Friday, September 23, 2016

There is no break from institutional and racialized violence, not for any generation of black folks

The mothers of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and Dontre Hamilton told me they’re committed to police reform so other parents won’t lose their children to police brutality the way they did. After they spoke Monday in an auditorium packed with college students at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro they stressed their commitment to saving lives and changing laws.

In less than 24 hours in the same state where they spoke Keith Lamont Scott’s
mother joined their ominous club when her son was fatally shot by police in Charlotte Tuesday, an act that sparked protests in the streets and highways of the Queen City.

At the same time that activists were demanding justice and answers in the streets of Charlotte I was inside the Spectrum Center downtown as Sean “Puffy” Combs led us down hip-hop memory lane with 20 years of hits from Bad Boy Records, which for many black Generation Xers is the soundtrack of our youth.

Combs told us that tonight we would forget about our problems, our worries, anything that was making us feel less than liberated.

Tonight, Puffy said, we would be free. But we weren’t.  

I got text messages from friends telling me to be careful because there was a shooting in Charlotte. I was confused. Then I got another text from a friend notifying me of protests in Charlotte and to look on Twitter for #KeithLamontScott. Police say he had a weapon in his hand that he didn’t drop before he was fatally shot. A relative said he had a book.

I was shaken, frozen and fought back tears as as the music blasted, lights flashed and people sang and cheered during the Bad Boy Family Reunion Concert.

Just the day before I heard Maria Hamilton of Milwaukee, Wisconsin tell students that even though she had walking pneumonia she didn’t want to miss the chance to tell them why they should not only register to vote but vote for Hillary Clinton because she is the presidential candidate who will work to change policy that will prevent police violence. Hamilton’s son’ Dontre Hamilton, 31, who struggled with mental illness, was fatally shot by police in a park in Milwaukee in April 2014.

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner who died in July 2014 after he was put in a chokehold by New York City police, and Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland who died in police custody in July 2015 after being arrested for a traffic violation, and Hamilton were campaigning on behalf of the Clinton campaign on Monday in Greensboro.

The mothers told the college students, who’ve come of age in the era of Black Lives Matter and numerous incidents of fatal police brutality against black women and men, that their generation has a duty to join them in the fight for justice and reform.

As I sat in the concert and scrolled though #KeithLamontScott on Twitter I thought about this generation of young black people who don’t have one singular image of anti-black violence the way my parents had Emmett Till’s bloated corpse scorched into their brains after the black 14-year-old was killed by white men in Mississippi in 1955. This generation has multiple images of black death.  

But those of us bobbing our heads to Biggie’s hits grew up with our own incidents of fatal and severe police brutality against black people in the 1980s and 1990s: Eleanor Bumpurs, Malice Green and Rodney King. But there were no cellphones or social media to help document and amplify their deaths. But they still left an impression on us. 

Puffy told us to be free that night. But there is no break from institutional and racialized violence, not for any generation of black folks. My dear high school friend Nikki Johnson Kirk sat next to me and told me how she is scared for her son and frustrated by the lack of accountability in these police-related killings of black people.      

She also has a grandson, an adorable toddler with the brightest eyes and cutest cheeks that create a smile that forces others to grin when they see his face. Both of us hope he will live to experience freedom, for real.