It has been 8 months since I have written because honestly, this year has been exhausting, but I am done with my hiatus and back at it on this particularly important day.
Today, 365 days after the shooting of Michael Brown, I visited the sight of his murder by Darren Wilson. Driving there felt surreal and I, though not consciously, expected there to be something inherently menacing or particularly disorienting or jarring about being there. As we drove the distance to Canfield Drive early in the afternoon and got out of the car several blocks away, I was struck by a myriad of things.
The 78% humidity incited similarities to the feeling of swimming. This, combined with the dense smell of flowers from nearby parks and gardens, and the loud buzz of electric wires and bugs, made me feel like I should be sitting in a calm spot near a jungle. But honestly, that was it. It felt like any other town in the Midwest, any other day. There was nothing special, nothing glamorous, and I was jarred by it. Jarred by the quiet, the calm, the lack of pomp and circumstance.
Continuing to walk, I found myself in front of a pile of stuffed animals, flowers, and balloons in the middle of the road.
As I stood for 3 minutes or so and stared at the place where Mike Brown laid lifeless in the heat for 4.5 hours, I attempted to locate my feelings in that moment, to be present, to engage with the ground zero site of much of my communities pain this year. It felt fleeting, and then 2 things hit one after another:
1.He was a boy.
My God, this was not a man, but a boy. A child. Not in the same way as Tamir Rice, but a child nonetheless, the kind that you would say “boys will be boys about.” But not him. Not Michael. Not the one labeled “a hulk.”
The strewn stuffed animals in all characters, shapes and sizes created a pile highlighted by my little pony, round giraffes, and balloons that said “you are special.” And that’s when it hit me…
2. This murder wasn’t special, in fact, it was quite ordinary.
This was ordinary.
This may seem callous to say, but I want to be frank and honest. The thing that made the murder of Michael Brown different was the response. A community that said “enough is enough” mobilized around the movement (a topic for a whole other post). But the Black Lives Matter movement as it stands doesn’t exist because Michael Brown’s story was extraordinary or even surprising. For the black community, this sort of racially charged violence is commonplace.
The murders of:
Trayvon Martin, 17
Kendrec McDade, 23
Sean Bell , 19
Jonathon Ferrell, 24
Oscar Grant, 22
Amadou Diallo, 23
and in this year alone…
Tamir Rice, 12
John Crawford, 22
Eric Garner, 43
Samuel DuBose, 43
Eric Harris, 44
Tony Robinson, 19
Walter Scott, 50
Anthony Hill, 27
Christian Taylor (just a few days ago), 19
and many more,
frame the shooting on August 9th in the larger narrative of fear and death resulting violence to Black men.
The killing of Michael Brown a year ago was not a one-off experience in a suburban community
..because an isolated incident doesn’t start a movement
Because like Canfield drive, the buzzing of electrical wires and bugs, and the smell of flowers, the murder of unarmed black men at the hands of police violence is completely ordinary. Black communities have spent the last year weary, moving from mourning to mourning, pain to pain, loss to loss, with little time to recover from the continued devaluing and stripping of our ability to drive, walk, shop, pray, gather, and live without fear of systemically funded and operated violence.
And because we are tired of this being “ordinary,” something is happening. The Black Lives Matter movement has picked up steam a year strong with no sign of stopping and I want to be a part of it. I want my kids to be able to look back and ask “where were you when the civil rights movement of our time happened?” and I want to be able to say “Right in the middle of it.”
Another world is possible where this violence is not the norm.
May it come and come quickly.