I am not Mike Brown. I’m not Darrien Hunt. I’m not Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, or Yuseff Hawkins, or Emmett Till, or one of the Central Park Five, or one of the Scottsboro Boys. In fact, when push comes to shove, I’m a lucky black man. I’m getting ready to turn 46. I have no criminal record. I have a college degree. I’m doing work that I love, and moving around in the world in ways that my father, and my grandfather, and all the men in my family never could. My great-grandfather was born a slave—his father was also his owner, and his mother was sold off to another plantation. So, yeah, I’m pretty damn lucky. I have it better than those that came before me. But sadly—heartbreakingly—I also have it better than many of those that came after me.
Mike Brown was old enough to be son. So was Trayvon Martin, and even Darrien Hunt. If he’d lived, Emmett Till would’ve been old enough to be my father. Same with Fred Hampton.
It is difficult to look at the injustices that have been endured by the generations that came before me, and it is even more difficult to witness the oppression and dehumanization of the generation that has come up behind me. And then there is my generation. I’m only a few years older than the Central Park Five. I was living in New York when that travesty happened. Eric Garner was only a few years younger than me. I never met him, but I knew guys like him. Just like I’ve known guys like Darrien Hunt and Mike Brown. I’ve known too many. And I can’t say that I am them, in the way that has become so popular during these news cycles. How many people donned hoodies and proclaimed that they were Trayvon Martin? Hell, I did it. But I’m not Trayvon, or Jordan Davis. I’m alive, writing this, trying to make sense of it all—sense of the fact that so many others before me and after me have been killed, and that I’m still alive. I’m trying to fully comprehend all of the people in prison for crimes that can be directly linked to a system of oppression and inequality that leaves people of color at a disadvantage, dead, and incarcerated.
The moment you know one person who has been killed, whether it’s by the police or gang violence, you know too many. Once you know one person who has committed murder, who has gone to prison, has been caught up in the cycle of crime and violence, you know too many. Every story of injustice, systemic oppression, dehumanization, murder, rape, and all the other terrible things people do to each other, all these stories open old wounds. And I’m not just talking about my wounds, or the wounds of the families that survive the horrors that have befallen too many of us. I’m talking about the wounds of everyone—of the entire nation. The murder of Mike Brown and the ensuing violation of human rights that followed in Ferguson opened wounds in every person in this nation, even those that don’t know they were hurt in the process.
This wound has been opened so many times, that it never gets to heal. Some people think that it heals, because we stop talking about this incident or that incident, but that’s not the case. Darrien Hunt reopened the wound that was still open from Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and John Crawford, just to name three. It hurts to think about all of these people, and so many more. People who have been killed. People who have been incarcerated. People who have been chewed up and spit out by a system that was never meant to serve everyone, just a select few. And it hurts to talk about them, because talking about the bigger picture of racial ideology and systemic oppression is scary and infuriating and depressing. But if we don’t talk about it—if we don’t scream about it, and point it out, and make sure that everyone knows the truth, things will never get better. It’s like this—the wound keeps getting opened anyway. It never heals. And it never will heal, until we look at what really keeps opening it up—at what is causing all this blood to be spilled, and all these lives to be ruined.
I know it hurts. I know it makes you angry and sad and depressed. I know. But we can never stop talking about it. We can never stop pointing it out. One hundred years after the last cop has gunned down the last unarmed black person, we will still need to be talking about it, so that there will never be another Mike Brown, or a Trayvon Martin, or an Emmett Till. We can never stop talking about it, pointing it out, reminding the world of all the horrors that add up to sustained genocide. We can’t stop fighting. Because if we stop, it will keep happening.