Friday, August 22, 2014

Dying While Black Because You Were Walking, Talking, Breathing While Black

On Saturday, August 9, 2014, eighteen year old, Michael Brown, was killed by Ferguson, Missouri’s police officer, Darren Wilson. The cries of outrage at the lack of details after the shooting led to mass protests in the Ferguson area and around the country. As the week progressed, the protestors’ peaceful daylight marches turned into riots at night where businesses were looted on multiple occasions.


The tone death police department introduced distrust with the way they handled the investigation. They helped heighten racial tensions even more with a show of military grade equipment that were aimed at protesters that many veterans say were not used in firefights in Iraq. The events surrounding the death of Michael Brown has pulled the Band-Aid off the wounds of racism that oozes over every time a questionable shooting by the police who seem to protect their own over protecting the people they vow to serve.

For many, the shooting of Michael Brown brought back memories of Trayvon Martin who was shot by a wanna be cop, George Zimmerman. Many believe that Trayvon Martin was tried by society’s perception of young black men in hoodies who are considered a threat to humanity and to the neighborhood that Zimmerman lived in. Nine months after Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin for walking while black, Jordan Davis was shot by Michael Dunn who was listening to loud music while black. The idea that just being black while standing, walking, or talking deems one’s life invaluable is mind blowing but is becoming an accepted reality to many young black males.

To add to our complex racial divide on dying while black at the hands of law enforcement is what young black men think of themselves and do to each other. Black on black crime rates are at an all-time high. Chicago weekend murders have been as much as eighty in one weekend. Young black males’ consumption of violence has become so numbing that posting videos of dead black teens and young adults on social media sites have become the norm rather than the exception. Our country and our community have reinforced the notion to our young black sons that they do not matter that many have bought into that concept and show it by their disregard for each other lives, their families, girlfriends, and community.

Young black boys are more likely to be sent to the principle office as early as kindergarten than their peers. They are more likely to be put into detention in junior high and expelled in high schools. The school system is the first “system” that young black males are introduced too. Once they enter one system, they become a pipeline for other systems including prison. Encounters in school is the beginning of various encounters that last most of their young lives.

The words of Michael Brown’s mother will be forever etched on my heart, “Do you know how hard it was to get him to graduate?” A mother’s moment of grief was occupied with thoughts of her struggle to get him through school…high school. Ms. Brown mentioned several times in interviews over the last few days that her son was about to start college. In the midst of the most trying time of a mother’s life, preparing to bury a child, she mentions the struggle to get him educated and promises of what were to come through an education. Ms. Brown viewed an education as a way to ensure her son a future. It is ironic that because of the unrest in Ferguson, the start of the school year has been delayed.

Getting an education is not just about learning from a book. As a community, we must get back to the basics of being in and supporting a community that educates our youth about the role of community. That  includes the role of the police in the community. We must look more deeply at the community of young black males; the good, the bad, and the ugly. We must get back to educating our communities about the systemic struggles that we must overcome and remind ourselves that promises of a united country does not stop with the election of the president. As a matter of fact, the election of President Obama has shown us how much more ground we must cover and continue to cover...together...as a country. Waiting on government programs will not cut it. Remember how we fared without them? We have to become each other keepers and remind our families that one success is just one. But that one can make a difference to thousands even millions.

As we continue to watch the events in Ferguson unfold, look in your area and see if it is a Ferguson waiting to explode. Are we having conversations with real and imaginary leaders in our 
communities? Are we holding them accountable? Are we being liable to our children and for them? Are we addressing issues that are obvious or are we waiting for a “moment” to let frustrations boil over? Lastly, are we seeing our youth as our future of tomorrow or as our problems of today that we do not address?  We must be willing to look in the mirror.  

It may sound redundant but I do believe we have to stay faithful while implementing change for the greater good. And please, let our sons and young men know they are valued in our communities.

Photo credit: Time Magazine, Trayvon Martin Foundation, Getty Images, 

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