This is the second consecutive holiday season that Black people have commemorated with the denial of justice to those slain by police. This year, it has been the decisions in Texas and Ohio not to indict any officers in the deaths of Sandra Bland and 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Last year it was Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
There really aren’t any words left to capture the feelings of indignation, pain, rage, powerlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness that these serial miscarriages of justice induce. Who will fight for us when the police kill our children?
In Chicago last week, the police killed college student Quintonio Legrier and his neighbor Bettie Jones, when Legrier’s dad called the police to help after his son exhibited signs of mental distress. Who will fight when the cops run in guns blazing without regard or care for the lives they have been called to protect and serve?
The answer is no one. No one will fight for us. And when we fight for ourselves, they kill us for that, too. When we stand up and decry injustice, our rage becomes the pretext for even more state-sanctioned violence, repression, and disenfranchisement.
We’ve said it all before. At this point, White Americans know the racial refuse of this nation is a stinking, rotting sore. But far too many of them continue to walk around acting, as the country folks of my youth would say, as if their shit don’t stink. For those of us who view Black lives as something more than the incidentally odoriferous fertilizer for white supremacy, the stench of rotting Black flesh is almost too much bear.
This is a nation that cannot even agree, 60 years after the death of Emmett Till, that Black children’s lives matter. To be clear, Tamir Rice was a child. Playing in a park. With a toy. Those are the facts. No matter what sorry justifications for a lack of indictment are offered to Tamir’s family and “we the people,” these remain the facts. Fifty-three percent of Americans say American life has changed for the worse since the 1950s. Emmett Till was killed in 1955. Rosa Parks sat down on a bus on Dec. 1, 1955.
Those white people who believe that America has declined since 1955 measure descent from the apex of white racial hypocrisy. The 1950s for everyone who isn’t white were marked by the violent suppression and policing of democratic possibility, frequently through the taking of Black life, the raping of Black women, and the refusal to adequately educate Black children. We made the mistake of believing that there was nowhere to go from there but up. But where we now find ourselves is in a repetitive racial scenario in which white police officers and the officers of the court who conspire with them, manufacture and suborn Black death, using the pile-up of Black bodies to reinforce a collective sense of white racial safety.
If it is still possible in the second decade of the 21st century to commit the kinds of racial atrocities that white people committed in the first six decades of the 20th century, then maybe, for those white folks who refuse to critique their racism, the future doesn’t look so bad after all.
Last month in Marksville, Louisiana, two Black police officers pursued and shot at a white man named Mark Few and his 6-year-old son Jeremy Mardis. Six-year-old Jeremy was shot and killed during the pursuit, and both officers have been charged with murder and attempted murder, since Few had no warrants and weapon.
They should be charged and tried, because they have committed an injustice against this family. When Black people kill white victims, they are usually charged, and disproportionately convicted of the crimes.
When two grown white men, with dubious policing records, haphazardly and recklessly take a 12-year-old Black boy’s life, we get told that this was a “perfect storm of human error.” And Black people are supposed to go home and feel at peace, that the system worked even though the outcome was not just. The system did not get justice for Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mom. But the system worked to protect those lives it values.
Justice for Black people is not a systemic or structural priority. The priority is always to make sure that white citizens and white police officers make it home to their families. If this means that a few Black mothers and fathers every year don’t get to see their sons or daughters again, well, this is what it takes for the system to work.
Blood born of Black death greases the wheels of the system. Spilled blood is the anointing oil that grants spiritual power to prosecutors and police who act as denizens of Black death.
They are anointed for this work, this cyclical letting of Black blood, this cyclical forgetting of the value of Black life.
Did you expect me to speak words of life as I conjure these words while stepping over and standing atop an accreting pile of Black bodies? Whatever lies white supremacy would have you believe, the souls of Black folks don’t work this way.
We hurt. We mourn.
Tamir was a baby. Just at the edge of puberty. His voice hadn’t even changed. He didn’t yet have facial hair. He was a baby-faced Black boy who had the nerve to play.
These days I spend a lot of time wondering how our ancestors –people like anti-lynching crusaders Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell, W.E.B. DuBois and Walter White, Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin King and Bayard Rustin – dealt. Did they smoke? Did they drink? Did they screw? Did they dance? Did they scream? Did they destroy themselves? Did they destroy those around them?
How did those on whose shoulders we stand keep on standing? Where did they find the wherewithal to square their shoulders and live to fight another day? How? On most days, I feel like we are made from different stock than they are. More delicate. More breakable. Not quite so tough. They didn’t want us to have to be so tough. Calloused. Impenetrable.
There are no neat and tidy endings to this story. Sandra Bland did not have a neat and tidy ending. Tamir Rice died on a cold November day, as officers refused to render him medical aid. There are no neat and tidy endings.
I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know how we get to the change we so desperately need. But I do know that Black mothers and Black communities cannot abide the killing of their children. For those who have been, and those who are here, and those who are yet to come, we will all keep fighting.