I don’t remember when my innocence died as a black person. I’m from Saint-Louis and I grew up hearing about people killed at the hands of the police all my life: blacks dying in suspicious circumstances, hangings that weren’t hangings, but suicides. These things didn’t make sense, but if you pointed it out, you were the madman, the ‘real racist’, because you could have hurt some feelings.
There are many things that are stolen from you when you are not born innocent. Everything that people who have the right to be children – sometimes into their thirties – take for granted. In third grade I was taught that I should be thankful that I was brought to this country, in chains, because Didn’t that work out well in the end? Didn’t we save you? Didn’t Western Civilization Save You? By denying your innocence?
It’s an interesting notion. If your parent is violent, a rapist, a criminal, but one day you grow up, go and try to make a living in a society where they control all the levers, I guess that’s kind of a release, but this is not freedom. It is not innocence.
Does a police state have feelings? Is a government crying?
Growing up, my whole goal, from 6 years old, was to avoid being “a statistic”. I did not curse. I did not fight. I denied myself joy. I shrunk. I did not fight back when I was bullied. I did not retaliate. Because nobody cares about statistics. People hear the numbers and the problems seem overwhelming, so why do anything about it?
But it is in silence that they destroy you. Zora Neale Hurston told me. “If you keep silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
According to some sources, 1,127 people died at the hands of the police in 2020. But do you remember? Even if you are encouraged to “say their names”? You might remember George Floyd because he’s the one you can’t escape. He was murdered in a pandemic when, for most of us, our only friends were our TVs and the pictures were ruthless.
For over nine minutes, for one summer, for an eternity, we watched a man die. Again and again. We heard him yelling at his mother. We have heard others try to intervene. Try to appeal to humanity for someone whose killer clearly didn’t see them as human. And yet, no matter how many times you watched this murder proof, the ending was always the same. Floyd is dead and the man who killed him, Derek Chauvin, was as unchanging as the systems he represented.
Chauvin will go to jail for what he did. He will be punished. But is this justice? Or is it a type of liberation that still isn’t liberty? Because when I cry tears of relief, I always cry. What about George Floyd’s freedom? What about the innocence of George Floyd? Did he ever really have it, lived it before he died?
I come from a privileged place. I grew up in the suburbs when they were at their peak as a symbol of segregation and elitism. My family did well and were able to protect me from some of the worst things, but not all of the horrors. They couldn’t protect my innocence.
Because whatever appearance, shape, or form of innocence I had, she died before I even knew what it was. He had died before I was born. Dead like Emmett Till. Dead like Mike Brown. Dead like Sandra Bland. Dead like Breonna Taylor.
Freedom is not freedom until everyone is free. Justice is not justice as long as it is not accessible to all. While I am grateful that justice has been served in Floyd’s case, so many other injustices remain delayed or denied, both visible and invisible to the public eye.
I want something bigger than freedom. I want peace. I want love. And I want these young and still wide-eyed, skin the color of mine to have what I’ve been denied.
Blacks want our innocence. We demand our humanity. May this justice be the next step after generations of steps towards true equality.
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