Anger. Confusion. Frustration. Anxiety. Disbelief. Vengeful. Powerless. Fear. Sadness. These are just a few emotions that many of us felt after watching another video of another Black body destroyed for no reason at all. Many of the law enforcement incidents that claimed two more members of our family remain burned in our individual and collective memories. Alton Sterling’s and Philando Castle’s lives were needlessly stolen and their families and us will continue to try to make sense or find some sort of peace. But then, I believe that we must be honest with ourselves and really embrace the fact that their deaths are another reminder that “Its’ not going to be alright and it will never be alright” until all of us do something.
Perhaps it will take for us to embrace the truth that there are some individuals, White and Black, who have no regard for Black lives. The truth is that these individuals have an unchecked opportunity to use guns, Tasers, clubs, tear gas, or whatever means to subdue, detain, or destroy Black lives because they know that they will not be held accountable for their actions. The truth is that some individuals could care less about the lives that are taken or their families and community.
The truth is that they know that the most that will ever happen is that they might be suspended or lose their job, but it will be very easy to be reassigned or obtain another job in law enforcement. The truth is that Black folks and other people of color will meet in our churches or our community centers and rant and rave about another tragedy—but after a week or so, we will resume our lives and “keep it moving.”
I’m tired. This script is tired. And the truth is, what happened to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, can happen to you, me, or even worse, our children (e.g., Tamir Rice).
The sense of powerlessness is profound and has been woven into Black history in an extraordinary way. From watching our family members being stolen, bludgeoned, or sold before, during, and after the Middle Passage; to the burnings, lynchings, and torturing of Black bodies in the early 1900’s; to the use of attack dogs, being hosed, beaten, and killed during the Civil Rights movement; and finally to the legal destruction of Black bodies right before our eyes at the hands of insensitive and racist law enforcement officials. Our history and our present reveal that nothing has really changed except the fact that we are now able to catch perpetrators of these crimes on our smartphones and then share the horrific incidents using social media. So we watch…and then what?
How do we talk about accountability with one another and how can we address powerlessness to our children who may experience any one or combination of the emotions that we may have had over another loss? Here are a few truths that I am advocating for us to embrace:
The truth is that we cannot sell our children a fairytale and tell them that “everything will be okay” because when we do, we disempower them/us from being vigilant and aware to possibly save our/their lives. The truth is that Black folks have been killed even when everything was really okay. As parents we need to empower our children about being honest with them by telling them that there are a few people who do not have honorable intentions. It is our responsibility to be willing to respond to our children’s concerns and tell them vengeful behavior is never appropriate. The catastrophic shooting event at the conclusion of a peaceful rally that killed five law officers is unacceptable and has no place in advancing peace in our communities.
The truth is that many of us need to become more involved in our communities by electing and holding representatives accountable for apathy, excuses, and an unwillingness to speak to the destruction of Black lives. Whether it’s our religious, political, or community leader, we need to maintain an ongoing dialogue about their efforts to dissuade the execution of Black lives.
The truth is that we need to continue to share these disparaging incidents and dialogue using social media. However, if we are merely sharing our thoughts and not engaging in any sort of community empowerment through good works, then it means that we only want to talk about solutions rather than be the solution.
The truth is that Black folks haven’t had time to heal from one tragedy to the next. It feels like we are losing members of our family every day and we have not had the opportunity to grieve. Personally and publicly identifying our feelings, being persistent about demanding justice, and seeking support from those who care about us is needed.
Unfortunately, none of these talking points will restore any of Black lives that were lost this past week even over the past several years. The prevalence of law enforcement violence and the privileged willingness to steal lives without accountability is startling. I offer this narrative to challenge us to be honest with one another and to our children and continue to speak truth to power with our actions every day.
Dr. James Wadley is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Counseling and Human Services Program at Lincoln University. He’s a licensed professional counselor and marriage, family, and sexuality therapist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships. Follow him on Twitter @phdjamesw