It was a quiet afternoon on a residential block in the northeast section of The Bronx. A seventeen story apartment building stood tallest on the street, amidst several smaller tenement style apartment buildings, just beyond the reach of sprawling Gun Hill Road. A young African-American teenager, entered the unlocked double glass doors of the lobby. Ten yards further inside, was the locked door that required buzzer entrance or a key. As a resident of the building he reached inside his pocket, pulled his key out. That’s when he noticed a second man enter the lobby, a white man, young. He approached him, no greeting. As the young man put the key in the lock and pushed the door open, the man reached around from behind with his right arm, pulled the door shut. Thoughts raced through the head of the young African-American man. First and foremost, was the audacity that he was in fact being robbed, in his own lobby on his own block. He could see the right hand of the whie man pulling the door shut, and in two seconds realized the only move was the open thrust of his elbow to the nose of the man behind him. What he could not see was the man’s left hand.
That all happened in about four seconds. In the fifth second, just before the young African American man planned to fight his way from the unknown assailant, a second white man ran into the lobby behind them. He ran in shouting desperately, “Not him! We have the guy, around the corner!” Those words came rapidly, yet matter-of-factly. Around his neck, the young African-American man saw a police badge dangling near his chest on a necklace. And with that the second man ran up the block. The first man let go of the door, turned and ran after his partner.
Again this all happened in a matter of seconds. I often think of it. Had I hit my unknown assailant, this undercover officer who never once announced who he was, what would have been the aftermath? Was his left hand on his gun? Would he have shot me? Hearing that shot, his partner surely would have entered shooting. It surely would have gone down as an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. I had committed no crime, I was simply on my way home. Inside my apartment building, a locked door away from the elevator. How many of us have found ourselves in exactly the same situation? Some survive. And how many other people were not as fortunate to survive such an encounter?
As the minutes tick down to the end of 2014, a glance in the rear-view mirror provides little solace. Each day heralds another dash cam video or cell phone video, each more shocking than the next. This has been a year that united thousands of us in cities across this nation to stand, hand in hand and shout one simple fact that should stand self evident: Black Lives Matter.
There are those who don’t understand the message, who somehow think it is a denial that all lives matter; the simple fact is that only the “black lives” seem to be the ones left cold on the concrete, without any answers, in situations that simply do not make sense. Black Lives Matter? The words echo hollow as a new trial is set for June in Baltimore for the first officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray. It is a trial made necessary following the mistrial declared weeks earlier.
Some don’t understand the tension and mistrust in the inner city for law enforcement. I am an African-American male, a writer, director, educator and law-biding citizen. I can only attest to you my own personal reaction to the sight of flashing lights and the sound of sirens. My thought process goes something like this: 1) I guess the police are after someone 2) I hope they don’t mistake that individual for me.
Am I alone? I wonder. Just as I wonder if some officers presume guilt in men and women of color, no matter their age, and overreact, fatally, with finality, without remorse, and indeed without fear of punishment.
We are left to help enact change in our world. Better laws, gun control, reform in our community and better training for the officers sworn to serve and protect. We understand they have a difficult job, and most do it selflessly and admirably. We need them.
Let’s not forget these individuals will not shout Happy New Year at midnight:
Freddie Gray 25 died after suffering spinal cord injuries following his arrest in Baltimore. Dontre Hamilton 31,shot 14 times by a police officer in Milwaukee. Eric Garner 43 died after being placed in an unlawful stranglehold in New York. Tamir Rice 12, shot and killed by Cleveland Police who said the mistook his toy gun for an actual weapon. John Crawford 22, shot and killed by an officer at a Walmart in Ohio. Michael Brown 18 shot and killed in Ferguson. Ezell Ford 25, shot three times and killed in Florence, California. Dante Parker 36 died after repeated taser stuns in San Bernadino. Tanisha Anderson 37 died after Cleveland police officers allegedly slammed her head against the pavement. Akai Gurley 28 killed by a NY Police officer in a dark stairwell, in what was later characterized as “accidental discharge”. Rumain Brisbon 34 shot by a Phoenix officer who mistook his pill bottle for a gun. Tony Robinson 19, shot and killed by police in Madison,Wisconsin. Philip White 32 died while in police custody following a violent encounter in New Jersey. Eric Harris 44, shot and killed in Oklahoma by an officer who mistook his gun for his taser. Jerame Reid 36, shot and killed during a police stop in New Jersey. Walter Scott 50, shot in the back fleeing a traffic stop in South Carolina. Sandra Bland 28, found hanged in her jail cell three days after she was arrested for failing to use her turning signal. Her family questions the officials account.
Take a solemn moment for them tonight. Pray 2016 is a filled with a more compassionate and humane brand of justice and peace keeping in all of our communities.
It is important to all of us.