It was the cashier at the grocery store who made me weep. Even though I had already shed tears for you in the morning, my evening encounter with this young man- this young black man, who could not have been more than 15- made me think of you. He was quiet but polite; the seriousness with which he performed his task revealed a slight edge of nervousness, so concerned was he with doing his job well. Undoubtedly this is his first job, something to prepare him for adulthood, the real world. But how does a black boy in America really prepare himself for that? I had the urge to take his hand from the box of pasta he was scanning, hold it in my own and tell him, “You are absolutely perfect and deserving of every good thing in this world.” Of course, I could not do that. That’s not what we do to black men and boys. We pretend. So I stood there, silently, letting him perform this service for me, pretending things were the same for him as they were for the white man who had been in line before me.
I thought about him leaving his job, after dark, in this city we live in that is so progressive, so full of good liberals, that just the night before a man had been publicly taunted for his brown skin in our beloved Fenway Park. I wondered how this young cashier gets home from work. Does his mom wait, counting down the seconds until his arrival, knowing for every minute he is late the unthinkable may have happened? I suppose all parents do this, but I won’t pretend in this area. It is not the same for me and my white child as it is for this boy and his mama. It is not the same as it was for you and your mother.
The thing that haunts me most is that you simply wanted to get home, to retreat to the place where you felt safest. It’s the cruelest of ironies that you were attempting to flee gunfire only to be gunned down by someone who should have protected you. It’s not a surprise, of course. White officer killed unarmed black man, white officer killed unarmed black man, white officer killed unarmed black man. The act is so routine, the words so familiar they could be imprinted on our currency as a more honest reflection of what we hold dear.
When I forget my humanity, I wish for evil upon the person who took you from this world. I want him to feel excruciating pain, to be weighted down by the collective rage and sadness from those of us who keep having to be reminded that our lives are not valued. I forget that so many of these men put on those blue uniforms only because they feel they have something to prove; that they are so trapped in a web of toxic masculinity and white supremacy, there is no possible way to avoid disaster. Regardless, I am unable to offer any amount of sympathy when the solution seems clear and simple: just stop shooting black people.
I read about your life, how you were a football player, well-liked at school, and treasured by your family. No one could call you anything but a “good” kid. This matters not, of course, in terms of right and wrong, but I take some solace from the fact that unlike the ones who came before you, you are not likely to be blamed for your own death. It’s a pathetic measure of progress, but it is all we have right now.
I want to tell you I am sorry. I am sorry your life was stolen from you, that you have had to become another name on the list of all the ways we have failed our black brothers. I am sorry for the times I have been complicit, the times I have not spoken up when I should have. It matters and I vow to do better. I will do so in your name.
Rest in power.