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If this is the the time you tell me all lives matter- don’t. For until Black Lives Matter, your all lives matter chant is ignorant and counter productive because until you understand that all lives will only matter when Black Lives do, we cannot have a conversation. Black people are being murdered by men in law enforcement, repeatedly, and they are getting away with it. The lives of young men and women, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters are being cut short by those who are meant to protect and serve and they are not being held accountable for their actions. Murder caught on film yet they want people to prove the crime. When a black man or woman loses their life to police brutality the narrative takes a different tone, the victim is put on trial as some factions seek to justify the killing by dehumanising them. We are almost immediately made aware if they had a criminal record, were out on parole, on bail, what petty thing they did when they were teenagers, etc. As if we should sympathise with the killer not the deceased. We don’t. We never will. As long as these killings keep happening, we will never side with the oppressor.
Oh and one more thing, before you quote Martin Luther King to me, shut the hell up. If you loved him so much, you wouldn’t have killed him.
I watched the press conference of Quinyetta McMillon, Alton Sterling’s wife and mother of his children, as she tells us of the magnitude of her loss but all the while I cannot take my eyes away from Cameron her fifteen year old son, standing next to her. The eldest of five children, he is there to support her, comfort her in the absence of the one who should have been. They wouldn’t have been there if he was alive, but that is the reason why they were there. To tell the world of their loss, the put a face the to the tragedy and hurt, to let us know that the life taken was not just one life it was a lot of lives and in so many ways because Alton Sterling was a father, a son, a husband, a brother, a friend. Sterling was selling CDs when he was set upon by two cops after someone called and made a complaint of a disturbance. He was held down by two cops and they shot him six times. They pinned him down and shot him six times. Again, two armed cops pinned him down, already had him in a secured position, but instead of using their handcuffs they decide to shoot him. They decided to end his life for no other reason other than they could. It was deliberate. It was cold. And it was unnecessary.
Cameron Sterling is fifteen years old, so old enough to know and understand what happened to his father, old enough to view the videos online, old enough to know that his father was killed for no other reason than being black and in the wrong place. Where exactly is the right place to be black in America? Cameron will always remember his father’s senseless death at the hands of the two policemen, the same ones who took an oath to serve and protect his rights, are the ones who took away those rights the minute they ended his life point blank. The same ones who saw a black man as undeserving of the right to be alive and earn a living. Cameron will remember what his father stood for, he will remember the last morning he saw his father, their last words spoken, last hugs exchanged before going their separate ways, saying goodbye with the likely promise to see each other later on in the day. The last memory of his parents together at home, a place where he was all there was to be to the family. Cameron Sterling will remember all of it because he is old enough to know and understand why his father was murdered by policemen.
Less than twenty-four hours after Alton was shot and killed, in Minnesota some 1,300 miles north of Louisiana, Philando Castile was pulled over for a busted tail light, that was reportedly not busted. When asked for his licence and registration, he informed the police officer that he is licence to carry a firearm which he had in his possession, as he reached for his ID, he was shot five times. His four year old daughter was in the backseat of the car. His fiancee, Diamond Reynolds, who sat shotgun, captured the encounter on film and by a will uncommon to humans, managed to remain calm even as her beloved lay dying next to her. She kept referring to the policeman as “sir” knowing that one perceived false move would likely leave her child orphaned. I couldn’t do that. I simply could not muster the courage to be still and calm. I don’t know many that can and her actions in that moment epitomises what it is to be Black today in America. The little girl in the backseat tried to comfort her mother, reminding her that she will be there for her, a source of strength in the midst of all the chaos. I simply could not. Following the shooting, she and her daughter were taken in for questioning. It was not enough that they shot and killed their fiancee and father, they had to compound the humiliation by treating them like perpetrators and not victims. Sickening.
“Gentle”. “Kind”, “Loving”, “Gentle Phil”- these are some of the words used to describe Philando Castile who worked as a supervisor in the cafeteria of a Montessori school. He was a good man. A loved man.
Victims. As I flip between Cameron Sterling standing by his mother and Philando’s daughter in the back seat, both children a source of comfort to their mothers, I cannot help but be sad and mad at the same time. Sad for the life they have lost and the love they will never know, and mad that once again we have to witness this travesty and eventual grave miscarriages of justice. We see Cameron go from the source of support to the child he is, in need of support as becomes undone, hearing the words of his mother, cries for his father, the love he has lost. He is the face of hurt and pain and racial injustices. The words of his mother reminds us constantly who his father was, humanises him, the ray of sunshine forever shrouded in grey clouds, that shoulder no longer there to cry on, just the cold like the steel of the gun that took her love away. Her confidant and partner. A love and a life that should matter. A life lost which we must never forget, must never shrug and sweep it under the carpet as we await the next victim. At fifteen years old Cameron should be doing things all other fifteen year olds are doing, dating, going to the movies, hanging with friends, being a rapscallion, doing chores, homework, exams. At four years old a child’s earliest memory should not be that of her father being killed by a police office but tell me how does she un-see that? How does she not grow up with a lack of trust for those who should protect her. How does she ever see society as the safe haven it should be? How does a child move on from witnessing such a calamity? Stolen childhoods forever marred by such calamitous events. How does this moment not define them? And where is the strength to move on.
Enough. Enough now.
Human. We all are. It is our one unifying factor. We bleed the same, breathe the same air and even though the chasm between us is apparent we all have our daily struggles. Class or wealth regardless. Yet we have become numb in the face of these injustices, weak in the pursuant of justice, distrusting of the system that finds nothing wrong with a police officer choking a man to death on video. There is something inherently wrong with the system besides the obvious case of institutional racism. Between the hurtful tears of Cameron and calmness of Reynolds as her world crumbles before our eyes, we are reminded that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile touched lives, they meant something to someone, their presence was felt and their absence will be felt. Their lives mattered. These moments are even more important than the raw footage that shows the horrific actions that took their lives. Sure there will be outrage and debates, calls for police reform and prosecution, protests and demonstrations but soon enough we become desensitised to the violence, and wonder when the next cop will kill an unarmed black man or woman- the cycle seems unending. We will move on, but it is images of the hurt that will forever stay with us, reminding us of what they have lost.
And this is why we say BLACK LIVES MATTER. Why it is important we remind you, that BLACK LIVES SHOULD MATTER along side yours because nothing less is acceptable.
Issa Rae started a fund for the family of Alton Sterling, please give what you can. Go here to give.
Rest In Peace Alton Sterling. Rest In Peace Philando Castile your lives will not be in vain for you are loved.