For Philando Castile, his family, and everybody who has and will be affected by senseless acts of violence
I’m sorry if this is a jumbled mess. I am at a computer with a functioning R button, so I want to get out as much as I can before I 1) forget 2) have to go back to my R-less laptop.
Since fine tuning my knowledge about racism and white privilege in college, I can definitely say that I’ve grown as a person. I’ve always been overly empathetic: I wept at the end of The Last of Us and The Walking Dead Season 1 (video game), I saw the documentary “Babies” and just cried for 40 minutes in the theater, I connect to a character in a book and, in essence, become them and their trials. It’s one of the things being a “hopeless romantic” who believes in justice, beauty, peace, and fairness comes with, I guess.
But, this isn’t about me.
This is larger than I, as one person, can deconstruct. Institutionalized racism, white privilege, gun violence, and police.
I found myself trapped last night around midnight. My husband and I wanted to go to the new Denny’s that opened, since it was 24 hours. When we got outside, we were greeted with the shouts and wailing that only Death carries with her. I tried to drive out the only entrance, and turn left (as all the cop cars were on the right), but further down it was apparent there was no leaving. We didn’t know what was happening, so we went back inside and I made spaghetti.
This was hours after the murder of Philando Castile, less than 100 feet from my front door. The lights flashed and flashed, maybe 10-15 cop cars barred off a quarter mile of the block on Larpenteur, from Fairview to Snelling. There was police tape tied around the street signs I memorized. A few people stood in the parking lot watching, asking each other of they were OK. And I heard my husband’s voice, so uncomfortably, say that we should go inside. I wanted to stay outside, but I went in with him. We went online to figure out exactly what had happened. Hours after the death of Alton Sterling (of Baton Rouge), and the verdict to not indict those involved with Jamar Clark’s death (in Minneapolis), this happened less than 100 feet from somewhere I needed to be secure. My own home. The homes of many – as Larpenteur has 3 different, multi-building apartment complexes between Fairview and Snelling. It was surreal.
The surreality and this sense of dread got worse inside my apartment. After reading the early reports, I knew that my eye turned towards my husband. He was half white, half black, 6’3”, loves cars, video games, is a hard worker, loves me unconditionally, and prides himself in his identity. I told him I married him to protect me, that I was sick of putting on my “bitch face” and facing the world. But I had to protect him. He acted strangely the rest of the night. He reached out his hands for me to kiss, and I pressed his wedding ring against my forehead. Around 4 AM, I finally tried to sleep. An hour later, on that humid, July night, he uncharacteristically pressed himself against me and only then I was able to fall asleep. But was it sleep? I remember the weight in my eyelids and then nothingness. But I was acutely aware of the nothingness before my closed eyes.
It could’ve been him. Easily.
In the back of my mind, every day since we started dating, I always have to wonder:
- How do I tell his family if he died? What would I do if they told me he died?
- Who would I go to for support? Would I want to be alone?
- Would I end up finding the strength to kill myself over his death?
- What would I engrave on his urn?
- How long after his death would I wear my wedding ring? What would I do with his?
- Would I ever be able to remarry, knowing what I know?
That his death will not be caused by himself (old age, illness, a freak accident) seems more likely everyday. Death should be in the hands of that person. That he will die in a senseless act from following the rules, like Philando Castile, or for looking threatening, like Trayvon Martin, seems more likely everyday. And I don’t know if he doesn’t mention it because he doesn’t want to scare me, or if I don’t mention it because I don’t want to scare him. I know he speaks differently around Black friends and White people. And the latter is an act, it’s not authentic in that it’s not how he speaks to me.
I come with many aspects of privilege (White and Chinese, university graduate), and many disadvantages (fat, tattooed and pierced, queer, illness). But I will never get killed for being White and Chinese like somebody will get killed for being White and Black, like my husband, or Black, like many others. (It hurts to think of the names, that I have seen these names on my phone, on my computer, in my home, but I will include a list at the end).
I E-mailed my boss to tell him I might not be in. I was overwhelmed. Eventually, I managed to wiggle into my happy green pants (there needed to be something positive today?) and got into my car. But at the first sight of the flowers on the side-walk, the dried blood on the street, I began weeping in my car. I turned around, calling my work and sobbing. My home was tainted. Not important than any other home, but it was mine and I needed the safety.
The first apartment I got with my husband after being abused by an ex-boyfriend and living in my car. My first apartment. Our first apartment. The apartment where I slept on an inflatable mattress (and subsequently the floor once Buddy moved in and clawed it), seeing it go from barren and clean to full and messy and home.
And the mere act of going to work was like desecrating a grave, because I had to head east on Larpenteur. A grave that shouldn’t have been there, but a grave nonetheless. I parked at my apartment and then walked the mere 100 feet to where there were several people sitting there, quietly, while flowers began piling up on the sidewalk, close to what I think was dried blood on the street. And I sat in the sun because I felt so cold, but it didn’t warm me. The breeze that came with the traffic was suffocating. The grass under me felt sharp. I walked up to this group of people and sat, quietly sobbing.
I wasn’t sure what to think. What do you think for a stranger who died in front of your home? I thought about his family. I thought about the 4 year old in the car, trying to comfort her mom by saying, “It’s OK, I’m still here.” This sense of helplessness, that I could have done nothing. That, even with the video and film, the one in power will find a way to taint it, turn it against vulnerable people.
I sat there for an hour. A mother and her children came by. They were mixed babies, their mom was Black and their dad was White. I started crying harder, and had to be quieter. I thought about any children I will have. Thinking to myself, “It’s OK, my kids may be white passing!” but knowing, “As soon as it’s known their dad is Black, they’ll be in danger.” I watched the little girl smile for some photographers, aware of what was going on, but also still being a hammy, beautiful child. It hurt. It just hurt to see.
A few cars drove by, honked quietly (honked politely?), and waved. People came and left.
And slowly, a police car drove by. These new, gigantic, Chargers. All of our heads collectively followed it as it drove by, then returned to normal once it passed. Perhaps, a dangerous act of solidarity considering. It made me want to laugh. A group of strangers, brought together, that I was a part of, mourning, and I wanted to laugh! We were all on the same page, in a moment. It was almost as delicate and provocative as when I sat at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, and the fountains turned on and you could hear the single breath of every person there. These are the moments to live for, yet in both of these moments I am grieving.
An older Black woman stopped by and offered a prayer. “Take the power from the corrupt,” and, “Forgive us,” stood out.
Forgive us. I’m not particularly spiritual, but maybe some of my friends have ideas what that mean. Was it forgive us as humans for our errors? Was it forgive the policeman who murdered because he was corrupt? Was it forgive us, the innocent, the powerless? It gave me something to focus on.
I have to live, because Castile cannot, I said to myself a couple times, urging myself to get up and try to live through the day. I had a check to deposit, medicine to pick up, and I wanted to go into work. I knew nobody was focused on me, that nobody would judge me for leaving this group, but I did not feel as if I had reason enough to leave. Once I left, I did not want to forget. And once I left, I did not want to feel like my being there did nothing. I am outspoken, but online. Physically, I get exhausted and overwhelmed. I am introverted and definitely quieter in public. I do my best, but is my best enough?
This is all for now. There is still a lot for me to process and there is so much I want to say.