These last few weeks I’ve been trying figure out how I should express myself on this issue. I’ve written and re-written my thoughts, never knowing quite what to say because it didn’t seem weighty enough in light of the magnitude of the situation and because, quite frankly, I’ve been sad, angry, dismayed, stunned, and, ultimately, unsurprised by how the general society (de)values black life. It made me numb and it silenced me. I also felt like my words would simply rehash what others have said.
But I’ve reached a point now, perhaps because of the number of cases where innocent black people have been shot by police in recent months, that I can’t be silent when I’ve built a platform to write about what’s happening in the world around us. The words and the voice, in particular, of Eric Garner echo in my mind. Unlike Michael Brown, another black man killed by a police officer, there was video footage that supported Garner’s innocence and that clearly showed that he did not resist arrest. He was crying out, making pleas as his life was taken away from him. He told the officers multiple times that he couldn’t breathe. The conditions to charge his killer were perfect. If a picture says a thousand words, then video and audio footage should be more than sufficient. There was no room for prevarication, exaggeration, or “he said-he said” – because facts are facts. Or they’re supposed to be. It was clear who was to blame, yet there is no justice for this man.
His death, like those of many others, confirms why our black parents always tell us that we have to be twice as good, blameless, spotless, perfect almost, in order for us to be beyond reproach. If we’re extra polite, extra conciliatory, then no one can assume we’re thugs or connected to criminal elements. We always have to hold ourselves to a higher standard so that maybe, if we do that, things will work out in our favour. But many of us know this to be a lie, as it’s confirmed again and again because the larger society doubts our truth. If Garner’s death hadn’t been videotaped, detractors and commentators galore would have placed the blame firmly on his shoulders. Many of us try to hold ourselves to a gold standard, we know we have to, just in case; it’s unfortunate that too many in positions of power don’t do the same.