What a week.
While grieving the death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards at the hands of police, we
received notice that justice will not be served in the case of Alton Sterling who was shot by police in Baton Rouge last summer. We were then updated that the officers involved in Jordan’s death gave a false account of events. Not to forget that in the case of Walter Scott, slain in 2015 by a police officer, the officer has recently changed his story and plead guilty at the federal level after an initial mistrial at the circuit level. Experiencing the emotional highs and lows of these events sums up what it means to be black in America. To fear for and mourn lives both known and unknown, knowing that our lives are predicated on a narrative that is not our own, but a misrepresentation of who we are.
The experience of fear at the site of a black body, whether facing you, running or driving away, does enough to explain where one lies on the scale of regard for black humanity. Pulling a trigger in that moment solidifies that position. Both of these issues are rooted in centuries of disregard for black lives and false narratives. There is no angle from which such heinous acts can be perceived as acceptable, yet the act that cements this blatant disregard, are the lies told after the murder. After an internal review of the body cam tape, Police Chief Haber made it clear that the officers involved lied about the events leading up to Jordan Edwards’ murder and were fired as a result. The officer on trial for Walter Scott’s murder completely changed his story and pleaded guilty for a plea deal. “But Mr. Slager abruptly dropped the defense that he had offered since Mr. Scott’s death in April 2015: that he had feared for his life after a traffic stop that went awry and a struggle over a Taser device,” according to LA times. While a guilty plea is rare, it is not rare that these deaths are followed by a post-mortal indictment in our world of alternative facts.
What feels like a “little white lie” to some is the perpetuation of potentially deadly outcomes for an entire race: The Scottsboro Boys (1931). Emmett Till (1955). The Central Park Five (1989). Kalief Browder (2010). Walter Scott (2015). Jordan Edwards (2017). These lies become a narrative that presumes guilt and predetermines the value of our lives.
Narratives matter and our livelihood hinges on honest ones. Honest narratives start before police academy, when people go to school and learn about history- black history beyond the context of slavery, Malcolm and Martin, but the multilayered history that it is. Those honest narratives might be a step toward less trigger-happy fingers when a black man is pulled over at a traffic stop; but honest narratives need to persist even when that trigger is unfortunately pulled. The fact that we can expect the shooting is a problem. The fact that we can expect a cover up is too, but, “the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Being a police officer is an occupation that I could never wrap my mind around. Coming face to face with danger every day is not a life I would choose to live. I commend those who choose to live that life for the sake of actually protecting us and calling out officers who believe that melanin is a weapon. Police departments have to do more along the lines of screening for biases and training officers to be aware of and work against those biases, understanding that black lives are not just statistics or stories that can be changed after a trigger-happy moment.
The false narratives that result in the termination of so many black lives, cannot continue to be followed by more lies as justification. We are nuanced narratives that have been subjected to someone else’s pen for far too long. An honor roll didn’t save Jordan’s life and that’s because a narrative about him already existed that did not match the reality of who he was. If the sight of black objects in motion, away from your weapon is threatening, the hunters clearly got the definition of threatening wrong while they were busy trying to narrate us. Since that’s not working out so well, how about we focus on the facts instead, and a civilian review board while we’re at it?
Naa-Shorme, Creator of Write to Live