What happens after Alton, Philando, and Dallas?
BY: ELISHA BROWN
I won’t forget the week of July 4, 2016.
On the Tuesday after Independence Day, a black man named Alton Sterling was shot and killed by two officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for selling CDs. The next day, his familywent on television to speak about the man, the father, they lost. “I want my daddy,” cried Sterling’s 15-year-old son.
Sterling became a number.123. He was the 123rd black person shot by police in 2016.
By Wednesday, Philando Castile was 124. When he and girlfriend Diamond Reynolds were pulled over by the police in Minnesota, the 32-year-old allegedly reached for his wallet to show the officer his open-carry license and inform the cop that he was armed. Still, the school cafeteria supervisor was killed by law enforcement. Reynolds streamed the interaction on Facebook Live and she, her little girl, and the world, watched Castile take his last breath.
Black lives ended by police and recorded on camera have become the norm for this country. Naturally, we have developed a routine response. We tweet, we cry, we take to the streets for protest. We call on leaders to take action. We try to change minds. Nothing is wrong with these methods. And this time, there may have been an awakening, some kind of breakthrough. We witnessed some unlikely acknowledgement from right-wing politicians.
"What father or mother or friend will be number 250?"
Then came Dallas on Thursday. In the midst of a peaceful protest against brutality, five police officers were killed and seven were wounded on July 7 in an act of hate by Micah Johnson, a 25-year-old black man.
What did it all mean? Was this an awakening or a setback? Media swamped us with statistics on how most Americans believe that race relations in our country are bad. Shocker. There were calls for unity. There were nasty callout arguments on Twitter. A former congressman threatened President Obama, saying that the “real America” was coming. By the next week, CNN hosted a town hall debate on race. One of the headlines for the program read, “Is Black Lives Matter Racist?”
For a brief moment, it looked like the spectacle of seeing these black lives ended back-to-back and on loop, watched millions of times, had awakened white America to the horrors of what it’s like to be black in this country we share. To fear for your family when they drive to the store. To fear that your facial expression isn’t pleasing the cops. To fear that you could look suspicious and end up killed.
There was a window of opportunity. But it was shut, replaced by the noise of arguments in Facebook threads and on cable news assessing whether “blue” lives are more valuable than black lives. Protesters, including Deray McKesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter leader, exercising their freedoms were arrested across the country.
By the next week, Pokemon Go had swept the attention of the nation. I couldn’t help but wonder if we gravitated toward the game as a way to take our minds off the deaths. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with catching some Pikachus while still grieving about Dallas, Alton, and Philando. There’s room for nuance.
But who will be number 125? What father or mother or friend will be number 250? How many black people will have to be turned into a statistic before the majority realize that policing is a racist institution that cannot by simple dialogue?
The only fix is to stop killing us.
Cover: (Darryl Smith/Flickr)