Breathe

by Adam Wells

On Monday, you return to your room to find your television muted, showing a playoff game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks. You knew you would not return until close to ten at night, a time when the second quarter is normally set to begin. So you follow the ritual set from the start of the playoffs: jump onto your bed, hop on Twitter, and texts your boy about the games that night. But that Monday, you received a text from your homie in Philly, asking what is it going to take for white folks to pay attention; for all of this shit to change. You knew he was talking about Freddie Gray. You knew he had your answer memorized since Mike Brown, since Walter Scott, since Tamir Rice, since John Crawford III, since Jordan Davis, since Sean Bell, since Rekia Boyd, since Renisha McBride, since Trayvon Martin. Y’all knew what it would take to shake the white world up. Y’all knew they wouldn’t change shit until this affects their world. Y’all knew white supremacy was made to ensure your people, black people, will always be kept at the bottom. And you knew before you searched on your Twitter timeline that Baltimore was on fire.

As you moved over to your bed, you watched black men dribble a ball up and down the court, shoot fade away jumpers and hook shots. These black men, some of whom wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts during the regular season after the state sanctioned another murder to the body of Eric Garner, looked different to you that night. They were not ball players anymore. You always knew them as human beings. The sports fan forgets this, especially when the athletes have cocoa, mocha, honey-comb, milk and dark chocolate complexion. But you are brought back to the pride you had when you saw NBA players wearing those shirts; when black women on college basketball teams wore those shirts; when high school athletes wore those shirts; when Andrew Hawkins of the Cleveland Browns wrote the names of John Crawford and Tamir Rice on a shirt underneath his jersey when he was the anointed team captain for the game; when four St. Louis Rams players came out during pregame introductions with their hands up to show that they, just like you, your family, your boys, your homegirls, are black and are under terrorism too. That once they take off their jerseys, their helmets, their cleats, their sneakers, their gloves, their headbands, and rock designer clothes, they are black people: disrespected, feared, and hated.

You talk to your boy in Philly for two hours, saying the same shit you’ve been saying since middle school. You tell him once more that you don’t give a damn that a CVS is burned to the ground; that the black Mayor of Baltimore calling her citizens thugs would have been better off calling them niggers since that’s what folks mean anyway; that she would never call the motherfuckers who broke Freddie’s spine thugs or murderers; that you’re tired of kowtowing black folks and white folks saying violence ain’t the answer and yet, nobody listened to your people when y’all were saying white supremacy is killing black folks or they offer no solutions as to what will make them pay attention and care, which you tell him they really don’t; you tell him that you hate to see your people pushed to the limits like this; you tell him that you are tired of motherfuckers quoting Dr. King like they read him before; that you’re tired of people saying stop doing this to their own community. Yes that same community riddled with crime, poverty, abandoned homes, fucked up infrastructure, broken school systems, police brutality, environmental racism that ranges from garbage not being picked up to children being exposed to pollutants and lead poisoning. Fuck all of them you say. You tell him once more that you’re fucking tired and you can’t keep repeating yourself.

You look at the television, still muted, as the Hawks are beginning to pull away. Your boy wonders if they would go to the Inner Harbor. You tell him they were at Camden Yards on Sunday. Those white folks wouldn’t let them burn down that area. The cops wouldn’t be firing rubber bullets at your people. Property comes first; the lives of your people ain’t even in the conversation. You try to talk about yourselves for a minute to better your hearts, to curb the rage, the sorrow. You say peace to one another cause it’s getting late. You look up find another basketball game is on. You shut it off and sit in the darkness, your computer screen providing the only light in your room. You watch a video of tear gas and smoke, of police sirens and sounds of ghettobirds circling West Baltimore as a man stands on top of a truck and dances to the rhythm of Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There” and “Beat It.” You see another brother getting his hustle on promoting his mixtape while fighting for justice against white supremacy on CNN. You smile and laugh. All you can say is that you love your people. Your black people. You love them. You love you. And then you read about another brother named Terrence Kellom was killed by an immigration officer in Detroit.

You love your people, black people. You love you.

