When I was in college there was a male leadership program designed to aid young Black males into becoming leaders. The program’s goal was to help us to become holistic leaders: Leaders of our lives, our families, our communities, and our country. We took many trips to leadership conferences to build self-awareness, community activism, and career mobility. These trips and conferences did more for our leadership development than we could have ever imagined, and a testament to the program is the 98 percent of the program’s participants who not only graduated from college, but are successful men, with a strong commitment to building up their communities.
On one particular conference, we had the privilege of meeting Jeff Johnson, the television personality and social activist known for his interviews and stories on BET. During his speech and subsequent Q&A, I recall him mentioning our need to be able to adequately compartmentalize in order to be successful. He told us there were things in his life, in his past, and even in his journey to success he had to be able to store in its proper place in order to do what was necessary to be successful. This advice has been valuable to me in my own journey… Until now.
For the last several years, beginning with the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, I have visually witnessed more deaths of Black men and women than I feel anyone should ever have to in a lifetime. I grew up in the inner city of Dallas, Texas, an area called Oak Cliff to be more specifically. When I became a teenager, I became afraid of police officers. Police brutality isn’t new to me. When I was 16, I was assaulted with a flashlight by two officers who patrolled our community, assuming a group of teens huddled together must be selling drugs. We ran from cops just because we didn’t want the burden of harassment. What is new for me, however, are the visual images that frequent my social media feeds of actual murders at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve civilians. Every time I witness these brutal images, the fear that I had as a teenage is reinforced. The compartment needed to store these images in order to remain sane and hopeful in this country’s ability to adequately police Blacks is full, and there is no longer any room.
It goes without saying, but must be said, I know there are good police officers. I’ve met some, I went to school with good brothers and sisters who are now good cops, and my grandfather served a good Grapevine police department for decades. It doesn’t erase the fact that these good cops cannot protect me from the one’s who may potential harm or kill me. And I will not be able to empty this compartment filled with images of Black men like me getting murdered until they become less frequent in this country. Readers of this will bring up Dallas, and Chicago, and Baltimore and other places of high violence in areas populated by Blacks, and ask if those lives matter to me. THEY ARE IN THE COMPARTMENT TOO! Which is one of the reasons why there isn’t any room to fit those lives taken at the hands of officers that shouldn’t be in there! I shouldn’t have to add deaths by cops to the compartment. Deaths at the hands of civilians against one another is one of the natural detriments of society. Policing is supposed to minimize that. Yet when I have to fear those who are supposed to protect me, my brothers and sisters, and my friends from our own violent tendencies, by adding to the violence, there is no hope.
When I leave my house today I have to stuff in the compartment the life of Terence Crutcher. This brother was taken from his family. This brother will not get to live to see the degree he was working on. My brother is dead. I witnessed it. I cant do anything about it. I just have to put it in my compartment of brothers and sisters who are no longer alive because instead of protection, service, and human dignity, they were given death. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers… Amen!