AUGUST 2014: School had just about started. In the midst of trying to shop for backpacks and notebooks, the state I’d know for basically all of my life was the spotlight of the nation as it went up in flames. The hallways I walked down felt suffocating, teachers stared in worry of either what others might do to me or what I might do to them—usually, they worried about the latter. I was only fourteen but I knew so much of what was going on. I knew about police brutality, I knew about white privilege, I knew that the color of my skin would make me subject to bullying and possibly death.
I was only fourteen.
I only have a few fears: spiders, drowning, and walking by police officers by myself. My classmates constantly said “not all cops” and, at that time, I just agreed with them to ensure my safety, to make sure that one disagreement wouldn’t make me a social pariah at the beginning of my high school career. I agreed with them but made sure to avoid the two officers who patrolled the hallways of my school. I agreed with them but never left class during sessions by myself. I agreed with them but never stayed too late after school. Everywhere I went I was with someone else. “Not all cops” is just a statement white people use to defend their silence. ‘If we show a cop doing a good deed then it’s okay. We aren’t all bad?’ But a cop can hug as many black people as they want. They can give me a heart attack as they pull me over only to joke around and give me an ice cream cone all they please. But if just one cop had spoken up about the prejudice harbored by their “brothers in blue,” then one less mother would have to mourn the loss of her son.
During August of 2014, I saw about a hundred different stories of policemen doing good deeds around the St. Louis area. I learned their names, their faces, and what they like to do on the weekend.
Not once did any of them condemn the actions of their fellow officers. Not once did any of them mourn the death of Michael Brown.
It’s All Cops.
There was a boy in my grade who I liked. He said I was different than other girls. We talked everyday about whatever we pleased. At that time I thought no one in the world understood me like this boy did. My mother warned me that one day he’d say something or do something that would make me regret spending so much time on him. She said that we would never be a couple because his family would never let him date a black girl. She said he would never understand me fully. That the ability to comprehend what I feel as a black girl would never become him.
The constant blur of violence against my people had overwhelmed me. I texted the boy and confessed my fears.
I worried about what would happen in our small suburb of Dardenne Prairie.
I worried of protests.
I worried about getting hurt.
I worried about being killed.
He replied, “Don’t worry, those people who are protesting against the cops won’t come over here. And if they do, they’ll have hell to pay.”
I had never felt like such a fool. Because in his mind, the biggest threat was black people. Because in his mind, “being unlike the other girls” was really code for “you might be black, but I can tolerate your blackness.”
Because in his mind, Black Lives Matter and Michael Brown and mothers weeping over their dead sons in the streets at night was nothing but an inconvenience for him.
My mother was right, I was filled with so much regret that evening.
“What is the difference between the sound of fireworks and the sound of gunshots?” became my most frequent search in August 2014.
The difference being that fireworks echo throughout the sky and paint the dark night vibrant shades of red. The sound of a gunshot ends quicker than an unarmed black man’s life and leaves the sidewalk stained dark crimson.
The media painted Ferguson, Missouri in such a harsh light. The fires weren’t started by the citizens of that city. The people who looted didn’t live there. All of the violence captured on film was caused by individuals who cared little for what was going on. They weren’t angry about the death of a young black man; they were just looking for an opportunity to cause trouble.
My parents drove me through Ferguson about two weeks after the protests ended. There were burned-down buildings and broken glass but most importantly, there was a new memorial in the place of the last that had caught flames alongside the city. It was small—just a few flowers, some stuffed animals, a picture, and a pair of white shoes tied together swinging on a telephone line.
If the city were a person, then the outsiders who looted and the policemen who killed were the bullets that pierced its frail body. The fires that blazed deep into the night were its raggedly beating heart that flickered in and out, just waiting to be extinguished. The old structures, toppled over and covered in glass shards, are its body laid on the concrete. Men and women linked hand in hand, singing songs and chanting chants, act as the chalk outline to a messy crime scene.
There was not a soul in sight the day we drove into that city, nor was there a city with soul. It was almost as if Ferguson had died along with Michael Brown on August 9, 2014.