Can I Live?!: What #blacklivesmatter Means to a Black Life.
Not too long ago I was on my way to work. I drove through the predominately White town of Prospect, CT, and made a pit-stop at a gas station to fuel up. It was around 5:30 a.m.. I had Fred Hammond’s My Destiny cranked about a quarter to the volume’s max to motivate my morning. It was a Friday, so the usual business casual dress code at my job in social services was “dress down”; I was rocking an orange Ralph Lauren short-sleeve shirt, blue jeans, florescent orange Nike Air Max’s, and sunglasses. From my periphery, I noticed the conspicuous police SUV tucked to the rear of the Mobile station and quickly did the vehicular mental checklist that most Black men do when noticing an officer who notices us — Registration? Check. Insurance? Check. Driver’s license? Check.
No sooner than I pulled out of the station, after signaling a right turn to get on my way up Route 69 North towards New Haven, the police SUV sped in back of me and activated its lights.
I stayed strapped in the seat belt, muted my Gospel groove, rolled down all of the windows on my lightly tinted Ford Explorer, turned off the ignition, put the keys on the dash, grabbed the motor vehicle registration, activated my dash cam, swiveled the fish-eyed lens in my direction to capture our interaction, and secured my hands to the steering wheel.
The Caucasian officer tentatively approached my window from the passenger side, hand on his holster, as I could see from my side-view mirror. My heart-beat seemed to take on the bass line pound of Busta Rhymes’ Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See. My palms were clammy with sweat. There was a lump swelling in my throat I couldn’t swallow down. My anxiety had little to do with the fact that I had been indicted by the United States Government more than 16 years ago; my consultations for and collaborations with government agencies as high as The White House had now demonstrated a credible degree of rehabilitation. My nervousness wasn’t because I had drug paraphernalia or something else illegal in my vehicle; I hadn’t so much as dropped a Tylenol without recovering it, or used a screwdriver without ensuring to leave it in the tool box at home. I was internally distressed because I am a Black man — albeit a very light-skinned one — being pulled over by a White officer, in a White area, on a very dim road, at a very heightened time in our nation when popular hashtags associated with other Black men as myself include a line-up line like: #seanbell #ericgarner #oscargrant #trayvonmartin, and the beat goes on. I couldn’t stop a montage of thoughts that took my mind to a possible justification that would be written about my life being abbreviated at the hands of this officer. I couldn’t help but think about how the media may try to criminalize my passing, to suggest that my history was justifiable means of an officer being in “reasonable fear” of his life to shoot me like I was a target for practice on the range.
I wasn’t afraid that because I had done something “wrong”, but I was afraid that I had actually done something right! I had the right to be a tax-paying citizen. I had the right of safe travel. I had the right to be free from racial profiling. I had the right to travel through the town of Prospect at 5:30-something in the morning, dressed down, on my way to work, and get gas without police bias, intimidation, and/or harassment. I had the right not to get shot simply because I was at the right place at the wrong time! These aren’t rights just conferred upon me through the merits of articles such as The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, or a state or federal statute. This was a sovereign, God-given right to life that supersedes, trumps, and tramples any man-made piece of legislation running counter to or attempting to validate it.
No sooner than the officer cautiously leaned his head in the passenger window, I asked what was the purpose of me being stopped, knowing I had not committed any moving violations.
The officer inquired if I was a “resident” of the town. I knew that was code, a connotation of the sort to mean, “What are you — the Black man you are — doing in this very White suburban town, especially at this time during the morning?! Were you casing a house out to burglarize? Were you trafficking narcotics? What crime were you scheming on committing in these here parts?” Indignantly armed with knowledge of my rights and loaded with understanding of Connecticut State law as it relates to motor vehicle stops, I shot a rapid response to the officer in the form of: “No, I am not a resident of Prospect, but I AM a State of Connecticut resident with a valid license. I also want to cite, officer, that this exchange is being recorded on my dash cam for both of our interests!”
The officer’s eyes darted to the camera smiling at him under my rear-view mirror, and stammered, “Yes, sir, the reason why I stopped you is because I noticed you gazing around at the station and you looked lost — .”
“I’m not lost at all; I actually travel this way daily to work,” I interjected.
“Feel free to use your GPS if you can’t find your way…have a good day,” he dismissed me with.
As I forced the weight of my anxious foot on the accelerator to head to work, the Black Lives Matter tagline was plastered to the windshield of my mind, thinking how I very well could have been in the fraternity of the countless other individuals who didn’t have counter-surveillance equipment to either deter a potential situation from turning fatal or post-posthumously contradict the “facts” as reported.
When I hashtag Black Lives Matter, I am not signaling that blue lives don’t. I am not inferring that all lives don’t matter. What I am announcing is that my ethnicity is not a choice, as is the profession of policing. What I am trumpeting is that “all” lives don’t experience the level of anxiety when having a “routine” encounter with law enforcement as does the millions of other African American men, in particular, across this country. What I am unapologetically stating is a fact that our White counterparts don’t have to have dinner table discussions with their children about what not to do if approached by law enforcement, and as standard as having roadside assistance, equip their vehicles with dash cams. Police officers can undress out their uniform at the end of their shift and no one would know them from a hole in a wall. African Americans don’t have the luxury of undressing from our complexions and other racial identifiers that make us the target of biases, stigmas, and other prejudices from society.
My life matters — our lives matter — Black lives matter because we are no less created than those of any other race of people for the same purpose of life, love, creativity, contribution, passion, hope, and the plurality of other meaningful things God had in mind when He produced us.
Because you wear blue and we are Black doesn’t mean we don’t bleed the same blood. Our families want us home no less than yours. Our sons and daughters want us at graduations, birthdays, and other celebratory events, no less than yours. Our significant others want to sail into the sunset of their lives with us, no less than yours. We are of the same faith, have the interests, eat the same foods, have the same proclivities, listen to the same music, and (surprisingly) enjoy the same leisure activities as you do. We shouldn’t have to defend why we say our lives matter or appeal to your conscience for our lives to have more meaning than what you assign to it when prematurely shooting us out of unreasonable fear for your own. Our lives matter because life in and of itself matters! White lives. Yellow lives. And — yes! — even Black lives!