The pain is immense. And yet it’s been there in our hearts for so long we’ve grown numb to it. But it’s that chronic pain in your spirit that'll really get to you.
But how can you not be in pain when you’ve watched so many unarmed Black people killed at the hands of their own government? There are so many that it’s impossible to keep up. This week, Jordan Edwards joined The List, and the pain is exponentially greater because he’s one of hundreds in our collective mind. The List I’m speaking of is both personal and universal—there are names that are on everyone’s list, like Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Oscar Grant, as well as names that are on my list that may not be on yours.
I can’t forget about Aiyana Stanley-Jones, the seven-year-old girl killed as she slept in her home by police raiding the wrong house. Her story haunts me. I’m sure there are names on your list that aren’t on mine, maybe one that happened in your area that didn’t go national. But the fact that there is The List, a macabre roll call of unforgettable, avoidable deaths—that is unconscionable.
And deeply painful. Because taken altogether, these are killings that have the impact of terrorism—this is violence against civilians that sends a message to others. The message is the Black body means little in this society.
The List is so long that the stories come at you in droves, causing cognitive overload that makes it harder to process it all. This week we got one new story and two updates on older ones.
Jordan Edwards—a cherubic 15-year-old boy with a 3.5 GPA and a spot on the varsity football team—was neither suspected of a crime nor armed when Officer Roy Oliver shot into a moving car—against police procedure—and killed Edwards. Edwards was a good kid, but it didn't matter. The penalty of Blackness outshone his character.
Meanwhile, the conclusion of the Alton Sterling story arrived almost a year after his death—the Department of Justice won’t bring charges against the officers who killed Sterling. The effect of so many officers being exonerated for killing so many Black people sends the message that the system accepts this. Blacks are expendable.
It’s telling that the Department of Justice announced this decision the same week that they chose to prosecute Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz for laughing at Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing.
Fairooz laughed when Senator Richard Shelby claimed that Sessions’ history of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.” (That is funny.) Federal prosecutors are moving forward with charges against Fairooz because, they say, her laugh was “extraordinarily disruptive” to congressional proceedings. Seems like the Sessions DOJ is prizing the dignity of elite white men over the lives of Black men.
I can’t help but feel abandoned by my government. Is it only in extreme situations—like when an officer shoots a Black man in the back while he’s fleeing and it’s caught on video—that officers will be held accountable? That’s what former Officer Michael Slager did to the late Walter Scott. Slater plead guilty this week to using excessive force.
There is not an epidemic of policing violence against Black people—this is normal. This all goes back generations. The List lives in the minds of our parents and grandparents. The big difference is the modern list is televised and viral.
We all watched the last agonizing moments of the life of Eric Garner and Laquan MacDonald and Walter Scott and and Tamir Rice and Philando Castile and more. We have all these horrific little Vines playing in our heads. Short snuff films where Black men are killed. We’re carrying the weight of them. It’s heavy and it’s painful and we don’t even know the impact of millions of people walking around with so many visions of Black death in their minds.
What is that doing to our psyches? We are in pain. A deep, spiritual pain. And to heal it, to bring about real justice is not about body cameras, consent decrees or community policing. We need those things but we need much more. We need a radical restructuring of how the Black body is perceived in America. Without that, The List will continue to grow.