On Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, and Black Men That I Love

“I can’t breathe!”

When the video of Eric Garner’s murder first surfaced I could not get through the video. I’ve seen the beginning parts a few more times, but I can’t seem to make it through his actual last moments. I heard the screams, I saw the multiple officers around him, and I saw his hands up in surrender. Anyone could see that he was struggling and the forced used on him was unnecessary. The news that Daniel Pantaleo would not be indicted broke my heart and the hearts of many people that understand the racial disparities in this country. While people were/are still settling from the lack of justice for Michael Brown, this verdict crept upon us. For me, it added another level of somberness and a bit of hopelessness. The value of Black men in this country is heartbreaking. Time and time again it shows that Black men are almost in their own subculture of humanity. The stories of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Oscar Grant hit so close to home because there are Black men in my life that I love. I have a father, step-father, brothers, cousins, uncles, and friends. As a Black woman, I may experience racism but most times, I don’t have to worry about police brutality. There have been a couple of times where I questioned a police officer and knew that their was little chance I would be physically handled. As a Black woman I am fully aware of this privilege.

“I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting!”

Growing up my dad had the sweetest royal  blue Navigator. It was custom designed with chrome lining, 22 inch rims, a flame grille, and tinted windows. He has his car detailed when “Pimp My Ride” was really popular so he even went to West Coast Customs to get some work done. I loved that truck and whenever he let me, I was eager to drive it. In 2009 during my sophomore year of college, my dad let me drive his truck back to school so I could move in without renting a truck. On the day of the move, my boyfriend at the time and I packed up the truck and headed west to my school. Throughout the course of the trip we were followed by the police several times, and pulled over twice.

I was not speeding, driving recklessly, or committing any type of infraction. The plates were clean, the insurance was legit, and I had a good driving record at that time. There was no reason for them to pull us over. The first time we were pulled over, the police officer approached the car and looked shocked to see me in the driver seat. He even asked, “Where is _________?”, and proceeded to question me about my dad’s whereabouts. I calmly told him that my dad is in California, but that answer wasn’t enough. He began asking more questions about my dad and I finally I got fed up and asked, “Why did you pull us over?”. His answer was, “Your dad fits the description of someone we are looking for”. Like I said, my dad was in California so there was no way he was who they were looking for. By this time, a second officer approached the car and started to question my boyfriend. I don’t think I have ever seen him that afraid. I was furious and started raising my voice at the officer about their reasoning and what we did wrong. Eventually, they realized they couldn’t hold us and let us go. My boyfriend didn’t say much the rest of the way. By the second time we got pulled over he was very vocal about this mistreatment and past incidents of injustice; of course that was when we pulled off.

“You shot me. You shot me!”

A many years ago I ran out of gas on Southfield Freeway, a really busy freeway in Detroit and surrounding areas. It was snowy and icy and I ended up sliding up on the shoulder. My friend lived close so I called her for help. After about 10 minutes she showed up with her Dad. He started to put gas in my car while my friend and I headed to the car to get warm.  As we walked to his car, a police officer pulled up and began questioning her dad about why he was out there with my car, what was he doing, and a bunch of other pointless questions. I told the officer it was my car. He told the officer he was my father. The officer still treated him with disrespect. He may as well called him “boy” because that’s how he treated him. Naturally he is a calm man, so he treated the officer with respect. Once we got in the car he was the most upset either of us have ever seen. He was rightfully upset but knew that it could have been dangerous if he showed his anger toward the officer.

Who deserves to live like that? No one deserves to be targeted simply because their skin is the wrong color. As stories like Michael Brown’s, Oscar Grant’s and Eric Garner’s come to light, there are still many more black men being devalued in the shadows. There are still people who are afraid of black men’s violence simply because they are black men. John Stewart said it, “We are not living in a post racial society”. Systematic racism is killing our men. It’s suffocating us. We can’t breathe.

 

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