ones.
Because when you allow police officers and vigilantes to attack and kill black people with little to no consequences, you're sending a message that our lives are disposable and that any one of us could be next.
That knowledge — that black people are practically targets in the USA — is so difficult to live with.
But live we do. Despite the message of hate that the U.S. continually sends out after destroying and attempting to devalue black lives, we still continue to live. I am not here to explain the humanity of Martin, Davis, McBride, Garner, Crawford, Rice, and the many, many others that have been killed by America's racism. Their humanity — our humanity — is not up for debate.
I'm drained and scared for my life and those of my loved ones. But I will never let America convince me that our lives don't matter.
And neither should you.
Image: Hakeem Adewumi/#DONTSHOOT