“I honestly can’t imagine, and that’s my reality. I have the privilege of not being able to imagine how this must feel. That’s why I want to amplify voices of those who are living this.”
That was a conversation with a friend yesterday, a mother who identifies as a black woman. I reached out to her and a few others, asking them to share with me how they felt when they learned of Alton Sterling’s death. (Just hours after receiving many of their responses, we’d learn of Philando Castile’s death, too.)
It’s not that I have nothing to say about this. I’ll say that I am saddened and angered by racism, brutality, corruption among some police officers. I will say that demanding accountability and change does NOT make me anti-police, anymore than demanding negligent doctors lose their licenses would make me anti-doctor. I’ll say that I believe that every time someone responds to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter they are completely and totally missing the point.
That said, what I have to say about this is not nearly as important as the voices of people who are living this reality.
These are women who I love, admire, respect, and who have been there for me, to support me, as part of my village. I care deeply about how much they are hurting right now. Their feelings are valid, and they deserve to be heard. So today I’m handing my platform over to these voices of black mothers. Please, read with a kind and open heart. Their feelings are not open for debate.
Listen to our village. Just listen.
It was just a few minutes after 4 a.m. when I picked up my phone, checked Facebook, and saw the video still of a man facedown on the ground, an officer’s knee in his back. The blurb below shouting, “NOT AGAIN…”
I clicked and read that he was selling CD’s outside of a convenience store. I read that police were called for a weapon threat. I read that the video showed him being subdued, and then shot, point blank, without reasonable provocation. This is nothing new. What I felt as I took in the narrative wasn’t shock. For me, it never is.
As I hear people rush to justify police actions and vilify the victim, it’s not even anger that I struggle with, but an overwhelming sense of guilt. Guilt because I feel like should have known better than to bring two little Black boys into this world. Guilt because I myself have been discriminated against, even as a child, for the color of my skin. Guilt because with these incidents happening as often as they are, how much longer are they going to be able to hold onto their innocence?
My reality is one where I constantly wonder how much longer I have before my almost-seven-year-old is perceived as a threat.
My reality is one where if my husband stays even a half hour late at work without letting me know, I call him in a panic, imagining the worst.
My reality is having spent all Wednesday trying to keep my boys distracted so that they wouldn’t see how I was struggling, my chest burning with grief and anxiety, not to shed tears for a stranger in front of them.
This time, with Alton Sterling, as it was with Sandra Bland, with Tamir Rice, with Eric Garner, or any of the many others, I’m holding out hope that this will be an actual catalyst for change. Because unfortunately, while this isn’t anything new, it’s really damn exhausting.
When I learned of Alton Sterling’s death, I immediately thought, “Not another one. Not another police shooting.”
As I watched the video of the police officer football-tackling Alton Sterling, who didn’t seem to be resisting at the time, I gasped. Then the gun shots. Too many gunshots.
As a woman of Black/German descent, I didn’t break out a “Black Lives Matter” or “F*CK the Police” shirt. No. My thoughts were about Alton Sterling’s family. Is his mother watching the news? Does he have kids? I was overcome with sadness at the thought of all the lives that would be affected by yet another police shooting.
I thought about my son and a nightmare I’ve played out over and over and over again in my head. My 11-year-old has autism, and I’m not sure that if he were ever confronted by police that he would comply despite many conversations and attempts to explain why it’s important to do so.
My guess is that if they yell “STOP” or “ON THE GROUND” he might get flustered or misunderstand their cues. What if he reaches for a cellphone in his pocket to call us? What if he runs? Then what? Will the police be justified in shooting a person with autism because he or she wasn’t compliant?
So when I heard about Alton Sterling’s killing, as a mother, I thought that being non-compliant should never be justification enough to ever take a human being’s life.
I’m tired. I’m tired of white “friends” feigning helplessness. I’m tired of friends using their voices for everything but oppression. Im tired of your thoughts, prayers, and continued inaction. I’m tired of wondering whether my husband, brother, friend, or child’s friend will be next. I’m tired of your apathy. You and your silence are complicit. You too are now my enemy. I’m really tired.
It was 2:58am. I’d stayed up late, working, but decided to scroll Facebook one more time before I went to sleep. That’s when I saw a friend’s status.
“The Alton Sterling video is truly disturbing.”
I could feel the pit in my stomach. I went straight to Twitter and immediately saw the hashtag. #AltonSterling. I debated whether or not to Google. I should’ve just gone to bed. But I knew.
I think the first search result was from CNN. The search results were all from reputable news sites and they all had similar headlines. Baton Rouge police shoot black man. And there was video.
I clicked on one of the links and the article opened in a new tab. As I began to read the article, I heard the start of the video. I quickly scrolled thinking that would stop the video but then I saw it. A man pinned on the ground. Gun shots. A girl screaming. I went back to my friend’s Facebook page and typed these words.
“I just fucking can’t anymore.”
And then I went to bed.
I am tired. And scared. Make that terrified. And my heart hurts. Because I have 2 sons. Sons with beautiful brown skin. And at some point, very soon, I will have to explain to them that their beautiful brown skin may put them in harms way. It may make them a target. And it might even get them killed. And as their mother, there isn’t anything I can do to protect them.