This week has been very weird. Tragic, definitely angering, but also weird. With the recent killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, it is very evident that America has come together and said, enough is actually enough (enough was also enough after Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland, and… I guess you get the point). At first I didn’t want to write anything about this, instead my twitter is full of retweets of others’ sentiments on these events. I’ve given myself time to think about what I could say about this. So I guess I’ll start from when I first heard about Alton Sterling...
What struck me about both of these situations was that, after watching the videos of two men dying at the hands of individuals who swore to “protect and serve” them and their respective communities, the reality of it didn’t register to me. I did feel anger. I did feel fear. But it still didn’t seem real. None of these situations have. (Here’s where I get honest) I live in the suburbs. The police in my city are very present, but I could never imagine a situation like this happening. I think that’s where my problem lay, in my ability to empathize with those who lose loved ones because of police brutality. I genuinely could not see a person of color being killed by police in a predominately white town. And I found safety in that. I hate to say this, but I feel like even though I watch people who look like me die entirely too often, I would get scared, thinking of the victims’ loved ones, as well as my own family members and praying that would never happen, but I would subconsciously reassure myself by thinking “It probably won’t happen here, so you should be okay.”
But this time felt different. This time I genuinely felt drained by the amount of death on my TV and social media, as did millions of other people. I realized that thinking this way is not only naive but also dangerous and that I am no different from any other black person in this country in the eyes of an oppressive police officer. I didn’t want to leave my house. And when I did I felt scared driving past a squad car or hearing sirens walking out of Target. I was afraid to go to the airport or to be in Washington DC to go to my freshman orientation. I read as much as I could about the situation and let other people voice their opinions while I tried to process mine.
During orientation, I put the issues at the back of my mind and found comfort in being around other people in my class that may be feeling similar emotions as me, both as incoming college freshmen and young POC in America. But then, again, I felt guilty at the fact that I had the privilege to go back to normal and prepare for the next chapter in my life after seeing two more Black men have theirs cut short.
Among the hundreds of tweets on the situation, I heard about a Black Lives Matter protest that would be taking place in DC outside of the Department of Justice building, and something in me told me to go. I had never been to a protest of any kind before, but I knew I needed to be there. About 30 minutes after orientation ended, I took an Uber down to Pennsylvania Avenue. Since I was alone in a city that I’m not yet familiar with, I got dropped off in front of the Newseum and decided to walk to the DOJ building and mostly observe the protest for a short period of time. There were a few police officers standing in front of the entrance to the building, which just so happened to be in between the protest and where I was standing. I eventually got over myself and walked past them to join the protest, which had just begun to gather a large crowd. We lit candles, sang, and some people in the group spoke. It was interesting to see the diversity of the crowd as well as the number of journalists and their cameramen trying to get to the front, some documenting on regular cameras and others on their smartphones. One of the cameramen next to me mentioned that it was his first day on the job, one sang along with us as he was knelt on the floor recording, and another one even spoke about her fears being the mother of a black son. It was a very peaceful and, at first, almost lowkey protest, a sharp contrast to the one back home in Atlanta, which I experienced vicariously through my friends’ Snapchat stories. Both very necessary and memorable moments. I left the protest just before they marched to the White House, but from what I saw, it was dope.