“It’s heavy.” Those words only begin to describe how I’ve felt the last few days, living in the center of protests, riots, law enforcement officers dressed for war, tanks driving through my neighborhood, helicopters flying above, and seeing the same thing happening all over the country . . . and then I received an email notifying me of the death of one of my clients due to COVID-19. A man that spent his life in ministry serving to make the Third Ward the best it could be was gone. The same Third Ward that George Floyd called home.
For the first time I have seen all Americans have experienced a taste of what it is like to be Black in America. To intentionally prepare yourself for the invisible dangers lurking outside your door. To know that no matter your occupation you are not immune to attack. Having the sober realization that even if you follow all the rules you can still be killed, and the culprit will face no repercussions. To feel the intense uncertainty that even in your own home, the most sacred of personal spaces, you are not protected against violent attack.
This is the daily pandemic experience of Living While Black In America.
Growing up in the South, I have always been acutely aware of neighborhoods to avoid after dark. Places where the sheer amount of melanin in my skin was considered an overt threat. There are still places I will not visit because I know my professional accomplishments and kind heart are no protection against being in the wrong neighborhood with the wrong skin.
On February 23rd, Ahmaud Arbery went out for a run and was chased down and killed by two white men who shot and killed him. They alleged he was a burglar that attacked them, though a video shot by a neighbor also involved in the murder, showed Ahmaud wielded no weapon and tried to avoid them. He was simply taking advantage of one of the few physical freedoms that remained at that time – enjoying a walk or run outside.
The story of Breonna Taylor is similar. On the night of March 13th, Breonna was in her home when officers entered unannounced. Her boyfriend Kenneth Walker fired off a warning shot from his licensed firearm in an effort to protect his family. The officers, who said they were pursuing a suspect (that had already been arrested), opened fire, shooting 20 rounds killing Breonna. Eight of their bullets ended her life. Breonna, a first responder and hero of COVID-19, was killed in her own home.
It took over two months for the shooters to be arrested in Ahmaud Arbery’s case, and only after national outcry and viral social media campaigns. Almost three months after her murder on what would have been her 27th birthday Breonna Taylor’s killers have yet to be charged.
The most recent case happened just last week. George Floyd was sitting in his vehicle when officers investigating a forgery complaint questioned him. They handcuffed him and made him lay on the ground, while a white officer forced his knee into George’s neck for over eight minutes. Eight. Minutes. As George pleaded for help, his mother, water, any kind of relief from this cruel and unusual treatment, the officer ignored him and pressed deeper. Even when bystanders called out that George was bleeding and in distress, the officer pressed deeper, while other officers stood by complicit. As George complied with officer requests he was met with unnecessary use of force that took his breath, and ultimately his life.
Now we soberly add them to the list of those that have succumbed to the American danger of living while black and promise to #saytheirnames.
In every case the rights and privileges of black bodies were deemed irrelevant. Their lawful acts or very presence framed as infringements and threats upon the freedom of their less melanin-rich counterparts. Their basic needs and cries for help disregarded.
What will it take to make black lives matter? What will it take to make spaces safe for black bodies like mine? How can I begin to understand that even during a pandemic—as we battle a virus that wields its deathly force with no respect of person, race, or age—there can still be so much hatred?
I have no answers. I only have strengthened resolve – to live unapologetically in my Black skin. Resolve to stand up for those who have been silenced, overlooked, underserved, and undervalued. Resolve to speak out against injustice, even if I must do so with knees shaking and tears streaming. Resolve to encourage every person I can to get informed and vote, especially in local elections. Resolve to continue to work so the loss of these lives, and so many before them, will not be in vain.
Resolve to work until the American ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are tangible realities … For All of Us.