We Can’t Let it Roll Off Our Shoulders Any More

It has now been a month since the tragic death of Darrius Stewart, killed by Officer Schilling in Memphis, Tennessee.

Every time a black teenager is shot and killed by a police officer I picture one of my students’ faces.

But this time I didn’t have to conjure an image of a student I knew and loved. This time it was my student whose face was on the nightly news. It was my student who was bleeding on the side of a road. It was my student’s classmates who are rallying, memorializing and demanding change.

Darrius Stewart was in my 7th period World History class as a freshman. He was a quiet freshman who embodied the phrase “still waters run deep.” He didn’t open up much in class, but when he did, he showed how intensely he’d be listening with a well thought out statement or question.

On April fools day2011, his classmates had decided to hide the clock while I was in the hallway. From the way Darrius was sitting a little nervously in his desk it was clear he had not instigated the plot. The Cheshire cat like grin on his face also showed that he thought this joke was hilarious. The clock story embodies two important characteristics about Darrius: he was a quiet student — one who often watched instead of participated — and he was just a teenager enjoying funny moment with his peers. He was just a kid.

A kid I had the honor of teaching for two years at Wooddale High School in World and U.S. History. He was quiet and silly. And when he was handcuffed and angry, Officer Shilling thought the only way to quiet him down was to kill him.

After I had let the shockwaves of denial wash over me, I spent some time going through photos and documents I had saved from teaching. I found the note that I wrote to Darrius at the end of his 11th grade U.S. History class.

Dear Darrius,

I am thrilled that I was able to have you as a student again in the 11th grade. You have a strong character, as you are able to just let the chaos roll off your shoulders, and focus on what you need to do in order for you to be successful. I am so proud of the fact that you were able to take feedback and use it constructively. Stay focused next year and end your high school career strong!

❤ Ms. Gobbo

I keep focusing on one line. “You are able to just let the chaos roll off your shoulders.”

In that moment in the back of the cop car, however, Darrius did not let the chaos roll off his shoulders. He’d let things go for so long and he finally couldn’t any more. He got angry. He messed up. He did the wrong thing. But the price of making a mistake shouldn’t be death. The cost of not being able to let one more thing roll of your shoulders shouldn’t be to get shot by an officer of the law.

Too many family members, teachers and friends have been forced to feel the gut wrenching, soul-crushing pain of an unwarranted death by the hands of those who are meant to protect and serve us. Too many kids have grown up facing obstacles and oppression as they try to live their lives to the best of their ability Too many people have been reminded again and again that our nation doesn’t understand the simple truth that black lives matter.

I’m angry too. I’m outraged. And I’m not going to let it roll off my shoulders. None of us should.