*

On Tuesday, you see Carmelo Anthony deciding once more that he is from Baltimore, telling the people not to “riot.” You roll your eyes when Ray Lewis keeps saying what everybody else seems to say that violence isn’t the answer. You read that the Baltimore Orioles are going to be playing a game at Camden Yards without any fans in attendance. You read the comments from the Orioles COO that he supports the protestors and that this is much bigger than a baseball game. You nod your head in agreement, for he alludes to white supremacy, something no one seems able to say since people can’t say racism without it coming out of their mouth as a faint whisper. You tune out the commentary and only read black voices on the matter for comfort, for healing. You want to go to another protest like you did with Mike Brown but you stay inside. You don’t want to feel the hollowness of pleading for your own humanity. If you were in Baltimore, you would protest the arrest of those six officers. But you refuse to tell people that your life matters. You refuse to beg for that.

You get a text from your mama, saying that Baltimore is going crazy. You talk for a minute as she expresses her concerns about your people and for the safety of her black boy. You tell her that you fear for the whole family. But you sit back and think about how a black mother is able to keep their composure, to be willing to help out her brother, her father, her lover, her son, by being the backbone of civil rights movements while knowing that they are disrespected and least cared about. You think back to the pain your sister felt telling your six-year old nephew he was unable to play with his toy gun outside with friends because of what happened to Tamir, murdered two hours from where they are in Ohio. Your people, black people’s innocence is taking before you, before they can savor it.

You tell your mama about the woman who grabbed her son off the streets on Monday. You both laughed about it, saying that he got tow up when he got home. But you cringed when news outlets were hailing her as mother of the year and you wondered if she knew they were laughing at her, that she was being used to push respectability politics on her people, that the same racist thinking that continues to plague this country was on display. Your moms tells you she has to go and says that she loves you. Even though it is through text, you feel that same heaviness she has been saying to you since you were young.

You try to watch the games but you simply can’t. Your body is tired and you want to lie down for a minute. No sports radio, no alley-oop dunks, no need to hear about the boxing match coming up on Saturday. You need to be still. You need to keep calm.

*

On Wednesday, you applaud Carmelo for marching in Baltimore protests. You wonder why no white athletes have spoken out. You wonder if they would speak if Freddie was one of their teammates. But you know they’ll blame your people, black people, for that’s what everyone does. You read a report that was “leaked” from the cops that Freddie “severed” his own spine. You see idiots running with it to justify the cops. You say this is the same shit Louisiana police said about Victor White shooting himself while handcuffed in a police car. You say that this is going to be a circus, that this is why your people are rebellion against white supremacy. You don’t know when all of this will end but you see young brothers not scared of the cops and summer is coming. Your mother said this feels like watching New Jersey burn when she was young, when your grandfather was knee deep in the Newark riots trying to get your aunt, dodging bullets and fire. You believe the warnings from Brother Malcolm are becoming a reality, that America should be fearful that the fires that burned Watts, Newark, Harlem in the 60s spreads throughout the country and every ghetto then explodes in anger.

You find some sliver of hope, as you watch the NFL draft on Thursday, hoping that your San Diego Chargers get a good draft pick. You watch for a second until you flip over to the San Antonio Spurs playing against the Los Angeles Clippers. You feel somewhat at ease now, watching black athletes bringing you some semblance of joy. You are happy that the series will be played in a game 7, win or go home is the tag line for Saturday.

You wash clothes on Friday, running around to the store twice because you forgot to get some hand soap. You gather the clothes, now fresh and clean. You see on the television scroll in your dorm that six officers in Baltimore are charged with the death of a “black man.” You get angry and say his name is Freddie Gray. You go to your room, turn on MSNBC to find black people, your people, in the streets, honking their cars, slapping hands as tears stroll down their faces. You sit down, your heart is heavy. You are shocked and glad to be. You know this doesn’t mean a damn thing. You know that a 12 year old in Cleveland was murdered and his murderer is still free. You know Rekia Boyd’s murderer was not convicted in Chicago. But you and your people need small victories to help to keep y’all sane and this was one of them.

You text your boys and your mama about what happened. You put your clothes away and you have the urge to look forward to basketball again. To see black people playing in a utopia for two or three hours, your escape from the world of terrorism your people are under. You love sports, just like you love your people, just like you love you. You felt pain for Tamir, John, Sean, Jordan, Trayvon, Renesha, Rekia, Amadou, Shantel, Aiyana, Walter, Eric, Mike, Freddie, Victor, Terrence, and all of your people who have died by the hands of white supremacy. You know you are going to keep knowing names of your people. You know that there will be more stories to come. But for a moment, you sit back on a chilly Friday afternoon, ready to put your thoughts down into words, but before you do that, you need to do one thing: breathe.

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