The police killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, is our Emmett Till moment.
Mamie Till, a Black woman, courageously ensured that the world could see the savage nature in which her son was beaten by White racists. She kept her son’s casket open for all to see, including Jet magazine, which published the grotesque picture. This time, Facebook is like our Jet magazine. Philando Castile’s girlfriend, Lavisha “Diamond” Reynolds,* recorded the aftermath of a police officer shooting her boyfriend to death on the social network. She broadcasted it for all to see.
And we saw; we felt; our stomachs turned; our pores raised as we saw Philando’s blood soak into his white T-shirt. We saw that the cop who shot him still had his gun pointed at a dead man.We saw more cops force Lavisha to exit her car and walk backwards towards them as her 4-year old—in the arms of a cop—watched.We listened as her baby girl, sitting in the back of a police car with her mom handcuffed, consoled Lavisha.
“Mommy, don’t worry. I’m here with you.”
I’m here with you.
No therapist, no social worker, no psychiatrist, no grief counselor at hand—just the police. Those resources weren’t rushed to the scene of the crime.
Many White people and some Black people become exhausted when we relate present-day atrocities to slavery. But, here we have a baby living through Philando’s fatal shooting and instinctively placing herself in the position of nurturer. In the case of Alton Sterling, we saw his 15-year old son release uncontrollable tears in front of a press corps and millions more through television. The families of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner saw their loved ones be murdered without recompense.
I am 36 years old, I spent a decade of my life in prison, and today I’m struggling to eat, focus on my deadlines and care for myself. How are our babies going to cope?
We as the adults are supposed to grope for the internal strength to be strong, to hold our families together, and to give them comfort, to provide a measure of security.But, it is a mask. It is a farce. We are incapable of fully shielding our families—our babies—from these inevitabilities of Black American life. We are good at acting like we cope well. But we don’t. We harm each other.
Writer and activist, Darnell Moore once wrote, “We are experts in the art of killing because we know what it is like to be killed, maligned, have our spirits deadened, our bodies pillaged. We know.”
Black mommies and daddies on slave ships and plantations, in ghettos, and the millions of reactions like the ones by Alton Sterling’s son and Lavish Reynolds’ daughter have been untreated and unacknowledged. This is what generational trauma looks like.
This deadening of our souls leads to the hyper vigilance and inability to handle everyday tasks with ease. It is why we harm each other at such staggering rates. Our psyches are soaked in the daily affectations of the performance of sanity.
And while the Department of Justice investigates, and some of us will wait for the indictment and/or convictions of these officers as examples of what justice looks like, the farce of coping well will be spread onto our babies.
This is not about pathologizing Black people. It is the understanding that this nation is pathological its ability to excuse, justify, dismiss and replicate the dismembering of the sanctity of anyone non-White. Black people perform the farce of coping with excellence. This nation’s diabolical ability to perform the act of caring is an equally amazing farce.
Marlon Peterson is the founder and chief re-imaginator of the Precedential Group, asocial justice consulting firm. He is an Ebony magazine Power 100 honoree, and a 2015 recipient of the Soros Justice Fellowship. His writings have appeared in Ebony, Gawker, The Crime Report, Black Press USA, The Brooklyn Reader, and he was featured on the Humans of New York blog. His essays also appear in the Kiese Laymon’s “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others” and “Love Lives Here, Too” by Sheila Rule. Peterson tweets at @marlon_79.
Brothers Writing to Live is a group of Black cis and trans men who hail from spaces across the United States. Through their writings they map out similarities regarding the ways that racism, gender restrictions, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, ableism, economic disenfranchisement, heteronormativity, criminal (in)justice systems, and so much else has shaped the men that they are and are yet to be. Brothers Writing to Live members are Wade Davis, Nyle Fort, Kai M. Green, Kiese Laymon, Darnell Moore, Mark Anthony Neal, Marlon Peterson, Hashim Pipkin and Mychal Denzel Smith.
*Post has been updated since publication to reflect Lavisha Reynolds’ proper name. rather than, Lavish, the nickname circulating throughout media.