He stood in solidarity at a demonstration, mourning two more black victims of police violence. But suddenly he had to leave when he realized this was nothing more than ineffective group therapy.
I went to find comfort. But I could locate only a tragic familiarity.
Thursday night’s vigil for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, in Westlake Park, had all too familiar words spoken, all too familiar tears shed, and an all too familiar script with characters cast in all too familiar roles of black victims and panicky police officers.
I could barely hear André Taylor, the brother of Che Taylor, who was fatally shot by Seattle police months ago, express the need for police accountability and sympathy for the 135th and 136th African-American males killed by police across the country this year.
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My deafness had little to do with the television helicopters hovering overhead, drowning out many of the speakers for the 20 minutes I stayed at the gathering.
No, it came from a cry that roared throughout the day from Seattle’s black community, a cry of hopelessness, anger and fear shared with so many nationally for so long. A cry that recognized yet another public demonstration in response to a national epidemic of police violence as nothing more than ineffective group therapy.
It was this screech that made me leave the vigil just minutes after arriving. I suffered incredulous stares of disappointment at what appeared to be my abandonment of a show of solidarity against police brutality. I couldn’t stay.
The cry was too loud. It overwhelmed the calls of “not this time” by demonstrators poised to march through the streets of downtown Seattle due to another black victim. I was certain to catch the replay whenever the 137th and 138th African American is killed under suspicious circumstances.
The cry responded with, “I’ve heard that one before.”
It bounced from the walls of the bar I found myself at soon after leaving. The venue provided necessary medication for the pain pulsing through me as I thought about the state of our country and as I saw two other black males toasting the deaths of Dallas police officers killed by a sniper. “Chickens had finally come home to roost,” they said, glasses clinking in celebration of death.
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The cry raged: “When people believe the law can no longer provide justice, they will seek it themselves.”
It began rumbling earlier in the day after I received a text message from a friend. “Wow … Another one …,” it read. Only a day had passed between the deaths of Sterling and Castile. Two more names added to an ever-expanding list of blacks killed under suspicious circumstances by police.
I attempted to process everything with Dominique Davis, a mentor who runs a gang-prevention group called the 180 Program.
A dozen others had already visited his office before me. All of them shared their fear of living in Seattle while black.
Anger scarred most of their faces as they recounted interactions with the Seattle Police Department, whose officers they said had handcuffed them and punched them in the face with impunity. In one case, a man recalled, an officer had said, “I wish you would run so I would have reason to shoot you.”
This reminded me of why, even four years after a federal consent decree to address racial bias in policing in Seattle, trust in law enforcement remains unchanged in the city’s black community.
Mistrust first seeded in me during an encounter with a police officer in 1994, when at the age of 13 I was stopped for “jaywalking” while coming home from the store.
The white officer handcuffed me, smashing my face down onto the hood of his patrol car, his breath reeking with the smell of stale coffee as he told me, “Nigger I could rape your mother and there’s nothing you could do about it.”
I stood in the middle of the street, trembling with horror after he uncuffed me and drove off without another word.
For almost a year after, he would smirk at me whenever I would walk into the doughnut shop with my mother, his sinister smile triggering a rerun of the experience. My face would turn away from him, toward my mother. My mandate was to protect her, which led to thoughts of his death by my hands, if only I could get away with it.
Reflecting on my own history, I felt no surprise at the conclusion many of the men who spoke to Davis came to as they called out the names of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin: “The only way they’ll stop killing us, is if we get to them first.”
The cry returned to say: We’ve lived too long in the land of make-believe in this country. These are not aberrations. This is systemic. It always has been, and always will be unless something changes, and changes soon.
The cry demanded a response, any response that was not another regurgitated platitude peddling “love, hope, and prayer.”
For the cry, there is no amount of hope, nor love, nor prayer, that can satiate a craving for equal legal footing, whether with a badge or badgeless.
The cry, if unheeded, will continue to allow fear to expel us from the ranks of sanity, consuming us all in a blaze of hatred.
Ignoring the cry’s clamor has already claimed the lives of countless black bodies. It just claimed the lives of five police officers.
I fear this will be just the beginning, not only nationally but in this very city, which despite its liberal sugar coating has deep-seated issues of racism just like any other.
The cry will continue, piling up casualties as it grows louder, more hostile, and untamable unless taken up by all in this country, echoing a demand for something that has eluded too many of America’s racially oppressed for too long: justice.