Black Man, Born Free, at Least That's the Way It's Supposed to Be
I went to sleep last night with the image of Alton Sterling being murdered playing in my head over and again. I woke up and read the story of Asir Brown’s death Sunday night. I drove to work wondering how I’ve survived this far and how much further I will go? You already know Alton Sterling’s story; you’ve seen the video, press conference, memes and hashtags. You probably don’t know who Asir Brown was. He’s the 16-year-old killed during a cookout with his family in South Philly. Both of their stories have become too common. Too familiar. Too painful.
Alton Sterling and I are the same age. Wait. Were. I’m a little less than a month shy of 38 and I drive to work with my eyes darting between all three mirrors and everything I can catch in my peripheral vision that appears to be a police car. My license is good, my papers are in order and I speed most of the time, but I’m acutely aware that anytime those light flash behind me it could signal the end for me. It’s a reality I’ve had to live with for years. Millions of other Black men and women have existed in that same reality since the first badge was pinned on a chest.
Every few days or so someone comes face-to-face with that reality.
I sold CD’s like Alton Sterling. I wasn’t in the parking lot of a convenience store, but I ran a fairly lucrative wholesale business out of my home at the turn of the century. However, I never thought selling The Blueprint before its release for $3 would get me killed. I escaped that part of life, as I was just making extra money while I went to school and worked, heading to the next stage of my life. Unfortunately, Alton Sterling will never get to his next stage.
I was 16 like Asir Brown; laughing with my family and friends at a cookout, waiting for the next time we played ball and thinking about some girl who was never going to call me. I always woke up the next morning and did most of it all again and again until I’m near 38 writing about Black boys and men who can no longer read about other Black boys and men. The drive-by that took Asir from his family and friends made him the 6th juvenile killed this year in Philadelphia. Two days later, a 14-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy were shot in separate neighborhoods.
Chicago crossed 2000 shooting victims for the year after another deadly weekend. There seem to be no answers there, only tears, prayers and of course retaliatory shots. It’s become a Monday morning ritual to wait for the stats to come in, so people can share on Facebook, for whatever reason. Somehow, America doesn’t believe we have a gun problem, but there were 42 separate shootings in Chicago over the weekend and who knows how many others between the fireworks across the country.
We’re still smarting from the acquittals in the Freddie Gray case and the lack of prosecution in Kendrick Johnson’s death. Still trying to figure out what happened to Sandra Bland or where the young ladies from the Bronx and other cities around the country are disappearing to. There’s been at least nine murders of transwomen of color across the country this year. Teenagers are dying before they ever make it to prom or graduation or even 18.
The pain runs through us deeply, leaving many numb, others shaken, but more unaffected. Many of us woke up and went about our business, scrolled past the video or hashtags, dismissing them for one reason or another. We all have something sitting on the front of our minds, but too many of us have something else, usually something trivial, occupying the space where empathy normally resides. We’re trying to get money, eat good, travel, ask KD why, provide our kids with a summer vacation, find a dope quote for Instagram, finish a project, buy a home, the perfect Snapchat filter, meet someone new, care for our mothers, find the perfect shoes to match a new dress, get in shape, grow a beard and get free.
Alton Sterling was just trying to break the chains off.
Asir Brown was just being free.