A Month in Memoriam: Day 17
Tuesday night and all of Wednesday were spent in New York. I had a couple interviews lined up and some location scouting to do with one of my partners, Andy. I was admittedly curious to see if people a few hours north of DC would somehow react differently to the list of names across my chest.
One of my friend’s roommate knew surprisingly more than I expected about Akai Gurley and Laquan McDonald’s cases, almost expertly recounting many of the details and technicalities. I let him do the talking. Why not let a white male speak the language that the three other white males in the room would understand? Perhaps he was well informed but I couldn’t help but think there’s a difference between being well informed and being woke.
I woke up around 8am the next morning in order to prepare myself for the day. It’s about once a year that an occasion arises that calls for make-up. I don’t own foundation or blush or concealer or lip-liner — the most you might catch me with is some mascara and lipstick. This time, however, I had to be prepared for an on-camera interview for REVOLT TV’s #BlackExcellence series. I found myself in the chair of a make-up artist at MAC.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” she said, “what do you do?”
I explained to her.
“Oh wow,” she said. “I remember when Sandra died, people out here went crazy.” She pointed to Union Square. “My boyfriend usually comes to pick me up when I close because we live in the Bronx but he couldn’t even get through traffic that day. There were people everywhere marching and yelling and protesting.”
I hadn’t seen people take to the streets like that for Sandra in DC.
“I looked at some of her videos,” she continued, “she really didn’t seem like the type to do that — I definitely don’t think she did that to herself.”
We went on to discuss the missing sideways mugshot and the extremely questionable angle of the forward-facing mugshots.
“It’s crazy though,” she said, “there’s crime everywhere. My boyfriend and I got caught in a shoot out a few months ago.”
Later, at a corner deli, I had to request another sandwich because my order was wrong. A tall white man towered over me, waiting for his sandwich as well. I could feel his gaze beating down on me and he read the names. I avoided eye contact. I wanted him to read the names without feeling as though he had to look away if I decided to return his gaze.
While walking, I saw a white woman’s lips moves as if she was just a few vocal vibrations away from reading the names out loud.
A few hours later, Andy and I stood on the grounds of Hostos Community College in the Bronx, the school where Miriam Carey received her associate’s degree. She existed here.
About a month ago, one of my college classmates posted a picture on Instagram that I could not take my eyes off of. It was an assembly of old-school Coke bottles that bore the names of many of the brothers and sisters who are memorialized within The And Counting Collection. Turns out, the gallery that housed the arresting work of art was only a 15 minute walk from Hostos, so we went.
The pieces within the space were gripping. At one point, I stood beneath a double-headed noose without even knowing it. I looked up and almost gasped. I moved quickly from between the two nooses, feeling too much of a sensation of panic.
Seeing the collection of Coke bottles in person was harrowing.
There were their names again, this time lined up in rows. These were not the same Sarah, Joe, Steve and Rebecca type names you’d find on Coke bottles in a CVS or Duane Reade.
Share a Coke with Amadou.
Share a Coke with Sandra.
Share a Coke with Akai.
Share a Coke with Rekia.
About an hour later, Andy and I stood in front of The Pink Houses. This is where Miriam grew up. This is where Akai died.
It felt more as though I was on hallowed ground rather than the sidewalks of the so-called, “dark & deadly hellhole houses”.
That night, I sat down with one of Akai’s cousin for dinner. She is 19-year-old college student but she is also a survivor.
“I wore your shirt the first day of his case,” she said. “They looked at me before I went through the metal detectors and one of the security guards said — ‘That’s gonna be a problem. Either turn it inside out or take it off.’ — So I had to take it off because nothing was going to stop me from being inside that courtroom.”
The intentional crafting of courtroom environments happens terribly often. Trayvon’s family was not allowed in the courtroom during the trial proceedings of Michael Dunn, Jordan’s murderer, and instead were placed in an overroom to watch the trial.
A supporter with a sign during Peter Liang’s trial, the officer who killed Akai, was immediately thrown out. We musn’t influence the jury, remember?
There were times when I could do nothing but shake my head in a combination of awe and disgust as she shared the true trappings of the trial, most of which mainstream media failed to report.
“When we saw him in the casket,” she said, “he looked like everyone. Our genes are really strong. I saw my aunts, my uncles — everyone in him…”
I realized — I wasn’t just looking at her, I was looking at him too.