Home > Love, Personal, Social Justice > Died with his hands in the air

Died with his hands in the air

daddy littler jMy husband is a Black man.

We had our #IfIDieInPoliceCustody discussion before Sandra Bland’s death in custody inspired the hashtag.

Officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, one year ago today. I wouldn’t have believed the #IfIDieInPoliceCustody talk necessary then. So an unarmed kid was killed by a police officer in a Southern town thousands of miles away? What does that have to do with me?

In late October, I saw how many people were still protesting. I suspected it likelier I was uninformed than that they were delusional.

My suspicion inspired my education. I spent November and December learning what Ferguson had to do with me. I first wrote about Ferguson in “Ferguson: the color of justice” on November 17, 2014, more than three months after Michael Brown died.

Two weeks later, I wrote about Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice and Darrien Hunt, a small sampling of Black men–and in Tamir’s case, child–killed by police officers as brutally as needlessly. I broke their murder stories into tweet-sized bursts in hopes of distilling something complex into digestible pieces, which I hoped would plant seeds of question in readers’ hearts.

I wrote in early December: “I will not deny, nor take part in perpetuating violence by my denial.” I stopped writing about Ferguson afterward, but I kept reading and watching relentlessly until late December, when I realized I was no longer educating myself. I knew. I was merely crushing hope each time I read about another unarmed person of color turned hashtag courtesy the police. I decided it was time to step away from constant coverage and protect the hope that fuels me to work for change.

I have seen many new name-hashtags since. I’ve learned about the victims behind them and mourned. I’ve come to take for granted truths that existed long before I recognized them or found them plausible.

Though I didn’t realize it for three more months, my education began with Ferguson one year ago today.

Of all the videos I’ve watched in the year since, one outwardly innocuous video stands out in my memory.

Were Michael Brown’s hands up, or weren’t they? (Did his actions pose imminent threat when he died, or did they not?) Based on reading articles alone, it seemed impossible to determine the answer. I ultimately bypassed news articles in frustration and instead watched every single firsthand account following Mike’s killing.

One stood out among them for me. One made my stomach sink as I thought, the world is so much harder than I realized.

It’s the one that comes to mind nine months later as my moment of revelation.

In this video, two White contractors stand side by side in the moments after Mike Brown’s death, facing something the viewer can’t see. They’re not performing; they’re utterly unaware they’re being filmed. “He had his fuckin’ hands in the air!” one of them shouts, incredulous, raising his arms to demonstrate. (The contractors affirmed this later.)

He had his fuckin’ hands in the air!

In the year since Mike Brown died, those words have stuck with me. They have been the ones that can’t be spun, or turned into something else, or undone. And they’re words I’d never have found, if I hadn’t been between jobs and foregoing sleep in search of the truth.

A year later, I find the mystery isn’t in whether or not Mike Brown posed a threat when Darren Wilson fired his killing shots; after all, Mike “had his fuckin’ hands in the air!

The mystery is in how little has changed with so many people dying needlessly since.

And so, if my husband ever dies in police custody, I want you to know:

Like Mike Brown, he will have died with his hands in the air.

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  1. August 9, 2015 at 7:01 am

    We keep trying to understand, reason and decipher what caused those deaths. I for one am not liking the answers. Praying for God’s protection for all living while black and for humanity for those charged with protecting and serving.

  2. August 9, 2015 at 11:16 am

    “One stood out among them for me. One made my stomach sink as I thought, the world is so much harder than I realized.” My thoughts keep returning to the thought that we are no longer a country of communities. We are not moving through life with the intention that we are all in this together. I suppose we never really had that completely, but it does seem like once upon a time there was a common purpose and fellow man mentality that kept these tenuous societal threads from breaking. I don’t know how we get that back.

    • August 10, 2015 at 4:23 am

      I don’t, either. I feel like money has something to do with it; now that things can be amassed, the ability to amass them–not care for each other with the goal of mutual survival–seems to be mistaken for the cornerstone to survival. I’m not saying money isn’t important, of course; I lived on food boxes too long to be that naive. But something in me yearns for a time when life was spent searching for food, trying not to become food, and gazing at the stars. (We just move too fast for comfort today, and moving too fast see all the wrong things–like the color of someone’s skin or their sex–as telling us all kinds of things about them we wouldn’t believe if we slowed down to see individuals. I’d quote the book Blink, if I could find it, but it’s disappeared into the bowels of the house. Gah!)

  3. NotAPunkRocker
    August 9, 2015 at 11:39 am

    All of this is why everyone needs to get involved, regardless of how you identify with race/ethnicity/color, and stop the ignorance and hate. I am saddened that these conversations even have to happen in 2015.

    • August 10, 2015 at 4:28 am

      Me, too, and I agree.

      When Rache wrote about racism in late June, she mentioned first thing that she was venturing outside her comfort zone. I was so thrilled she proceeded anyway! I’ve talked to many folks who haven’t said anything because (i) it’s uncomfortable and (ii) they haven’t known what to say. For me, writing/talking has been part of how I’ve learned what to say … and look for.

      (I used to wait until I felt 99% certain I was right before participating in discussions. Fortunately, I realized I was missing out on a lot of learning opportunities.)

  4. August 9, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Heart-hurting truths.
    We need to know, but each additional death weighs heavy.
    So very heavy.
    When will it end?

