I could've chosen to continue scrolling. Could've chosen not to tap the screen an activate the sound. But I did stop scrolling. And I did tap the screen. And I watched as a policeman rushed and wrestled a large black man to the ground. I watched as that policeman and his comrade held the man down, and felt the fear well in my chest and knots form in my stomach as the man struggled for his life. I heard one officer shout "Gun!"--though the only gun visible was the one brandished by the officer immediately thereafter and pointed at what appeared to be the man's head. In the moments between the shouting and struggling and the sound of gun shots, my chest tightened and I held my breath...but not because I didn't know what was coming. I knew what was coming. Even without having seen a tagline to the video I knew what was coming. That man, Alton Sterling, lost his life that night. His five children lost their father. And I lost a little more faith in humanity. Before retiring to bed that night (early morning), I began to see rumors circulating that the police pulled a gun from within Alton's pocket just after executing him. Yes executed--shooting him several times as he lay immobile beneath them. I closed my eyes--despondent, deflated. Another one.
Social media and the black community at large was still reeling from the [captured] police murder of yet another black man when a second instance of brutality was live-streamed and flooded social media just (around) 2 hours after the murder of Mr. Sterling. I watched as a man took his last breaths, blood soaking through his shirt as he labored for air. My very first thoughts watching and listening as his girlfriend struggled to remain calm and document the event: at least she will have evidence of the aftermath...and is increasing the likelihood that she and her daughter will make it out alive. Yes, her daughter--watching from the backseat as someone she knew and likely cared for was shot multiple times by a policeman. That very policeman, in fact, still training his gun on the dying man in front of her, would curse and shout justifications for his murderous actions before later handcuffing her mother and placing them both in the backseat of a police car. All this I watched, unable to turn away from the horror. I wanted to--something felt awful and voyeuristic about watching the chaos...the final moments of this man's life, the life of his loved ones crumbling around him. But it also felt necessary. With the victims of gun violence frequently plastered as headlines across every major site and news outlet, and the uptick of caught-on-camera murders of men and women by police, and the need the guard oneself from the emotional ramifications, it can become difficult to attach human emotion and empathy to each individual case. So I watched. I watched to keep from numbly shaking my head at another hashtag; another headline; another anger-fueling story of another body--a BLACK body--needlessly taken by the police. And the pain I felt when I heard Philando's girlfriend (no longer in sight of the camera as it had been taken from her and thrown to the ground) begin to pray fervently and sincerely for her loved one's life and their safety... it was crushing. The pain I felt for her and that child in that moment sucked the wind from my lungs. The pain is critical. The pain drives the push for action. The pain and anger drive out complacency.
And complacency we cannot afford.
It might be easier to shrug ones shoulders and cling for dear life to the illusion that you can remain untouched. That if you just ___, you can avoid falling victim to some over-zealous cop's fear and power complex; or some neighborhood vigilante's fear; or some guy's racially charged anger; or somebody fearing your BLACK body so much that an attempt to garner their help in a crisis may translate to a need to take your life in order to save their own. You cannot just ___ your way out of or away from others' tendency to view your BLACK body as dangerous and disposable. Expendable. At-best, unfortunate collateral damage. Despite the misguided beliefs and social media posts seeking to downplay or dismiss the outrage of BLACK people who "didn't grow up in the 'ghetto'" and thus shouldn't "pretend to know the struggle", whatever your background, upbringing, or socio-economic status, we cannot earn enough American Dream Points to undo the prejudice and systematic oppression that is attached to this BLACK skin. Being BLACK in the United States means the aforementioned are inextricably linked. We cannot take it off and we are not afforded the privilege of being blissfully unaware of our hue. And every BLACK life that didn't matter steals another hint of hope that my children will live in a world where their culture is celebrated not appropriated, and their BLACK skin isn't seen as reason enough to take their BLACK body. That's why, while protestors are shouting "BLACK LIVES MATTER!" and marching to raise awareness and prevent the matter from leaving the public's consciousness, we also recognize the need for changes that go beyond wishing that racism would end and that we would be seen as people. We recognize that real changes in policy and the criminal justice system (not violence against the police) is necessary and beneficial to not just BLACK people but all people. So when my not BLACK but brown-adjacent friend expressed her outrage, admitted that she felt helpless, and asked me what she could do, I directed her to Campaign Zero where they have outlined specific policy solutions and reforms and ways to take action. And now, I'm directing you.