What If It Were My Son?

Freddie Gray is dead and nobody seems to know how it happened.

His body has not yet been released to his family. There has been an autopsy – though the results have not been yet released – and another, independent autopsy has been requested by the family.

But meanwhile, Freddie Gray lies dead and nobody seems to know what happened.

It is maddening that, after a week, nobody knows anything. It feels like incompetence and it begs an explanation as to why such incompetence exists. It feels like information is being withheld in an effort to protect the police.

It brings back memories of how the death of Michael Brown was handled.

I keep asking “What if it were my son?” I can only imagine the agony, the added-on agony, of Gray’s family as they wait for answers, and as they wait to lay their son and family member to rest.

His spinal cord was 80 percent severed, according to reports …and in this day of the highest technology, nobody seems to know how that happened. It begs credulity.

Eighty percent severed…

His ordeal began at 8:39 a.m. on April 12. He was put into the police van at 8:54 a.m. and by 9:24 a.m. he was not breathing or moving. He underwent “extensive” surgery, but it didn’t help.

What if it were my son?

What do you do, as a distraught parent or family member, when life has been snatched from someone you love but nobody will tell you how it happened? That type of death is as problematic as one caused by a plane falling out of the sky. Survivors want to know why and how? Anything less is unacceptable.

I know I would be suspicious by now. I would think that police and the courts and the coroner were keeping information from me. That belief would pour salt into the raw wound called grief and would cause deep anger.

This type of tragedy, suspicious deaths of people at the hands of police, has been happening for decades. The deaths have happened and the circumstances have primarily been blamed on the victim. The word of the police and courts has been taken as sacrosanct. As a result, there are a lot of parents, wives, and other family members who are walking around with two holes in their spirit: one caused by the death of their loved one and the other caused by the lack of knowing what really happened and by the knowledge that the police have been exonerated.

If it were my son, if I were seeing him being dragged by police officers, seemingly unable to walk, I would be weeping. If it were my son, my imagination would be making up all kinds of scenarios as to what happened to him, and I would be weeping. If it were my son, and I heard his cry as he was being dragged to the police wagon, I would be weeping.

But I would also be indignant and angry at the lack of explanation of what happened, why, and how.

My prayer is that the official report being waited for does not end up being an insult – to his family or to the community. My prayer is that someone will honestly explain why Freddie Gray was pursued without probable cause. Running from police may not be wise, but it isn’t grounds for arrest…and if there was no reason to approach him in the first place other than he didn’t look an officer in the face, then his arrest is even more problematic.

If it were my son, I would be weeping …but I would be working to get answers. I would be weeping but I would be reaching for some kind of viable explanation as to why my son was dead.

The six officers who were involved in the arrest have been put on paid administrative leave. That is not acceptable, not for me.If it were my son, their continued ability to make a living while my son lay dead would be insulting and troubling.

The mothers and fathers of slain children, no matter how old they are, are bleeding, all over these United States. They are hemorrhaging and nobody …seems to notice or to care. They are crying, weeping, wailing …because their children are “no more…”  The mothers and parents and family of Trayvon Martin, Kendrick Johnson, Jonathan Ferrell, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Jordan Davis,Lennon Lacy, Walter Scott. Eric Harris …and so many more … are weeping and hemorrhaging their grief over the earth.

The death of a loved one is hard enough on its own. For a loved one to die this way takes one past the point of being able to be consoled. There would be no words to assuage the pain if it were my son…

A candid observation …

Holding Our Breaths

The video taken of ex-Officer Michael Slater shooting Walter Scott in the back is bone-chilling, yet not surprising, at least to me.

In spite of the “majority population “pooh-poohing” claims by African-Americans that there is and has been widespread policy brutality waged against them, those who live in urban communities know that the cry has been valid. Over and over again black people have been shot – murdered, really – by police officers and those same officers have told a lie about what happened. The word of the police officers has been taken at will, the claim of the neighborhood witnesses that something horribly wrong has happened has been summarily dismissed, and the result is that way too many African-American deaths at the hand of police officers have gone without their families seeing justice.

“The law” has historically not been on the side of African-Americans. In an interview about the Civil Rights Movement, Diane Nash said that non-violence was the only way to fight. “Law enforcement was used against us. We couldn’t match what the police and sheriff and national guard had against us. Police power was used against us. Segregation was the law and police power was used to enforce segregation.”

Indeed, “the law” has been used to keep people in their place. Police, it seems, have been given carte blanche to do what they want to people, black people especially, it seems, and black people have not been heard or believed.

The culture has been successful in perpetrating the feeling that black people are bad and if they get shot and/or killed by police, it is because, frankly, they ARE bad.

So, when there have been cases of what appear to be obvious missteps by police, there have been short gasps of hope. When Rodney King was beaten I for one believed that now, “the world will see what we’re talking about.” The video seemed so clear …and yet, the officers were acquitted.

It was a continuation of what had always been the history of our interaction with “the law” in this land, no less painful than the acquittal of the white men who had lynched Emmett Till.

With the tragic death of Walter Scott, we have again what seems to be a sure-fire piece of evidence that shows that the officer was wrong, that what he did was nothing short of murder …but I find myself holding my breath as investigators search for more evidence. My fear is that something will be found that will minimize Mr. Scott’s death, that something will be found that will push investigators to rule that Mr. Slager’s use of force was “justifiable.”

While so many television news reporters and anchors seem genuinely surprised by the video showing what happened to Scott, people in African-American communities are not surprised at all. The question is being asked and answered, “What would have happened if there had been no video?” The answer in unfortunately too clear: the story given by the police officer about what happened would have been taken as true. An “investigation” would have been conducted while the officer was put on “paid administrative leave,” and in the end some higher authority, like a grand jury, would absolve the officer of all guilt.

It is maddening, this pattern of absolution of crimes rendered against black people by police officers.

Some news people, it seems, are nervous. They wonder what will happen if somehow the investigation concludes that the officer’s use of force was justified…or if a trial, if there is one, ends up acquitting Slager.

Only time will tell that.

It seems, though, that the country, our country, should wake up and take the frequency of these state-sanctioned killings seriously. It seems like by now, with all of the tragic killings by police of people, black people, largely unarmed, someone ought to understand that America has a serious problem.

The deaths of black people have never seemed to make much of a difference to the majority population as a whole. Black people have been so dehumanized and criminalized that their deaths at the hands of police are for the most part boring. They don’t want to hear the story of what happened; they seem unable or unwilling to consider that the families of these slain are mourning and weeping, not just because one of theirs has been taken away by one or a few who were supposed to protect them, but also because they know the assailant of their loved one will never be held accountable.

Sojourner Truth, noting the sexism in her day, made her very famous speech, asking the question, “ain’t I a woman?”

As we hold our breaths, I find myself asking, “ain’t we children of God? Ain’t we human, too?”

Unfortunately, it feels like too many in this country would answer “no” to both questions

So, this time things are a bit different. Slager has been fired from the police force, has been charged with murder, and is in jail. Thank goodness ..But…we are holding our breaths, and those who have been shot and put aside after shoddy “investigations” are shivering in their graves. This is not a new thing in this country, but it is every bit as tragic and toxic a phenomenon as it has always been.

A candid observation …