Fruitvale, Ferguson & Other Things I Can No Longer Avoid
August 13, 2014
A couple of weeks ago, I finally mustered up the courage to watch Fruitvale Station. I was interested in the movie when it was released in 2013, but I knew its tragic ending in advance and, considering the way my emotions are set up, I needed to take my time.
When I was finally ready, I watched a day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man who was involved in a small fight and then shot in the back by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer on New Year’s Eve 2009. At the time of the shooting, Grant was unarmed and lying face down on a train platform. I cried ugly tears knowing that he died on a day that should have been the start of a new year and a chance to make resolutions to better one’s life. I cried realizing that his daughter would grow up without a father. I cried knowing that the officer who pulled the trigger served only 11 months of a two year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
In the few weeks since I watched Fruitvale, there have been several current events that I have avoided. Eric Garner, unarmed, who died after being put into a chokehold by police in New York City. Denise Stewart, drug half-naked from her Brooklyn apartment. John Crawford, shot and killed while carrying a toy gun in an Ohio Walmart. Renisha McBride, unarmed, shot and killed on a porch in Michigan. I read no more than a couple of articles on each case and limited my time on social media. Too many thoughts, too many feelings.
Saturday night those thoughts and feelings would no longer be denied. I came home in good spirits after a night on the town. Though it was late and I needed to get up early the next morning, I decided to quickly scan my Twitter timeline. I wish I had not. I learned of Michael Brown, 18, unarmed, and set to begin college the following week – shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Witnesses say his hands were raised in surrender, while authorities claim he was reaching for the officer’s gun.
My entire mood shifted. I said a prayer and cried myself to sleep.
I don’t know the specifics of each of these cases. As I said, I have been avoiding them. My soul is weary, my tear ducts flooded. I am emotionally exhausted from the reality that such brute and often deadly force is repeatedly used on people that look like me. The crimes, if there are any, are petty. Something does not compute.
We all have our own hopes, dreams, and desires in life. However, I think that one of our most basic needs is to be seen. We want to know that others recognize our humanity, that we are afforded the same respect and opportunities as everyone else.
As a nation tries to gather the facts of these cases, as people debate whether each of these black people were suspicious or guilty, and thus deserving of their punishment, I think most African-Americans are like me: tired, hurt, angry, and desiring to be seen; seen by people of power, seen by our fellow countrymen who happen to not look like us.
Why? Because if you see me, you will not be so quick to brush away my pain. If you see me, you will do your best to answer my questions. You will try to understand what it feels like to be me. You will consider how frightening it is to know that a misunderstanding, scuffle, or petty crime could end in my death or that of one of my loved ones. If you see me, you will admit that you rarely hear of such instances involving people of other races. If you see me, you will earnestly ask how we can prevent things like this from happening in the future.
But seeing me would also require that others see themselves. They would have to ask why they assume the worst. They would have to accept the role that race played in the history of this country. They would have to admit that race could possibly still be a determining factor in the way people are treated, that it appears people get trigger happy when black and brown persons are involved, that perhaps there are systemic problems that need to be addressed.
Yes, to truly see me, this country would have to do what I did when I watched Fruitvale Station: stop avoiding and muster up the courage to see itself.
SheryLeigh is a woman who loves God, words, and people. She is currently living and loving as an author, blogger, poet, and spoken word artist in the Washington, D.C., area.
A communicator by education and trade, SheryLeigh holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Howard University and a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University.