What do you do when you’re born bad? If you are a problem for simply living and breathing, then what exactly are you to do with your life? And how do you survive when you and your people are as convinced as anyone that your moral compass is nonexistent, your body is threatening, and that you simply don’t matter?
Do you go to a nightclub and kill someone who looks like you for no other reason but his refusal to let you in? Do you pump your body with drugs in search of an escape? Might aligning yourself with those who created the lack of value for your life find you a place to exist safely? Can you buy your way out of Blackness? Will a White Jesus forgive you for the sin of your birth?
If it wasn’t difficult enough to watch the continued denial of justice for Mike Brown—including the failure of the state to indict his killer—and the fall of one of America’s great Black heroes due to allegations of abhorrent crimes against women, this weekend delivered two more headlines that are absolutely soul crushing.
Akai Gurley and his girlfriend were walking in an unlit stairwell in a project tenement in Brooklyn, when an officer patrolling the building was so startled by their presence that he let off a round and shot the unarmed 28-year-old father dead. Unlike most officer-involved shootings, there was no rush to defend Officer Peter Liang by suggesting that Gurley somehow caused his own death, as Commissioner Bill Bratton came forward immediately to state that the shooting was an “accident.” The New York Times cites a “high-ranking officer” as claiming that Liang, who is left-handed, attempted to open the door to the stairwell with the same hand that held his gun.
Regardless of the validity of the officer’s account of that night’s events, we know that a cop killed an unarmed person who was not a suspect. We know that an officer who is charged with maintaining safety in the projects—not just on the street, but in folks’ home—is so afraid of the people he is to serve and protect that he “accidentally” killed one just for entering his presence. That information alone is enough to make you scream. It also isn’t the only maddening crime against Black life committed by a police officer in the past 72 hours.
On Saturday, two Cleveland police officers (one a rookie, the other a 10-year veteran) were dispatched to a playground after receiving a call that someone was waving a “probably fake” gun. Allegedly, when asked to raise his hands above his head, 12-year-old Tamir Rice grabbed the definitely fake gun from his waistband. One of the officers fired two shots at the little boy and he died the following day from his injuries. Tamir made no verbal threats, and it’s impossible not to wonder if he wanted to quickly show the officers that his “gun” was but a toy.
Tamir’s death comes just a week after a mentally ill woman died in the custody of Cleveland police. Thirty-seven-year-old Tanesha Anderson was allegedly trying to leave her family’s home, and when officers responded, they attempted to take her to a local medical center for evaluation. When she resisted, an officer used a violent takedown method, slamming her onto the sidewalk. Anderson lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
These deaths come as we are expecting an announcement from the grand jury charged with deciding if Officer Darren Wilson will face charges in relation to the killing of unarmed teen Mike Brown. Going into Monday morning, we have learned that there is no decision yet, despite indication that one would have been announced the week before last, and then last weekend, and then last week, and again yesterday.
The amount of time it took for the grand jury—which ws merely charged with establishing probable cause, not guilt—to decide Wilson’s fate has made a terrible situation infinitely worse. The endless waiting, combined with the fact that most of us knew there would be no indictment, coupled with the continued hostility of local law enforcement towards protestors and fear-mongering by both Missouri government and national media, is enough to rob Black folks of the remaining sanity we may have.
When three innocent Black lives have been snuffed out in the course of a week—one of the 14 weeks in which we waited to learn if justice for Mike Brown was even remotely possible—how long must we live like this? How long do we have to work to convince the world of our humanity, only to have our cries thrown back in our face? To have our righteous indignation rebranded as violence and mayhem?
As I made my way back home from Ferguson once again, just hours before the heartbreaking-yet-predictable grand jury announcement, I’m gutted by the feeling of watching our people be denied our right to justice, respect and freedom… and life… once again. Some of our own folks have bit their tongues before speaking out for Mike Brown and his right to live because he may have snatched a pack of cigarillos before being killed. Will your lack of outrage extend to little Tamir? Is he young and “respectable” enough for your grief?
If this isn’t our collective “Black wake-up call,” then it will never come. The whole damn system is guilty as hell, and if we fail to challenge it, then we are too. There is not one more moment for complacency; our silence is consent. The people of St. Louis are roaring; will the rest of us join in? When the only thing standing between imminent death and us is the fear, nervousness and ineptitude of the police, will we continue to act as if we can pray, earn or achieve our way out of struggle?
In advance of whatever may come in St. Louis in the days to come, I would like to leave you with one final plea not to fall for the fear-mongering smear campaign that has been used to paint our people as violent criminals for demanding accountability and justice for Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell, Vonderitt Myers and victims of state-sanctioned violence everywhere. If you can’t summon the outrage to mourn and fight for justice for these young men, for Tanesha, Akai and Tamir, then I leave you with this question:
Do you believe you were born bad, too?
This article was updated on November 25th.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com’s Senior Editor. Tweet her @jamilahlemieux.