This place matters

This place matters

Friday, May 1, 2015

ain’t we never gonna see the light

I wrote the following exactly ten years ago yesterday, when I was still working at the group home.
One of the clients had been telling me how the saddest thing he ever saw was John John saluting the flag on JFK's coffin. And I'm sure I've heard a million people say that, but it stuck with me, because it was one of the few lucid things I'd ever heard this client say. I mentioned what I'd said to my third shift coworker and he said "It was the saddest thing I ever seen too." He told me, "Brigid, you don't know what it was like back then. They was killing people on TV. I was in music class playing the drums, and the music teacher ran out the room, then ran back in and shouted that Kennedy had been shot, and we all went home from school early. And we was walking home, and they was all saying that he can't be dead. 'He's Kennedy, man, he'll be okay.' But then we saw the older kids crying and we knew he was dead."
"The next day," he said, "they were transferring Oswald and it was on TV. And then all a sudden Jack Ruby came outta nowhere and he said 'bang!' and Oswald keeled over. Right on TV when everyone was watching.
"It was a love affair with Kennedy, man. When the Russians had their missiles in Cuba, for a few weeks there we were all sure it was gonna be bombs and it was gonna be the end. But then Kennedy said he'd take you all down with him and he saved us all.
"Then they shot Bobby on TV. It was like, at least we still had Bobby, and then they shot him down too."
"But first, there was Dr. King. Brigid, Akron was on fire, and it was nothing compared to Baltimore or Philly or Watts or Detroit, but Akron was on fire. At West High School, it was about 70-30 black to white, and we all got called into homeroom. And the teachers said 'the following students can go home early.' And then they read off the names of all the white kids and sent them home early and Brigid, I don't blame them. We was on fire." 
It all seemed so far away. It seemed like we had come so far. But last week I watched on TV as a white South Carolina cop shot a fleeing black suspect in the back - watched a man die from my sofa. 
I heard a black man who had just been shot say "Oh my god, I'm losing my breath," and heard a cop respond "Fuck your breath" as he lay dying, a cop kneeling on his head.
Last week, I watched the trial of the cop who shot Rekia Boyd, a woman who was guilty only of standing too near a man whom the cop thought was holding a gun (he wasn't). I watched that officer get acquitted of involuntary manslaughter because the judge said he should have been charged with first degree murder. The officer was found not guilty because he was too guilty, and he cannot be retried. 
I watched cops try to claim that Freddie Gray severed his own spine, suicide by spite.
And I've watched people, some of whom I used to respect, write off these crushing injustices, these inexcusable deaths because unrelated third parties are rioting. Saying it's okay that these black people died because those black people over there are doing the wrong thing. 
Thing is, you can only hold that pot over a fire for so long before it boils over. They're killing people on TV. And we're changing the channel. 

Title is a line from Nikki Giovanni's The Great Pax Whitie.

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