I wasn’t going to write this. I was going to keep my opinion to myself. People have said this is not the right time. Something like this could be seen as a slap in the face of his mother. But, if now is not the right time, then when is?
When is the right time to tell our own black sons that black life matters? When is the right time to tell our sons that life matters, period? I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for Michael Brown’s mother. I cannot imagine what it is like to lose a son. But as I have done with any police shooting, I have been reserving my opinion until the entire story is told. As best as it can be told, considering the fact that one of the victims is dead.
Yes, I said one of the victims. The store owners were victims on that day as well. (And continue to be victims as their business is looted, though they did nothing that day that Michael Brown was killed.) People always complain that the only businesses in our communities are liquor stores, check into cash businesses, title loan businesses, and pawn shops. Well these are the businesses that are guaranteed to receive our patronage. Truth be told any other business is taking a chance opening in our communities. There’s the chance they’ll be robbed (Kent Smith, a business owner who has been in my community for many years was murdered recently as he was robbed.) or the chance that the business just will not thrive. Where are the protesters for this?
The statement that has been chanted and repeated in this last week is that “black life matters.” Yes! I agree. Black life does matter. Who’s going to tell that to our sons? When I go to my news app on my phone to receive the latest updates on what is happening in Ferguson, the Ferguson update is bookended by stories of our own black children being murdered by other black children. Yesterday, alone, I read stories about four black people being killed here in Memphis. Why are we not sharing the message with our own that black life matters? Hell, life period, matters.
Anyone who does not see this as a problem is clearly not rooted in sanity or reality. I teach students who believe selling drugs is the life, who think that being a “thug” is cool, who think that life has nothing to offer them other than what they find in the streets. It’s a mentality I try to tear down every day.
Back to the Michael Brown incident, if it is true that Michael Brown grabbed the officer’s gun or tussled with him in any fashion, where’s the outrage for respect of authority? Why do we, as a community, continue to teach our children to disrespect authority of any kind? And I say we, though my own children have been schooled with the knowledge that police do not shoot to wound and that when stopped, they are to comply with the officer’s orders. The citizen is not in control of the situation, the officer is.
Realistically, what message is being sent as people in Ferguson continue to destroy their own neighborhood and continue to disregard authority? A message that was already prevalent in our community: “Fuck the police.” An attitude that never seems to take into account that we are responsible for our own behavior. You can’t rob someone (take what they worked hard to earn) and then become indignant when the police stop you. You can’t sell drugs and then become indignant and shout “Fuck the police.” The life of the people who are being sold drugs, namely crack and much harder drugs, well their life matters as well. And, let’s think for a second, if black people felt a sense of connection to their neighborhoods, would they be destroying it like they are now? Lack of ownership and entrepreneurship, more reasons to protest.
We have a problem in our community. And, sadly, it is not as simple as being mistreated by police. No one wants to accept that we have been responsible for the image that black life doesn’t matter. Our kids have the most behavior problems in school. Our kids don’t perform well in school, and it’s not always because the school is a bad one. (No one addresses the fact that the “good schools” are the schools in white neighborhoods. The schools in neighborhoods where parents have expectations for their children.) Our kids, in drastically increasing numbers, are killing one another over Facebook arguments, over gang affiliation, drug territory, drug deals gone bad, and just killing each other, period. I want to take to the streets to protest that. And in that same breath, as I walk to tell my own people that black life matters, I want to tell those outside my community that, yes, I believe black life matters.
I’m sorry if anyone sees this as a slap in the face. I see it as a slap in the face when one of my students is shot on his way to school. I see it as a slap in the face when a child who’s only been in my class for less than two weeks is lying in the hospital fighting for his life because he was shot in the chest after school by another black teenager. (And when I’m calling roll, another student pipes up and tells me he’s in the hospital because he was shot in the chest. Absent from this young man’s face, the one reporting the news, is the deep sadness I already feel.) I consider it as a slap in the face that so many of our black young men believe they will not live to see adulthood, not because of the police, but because of the war that is being waged in our communities. The war that no one wants to protest.
I contend that current tactics to get out the message that black life matters are not working. To exact real change, we have to go in and find the tumor that is killing our black children. And in taking out the tumor, we will see real change.
There will be some who say I’m not black, I’m being inappropriate, and the message I’ve heard many times before: that I must think I’m not black. Yes. I’m black. If you don’t believe me, just ask my sons.
I cannot shed my
black skin, stop this pain. Death stings
self-inflicted and cop-inflicted.