These past 72 hours have been insane. I don’t think that anyone was expecting these past couple of days to go they way that they have. We witnessed and continued to relive the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We were reminded of the other long list of names of people we’ve lost.
But this time, it’s different.
While video has been a more frequently used tool, I think that for the large majority of us, it was the first time we had witnessed murders up close. Not as an episode of Law and Order. Not as a screening of an action movie. We were forced to watch people die right in front of us.
Yes, some people watched the videos on their own. But many of us had it plastered all over our Facebook timelines, with the dreadful autoplay featured turned on. People posted screen shots of the scenes for full viewing. Television broadcasts blatantly and unapologetically played the videos over and over again on live TV. The voice overs were flat. The blurred circles were present. But there was no warning. There was no “please let your children leave the room, this will be graphic.” They just played the videos without warning as if we were watching a commercial for toothpaste. Sometimes the videos were played in rapid succession. And we were forced to watch.
A lot of well-meaning allies turned to the Black community and asked “how do I be a good ally?” and “what can I do?”
Many of us had no answers. We are still actively grieving. We are holding our infants in our arms wondering if and or when something similar will happen to them. We are trying to keep a brave face in front of our toddlers and preschoolers, pretending to be excited about the two-second scribble they made on a piece of paper. We are consoling our school-aged children that they are not next, and that we will protect them—a promise that we cannot keep because some people cannot police their own anxiety and fear of black and brown bodies. We beg our teenagers not to go out to the mall or hang out with their friends, because we don’t know if they will come back home to us. We call our college-aged children and our young adults to ask them how they are doing. They alternate between crying on the phone and firing off articles and op-eds to news outlets.
For the brief moments that we look up from our loved ones to catch a breath, we notice that our allies are still looking at us with bated breath, waiting for instructions on what to do next. We don’t have answers for you.
We turn to Facebook to see what our contemporaries have written on the matter. We post and retweet and share to make sure that this isn’t easily forgotten. Not that it can be. Not with what we’ve seen.
We can’t forget this.
We have videos burned into our minds. Videos of our fallen brothers and sisters. Videos from distraught law enforcement members. Videos from a woman holding her composure while her boyfriend dies in front of her eyes, and then continues to talk to us and take every measure possible to make sure that everyone watching is clear on what happened and why we can’t stand for it. For a woman a foot away from this horror unfolding to still make sure that she is doing her due diligence to close any loopholes to justice.
We’ve seen it all before. The video didn’t show enough. The body camera fell off. The video was deleted or corrupted. The call for help that never came. Black people all across America made mental notes every time a shooting happened, and deployed those lessons now just in case this is finally the time when justice is served. We check every box, cross every “t” and dot every “i” just to ensure that we’ve done everything humanly possible to facilitate justice. When we should be grieving we are committing names and badge numbers to memory, leaving trails of proof that what we saw happen actually happened, and forcing ourselves to show up in our work and in our lives to let it be known that we are still standing.
We shouldn’t have to do any of this. We should be allowed to grieve. We should be allowed to make mistakes. We should be allowed to live.