It seems appropriate that the last time I updated this blog was on occasion of a mass shooting. That’s what a friend told me when he recommended I pen a post for catharsis’ sake in the wake of a massacre of my people in Orlando, Florida.
As a gay man, the slaughter at Pulse shook me to my core. I had never been to Pulse but I’ve been at enough clubs to know exactly what it, and the victims, looked like. Coincidentally I was in Orlando the week before; a few changes in circumstance and that could have easily been me bleeding out on a dance floor, alone and terrified. Or, with my also-mortally-wounded boyfriend, both of us alone and terrified. I saw on repeat videos taken from inside the club by people who died that night. I can still hear the rifle splitting the boozy air.
Can you believe that was not even one month ago?
Tuesday morning we woke up to news of the shooting death of Alton Sterling. Sterling was selling bootleg CD’s when someone dialed 911 claiming he threatened a person with a firearm. The police arrived, tackled him, and pinned him to the ground. Then one of the officers yelled, “Gun!”, and a gun was drawn, placed to Alton’s back, and fired. And fired four more times. Though media was quick to note his detailed criminal history, and not to recognize that it is irrelevant since the police did not look up his record before shooting, few noticed he left behind five children. I can still hear the shots piercing the night.
Sterling’s violent end deeply troubled me. Yet another black man turned into yet another hashtag. It’s not as if these events are new — not to America at-large since 2014 and not to Black America since ever — but Sterling’s abrupt end was the first of those videos I had seen since Walter Scott’s brazen assassination was just too much to bear. And before him, John Crawford’s execution for buying something from a Walmart. And before that, Tamir Rice, just a little baby, his life stolen for playing in a park.
Thursday morning we woke up to news of the shooting death of Philando Castile. Castile was pulled over for a broken tail light, around when the police scanner allegedly mentioned Castile fit the profile of a robbery suspect “’cause of the wide-set nose” he had. Castile notified the officer he had a licensed firearm in the car. He reached for his wallet for his identification, as instructed. The officer drew his weapon, and shortly thereafter fired. Four times. I can still hear the shots cracking the afternoon calm.
Castile’s violent end, frankly, devastated me. And terrified me. As much as I loathe relating that word to news stories, Philando Castile’s killing terrified me. Between my mother and the firearm safety courses I’ve taken, I’ve been told multiple times, if I’m pulled over with a firearm in the car I am to tell the officer straight away, “For safety’s sake, I want you to know that I have a licensed firearm in the car.” Castile, it seems, did just that. He followed the rules. Everything police officers have told me personally to do in that situation. Yet, he is dead.
And then Friday morning, the unimaginable. I saw the news all day and I still cannot believe it. Five officers of the Dallas Police Department shot to death by a sniper. One at point-blank range, graphically broadcast on late-night cable news. Scenes of panicked civilians ducking and scattering, and a seemingly unending stream of police bravely engaging the shooter as best they could. So many gunshots; it’s impossible to count. I can still hear the assassin’s rifle thundering through the city center.
There are hardly words to describe the brutal, inhumane carnage in Dallas. As prevalent as racial killings of black people by police are, odds still are that most police officers you encounter are at least decent people, if not outright good cops. Dallas in particular earned national praise for putting in the challenging work to reform their department, to avoid the sorts of tragedies that have struck Baton Rouge and Saint Paul and Chicago and Baltimore and Cleveland and New York and so many other places. Prior to the attack Dallas police officers were taking photos with and even joining in with protesters, in addition to protecting them from danger.
Then they got a tragedy all their own. Of the five officers murdered in cold blood, only one has been identified so far. Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson left behind a grandchild, and a marriage only two weeks old. Thompson is DART’s first officer fatality in its 27 years of existence. I don’t know if I watched him die today, but I saw plenty of corpses so there is a good possibility I saw his demise as well.
What can one even say? Or do? I know I have spent the entire day intermittently, and uncharacteristically, crying. I see people taking their outrage to the streets, demanding at once police reform and respect for officers’ lives. As we all should. But at the moment I am paralyzed by sorrow. A profound sorrow that people matching my demographics are still routinely killed, often with state power, for little to no reason. A profound sorrow that example-setting officers can be randomly gunned down in a disgusting perversion of the name of a movement pressing for other police departments to follow the lead of Dallas.
And I am afraid. I hate to admit it, but I am afraid.
I am afraid that a night out with my love could end in a hail of gunfire obscured by the bass from a Beyoncé song or a haze of whiskey. I am afraid that a routine stop or even chat with a police officer could end with a gun, or a bullet, in my face. I am afraid for the police officers under fire last night and, stunningly, all throughout today. I am afraid that the mayhem visited upon Dallas and across the country will only make things worse for both minority communities and police departments.
And there is the amplified fear that I, or someone I know, will simply be one of the 30 or so Americans killed each and every day with a firearm. One of the 30 or so nobody notices or remembers, because it is just “routine gun violence.”
Please be safe out there.