If you follow the news closely, it’s easy to catch tragedy fatigue.
While the country has been rallying behind the family of Trayvon Martin in a national campaign to bring the 17 year-old’s killer to justice, there has been relative silence around the fact that 22 year-old Rekia Boyd was shot dead by an off-duty police officer in Chicago last week. The police version of the events that led to Boyd’s death state that the officer asked a group of people that were gathered in a park to quiet down, and as a result a 39 year-old man pulled a gun on the officer, who responded by drawing his own weapon and firing. The gunman was hit in the hand, while Boyd, who was standing nearby, caught a fatal shot to the head. Witnesses contradict the police version, telling a local news station that no one pulled a gun on the off-duty officer. Boyd’s family is calling for a federal investigation into her death.
Once again, the long sordid history between Black people and the police is front and center. It’s hard to hear that the police have shot and killed another unarmed Black person and not instantly think of the names Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, or Aiyana Jones. Knowing the facts of those cases, and the excuses used to justify their deaths, it becomes more difficult to believe the police side of any event having to do with the death of a young Black person. To quote everyone's favorite rapper: "we don’t believe you, you need more people".
Chicago has serious issues with its police and the use of excessive force. A 2007 report produced by a University of Chicago legal team showed that Chicago police officers had more brutality complaints per officer than the national average, while the police department was less likely to take these charges seriously.
It’s obvious that Boyd was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the question is, what went wrong? Did she catch a stray in the midst of an altercation prompted by the alleged gunman, or was she the victim of the type of policing to which Black people have become uncomfortably accustomed? Her death is tragic, either way, but it is important to know just who is responsible.
Even if the police are telling the absolute, 100% truth in this case, the actions of those endowed with the authority to kill should be subject to intense scrutiny. Police command a certain amount of respect, but given how tense and violent the relationship between them and the Black community has been, there is an understandable level of skepticism and apprehension Black people in general hold toward police. So even if it was an accident, it never feels like an accident. Black folk, particularly Black youth, feel hunted. And so long as police are not held accountable for taking the lives of young Black people, the cycle of death and distrust continues.
Any number of reasons could explain why this case has not captured the national imagination in the same way that Martin’s has, but the Boyd family deserves justice all the same. Black people across the country deserve justice. We remain fatigued until it is served.