(For Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and numerous others)
Over the past few days, weeks, and months there have been eloquent words spoken, passionate poems and prose written, and thoughtful commentaries and reflections offered about the righteous rage, indignant indifference, fear, sadness and ambivalence that black folk and allies have felt as we have literally fought for the dignity and recognition that black lives have significance. Every time I hear, see or read #blacklivesmatter, I am simultaneously affirmed and disgusted. Affirmed at the reckoning and recognition of my life as important in the midst of a system that would render my life as a black person without meaning or value. Disgusted that because of my skin color it is necessary to announce the relevance and audacity of my existence.
The non-indictment of Daniel Panteleo, the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death on Staten Island, which came only 9 days after a non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, and 69 days after the nonindictment of Sean Williams for the death of John Crawford, and 11 days after 12 year old Tamir Rice was murdered by Tim Loehmann, an officer who had been previously sanctioned for deficient performance on his previous job, has left many of us speechless and without words. I struggle for words which feel inadequate because we have been throwing words at injustice for months and words alone have not brought us justice or peace. Words alone don’t seem to do the work that needs to be done. Words offer a semblance of resolution, an illusion of recognition, but words, including the last words spoken by the victims, does little more than haunt us, little more than remind us that words feel empty when there is no action. This piece is my attempt to us my words to do something. This is also my attempt to use words to demonstrate empathy. In the midst of injustice and oppression…how long can you hold your breath?
Folk have been gathering and strategizing and staging die-ins and public peaceful protests and panels and lectures and conversations, saying words, and writing words, and living words as a testimony of black life and fortitude. The wives, parents, grandparents, friends, lovers, children, communities left behind after these loses deserve justice. They require it. We demand it. We can’t get tired. We can’t get complacent. We have to revel in discomfort brought on by listening to testimonies, wrestling with privilege, matching good intentions with some kind of effort to keep things going. The possibility of unchecked white privilege + the loss of black lives with no consequence becoming the new normal puts us all at risk.
As Crunktastic shared on a panel hosted by NYU last night, “it feels like we are going backwards since the death of Trayvon Martin” because at least in that case there was a trial (even if there was no justice).
I find myself holding my breath in moments when I am faced with yet another case of white supremacy at work,
I hold my breath at the dehumanization of black bodies,
I hold my breath at the images of lifeless black boys and men on public streets,
I hold my breath knowing that blackgirls and women are not exempt from violence and death at the hands of anti-black racism,
I hold my breath reading the names of blackgirls and women who have lost their lives to police violence,
I hold my breath because trans* folk are uniquely vulnerable and uniquely targeted because of their different difference
I hold my breath when my black male cousin, 20 years old and in college, does not immediately pick up the phone
I hold my breath reading racist reactions to state sanctioned murder and misperceptions of what we see/what we know in the cases where there is visual evidence
I hold my breath when I see images of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford. When I look at them I see the faces of black boys and men who deserved to live. When white racism looks at those same faces it sees aggressive thugs who deserved to die.
This can’t keep happening.
This keeps happening.
I can’t breathe.
I hold my breath.
Inhale and hold yours.
Innocence is never presumed for black bodies
Instead there is suspicion of wrongdoing
Perversion of humanity
Assumption of delinquency
People want to justify so-called justice that is more wrong than right
And never on the right side of the people
Who are not white
People who are told to
for the outcome to come
out on their side
and the side of those they have lost.
We have heard this before
and we cannot afford to
because black bodies dying because of unchecked, possibly unconscious racism is becoming commonplace
Trayvon was not the first
Tamir will not be the last
If you listen you can hear them calling and chanting
If you listen you can hear them begging
Perpetrators of violence against black bodies and their apologists suggest that black men, particularly those who are not small
That black boys, particularly those who are not perfect
are dangerous, inhuman, suprahuman, an ‘it’
There is no benefit of the doubt for black boys and men
or blackwomen and girls
It doesn’t matter if there are eye witnesses or video evidence
Black bodies are not safe in public spaces
Institutionalized racism will never protect us
Silence will never protect us
Some people seem to be intentionally missing the message
We can’t breathe.
We are holding our breath.
We watched them take their last breath
Speak their last words
which haunt us like black ghosts
Reminding us that they “can’t breathe,” that “it’s not real,” that they don’t want to die,
They shouldn’t die
But racism is too thick to push through your lungs
And it tastes like bile on the tongue
And we can’t breathe
Eric Garner was choked to death in the street
July 17, 2014, Staten Island, NY
John Crawford was shot dead in Walmart.
August 5, 2014, Beavercreek, OH
Mike Brown was shot dead in the street
August 9, 2014, Ferguson, MO
Tamir Rice was shot dead in the park.
November 22, 2014, Cleveland, OH
This is a call to consciousness. A call to action. A cause to move/ment.
Folk are hurting. People are tired. Families are missing
that can’t be replaced
to exhale, and breathe, and
believe in a system of justice that is just not for us
Our words could not save them. Our words can possibly save us.
Please use what you have (your voice, your words, your body, your influence, your time, your money, your energy) to push this movement forward. We’ve held our breath for too long.