    • August 10, 2015 at 4:30 am

      I wish I knew. One thing I do know is pretending it doesn’t exist will prolong it.

      (It’s astonishing to see people saying racism doesn’t exist using hashtags that, when searched, show nigh countless examples their internal sense of reality doesn’t mirror the actuality.)

  5. August 9, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    It is so completely terrifying, isn’t it. My niece is married to a black man, whom I adore. They have a beautiful child. I think of them, of you, of the millions of people … I just worry about our world.

  6. August 10, 2015 at 12:27 am

    It is very sad that today we still have to have problems with police and other people in general about how much pigmentation, melanin, a person has in their skin or what their religion is. It saddens me to know that there have been shootings by the police that were wrong and unwarrented, that possibly the color of someone’s skin plays a factor in it, and the senseless violence still occurring in the USA. No one should be judged based on how dark or light, or any where in between those two classfications, their skin is in America today. Each person is not defined by their outward appearances for anything, but especially not how dangerous or threatening they appear to a police officer. I am not by any means condemning every police officer in this just like us each officer is their own being and should not be judge based on their profession. I am sorry for the families who have lost family members, be it child, spouse, brother/sister, etc., as a result of a bad shooting. I pray that this senseless violence will end and that eventually we will not base any reaction or thought based on the pigmentation of their skin.
    Thank you for the wonderful post, and I pray your husband, and everyone else, is protected from such dangers.

    • August 10, 2015 at 4:55 am

      It saddens me to know that there have been shootings by the police that were wrong and unwarrented, that possibly the color of someone’s skin plays a factor in it

      The most important takeaway for me in the last year’s readings has been that police power is much more extensive than I realized it was. Certain rules exist outside rulebooks, so they can’t be pointed to on page to change things. But reading about how, for example*, planting weapons used to be standard operating procedure, stop and frisk was targeted at young Black males, and Black NYPD officers are racially profiled when out of uniform made me very, very deeply concerned for how little accountability police face for their untoward actions. Indeed, I read dozens of accounts of police officers corroborating stories found to be untrue; they served to protect, all right: protect each other. In 2014 Los Angeles, dozens of dashcams were tampered with by officers so they could avoid being monitored on duty.

      Reading all these things and so, so many more, I was horrified. Just horrified. I reached the conclusion that police need to be monitored/checked by independent organizations, or at least by chiefs who believe that policing is a partnership, not a power trip. The impact of current lack of accountability–such as when police officers are responsible for determining whether their peers killed justifiably, with result that would surprise no one paying attention–differentially impacts people of color, but it truly impacts everyone; see, e.g., Zachary Hammond, shot for having some pot.

      I recently read the book Blink. In its final chapter, the author talks about human bias and explains how literally the only thing that can short-circuit is time to process and consciously overcome certain biases. When police–or anyone, really–escalate a situation into fight-or-flight mode, they have overridden higher brain functioning and no longer have the cognitive capacity to overcome implicit bias. This is where it becomes critical that those we entrust with weapons to protect us are trained to take that time; to be aware of their biases and work to counter them, instead of letting them create this horrifying (and horrifyingly unnecessary) outcomes. I highly recommend Blink for this chapter alone, especially the bit on one police chief whose findings on his own team both support Blink’s conclusions and give hope for change. Of course, change follows action, not hope alone, so it’s my hope more people start asking themselves, “Who watches the Watchmen?

      Many of the watchmen perform nobly and well in partnership with their communities, and for those I am grateful. From the rest, I would like to ensure we the public are afforded some protection in strict polices and procedures that are only not followed with serious consequence to the officers. Sweeping accountability–the kind most people are expected to have on their jobs, if they want to keep them–will be key to change.

      Thank you so much for reading, considering and sharing your thoughts. I’m grateful!

      * Please bear in mind the above are quick-find links; I read much more extensive, thorough accountings, but these will have to suffice for sake of commentary!

      • August 10, 2015 at 5:05 am

        Thank you for all the additional information, it is my opinion that there are more likely more biases police that out right bad police officers and good ones out there as well. I am well acquainted with The book Blink, and other works by the same author that were given to me by one of my college professors. I also appreciate and understand the “Who Watches the Watchman?” reference. I will try to write later, but I have a medical procedure being done this morning and every morning till Thursday.

  7. August 10, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    The reality is so harsh – so painful! And it’s indescribably sad how frequent it happens and keeps happening!! We can only hope that this one will be the last, and then there’s another. The fear for your husband, for your children, for my nephews … for the people who we don’t know but whose lives matter!!! It’s real!!!

    I know I may not be making much sense but I just want to say I hear you and I feel what your saying!

    • August 19, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      You make plenty of sense, and I am grateful for your compassion in feeling and expressing it. ♡

  8. August 11, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    I started thinking and writing when I started speaking about my own experiences and listening to the stories of the prisoners I was speaking to, who I was supposed to be teaching but who instead were teaching me. When my heart began to open, when my eyes were finally wide open and I could see beyond myself.

    With each death, I grow more fearful for all of us. We are lost if we don’t correct course, fix our hearts.

    • August 19, 2015 at 12:38 pm

      I agree. I would feel so much more hopeful if … more people were willing to acknowledge today’s problems, a precursor to fixing them and making them–truly–history. The acknowledgment is uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as being dead over a broken taillight/missing license place/forgetting to signal a lane change …

  1. December 26, 2015 at 2:13 am
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