Breath of Fresh Air

After Michael Brown: Yahdon Israel

August 11, 2015  By Yahdon Israel

You saw it when you were thumbing down your newsfeed on Facebook and knew, just by looking at it, you’d see more about it here than anywhere else—especially than on any major news network. At first there was just a post from one of your friends who posts statuses like this all the time with the hashtag “every28hours.” Because your friend posts “every28hours” every half hour, you’ve learned to scroll past them. It is the only way you can keep your sanity. But then you begin to worry about your friend’s sanity as well. “My nigga’s gonna lose his mind if he keeps this shit up,” you say to yourself and keep scrolling. As you scroll, you see that maybe your friend isn’t so crazy. Neurotic? yes—but not crazy. You refresh your feed. It’s still there. You refresh your feed again. Still there—and now, it’s even more than before. You get out of Facebook and go on Twitter: there too. The posts flood your timeline quicker than your thumb can scroll. You finally pay attention to #mikebrown. Not because you want to, but because your friend isn’t crazy. You refresh your feed.

You learn that Mike Brown was shot six times by Darren Wilson. You learn that Mike Brown is a black boy; you learn that Darren Wilson is a white cop. You learn what you already suspected you knew. You are seasoned in this. You read the tweets and posts from white people eager to defend; you read the tweets and posts from black people defending Brown. You refresh your feed.

Some of the posts you read say Brown stole cigars. Others say his hands were up before he was shot. An impressive number of posts call Brown a “thug” and claim they would’ve done the same thing if they were Wilson. More posts filter in saying they would’ve done more. These posts are not from strangers; these posts are from your friends. You remember what your mother said about the company you keep so you don’t unfriend, unfollow or block any of them. You just watch and remember. You refresh your feed.

You think about yourself and all of the “thug” shit you used to do. You think about all the video games you stole and pawned. You think about the time you helped your friend look for his Gameboy Advance so he wouldn’t think you had it. You think about the cops you argued with about your “rights” when you were stopped one too many times for no reason in particular. You think about the crack you sold. You think about what would’ve happened if you were confronted by a Darren Wilson—or worse, the people on your feed and timeline—during these times when you were a “thug.” You don’t only think about the six shots that would’ve taken your life at ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen or especially sixteen; you think about your body being left where it once stood for four hours because you were a “thug.” You refresh your feed.

But then you think even harder about your “friends”/would-be executioners and their transgressions. You think about the nights you spent escorting them home, hedging them from danger because they were too drunk to walk. You think about all the times they’ve been stopped by cops with drugs on them and were never searched. You think about the bar brawls and how many times their cases didn’t stick. You think about the fact that they don’t think about this, about their exculpatory whiteness. You refresh your feed.

Your thumbs tire in an attempt to out-swipe the images filling up your feed, of tanks, tear gas, and swat gear. You think, “Thugs.” You refresh your feed.

You see the reposts and shares of personalities, pundits, professors, and politicians giving their take on the situation. Few of which even know what happened. Fewer have gone to find out. You refresh your feed. You see Al Sharpton. You refresh your feed.

You’re sitting in your Monday night workshop suggesting ways to make a fellow writer’s story about her Indian wedding better when you hear chants of “No Justice, No Peace” outside the window. Everyone else continues to talk. You try to as well but you can’t. You grab your phone. You learn what you already suspected you knew: the St. Louis grand jury decides not to indict Darren Wilson; you see a white friend post a King quote about non-violence. You laugh. There’s still two pieces left to workshop before class is over. You want to be a part of the anger you hear erupting on Sixth Avenue but you also know you’re of better use when you write than if you riot. You simmer in your seat. You refresh your feed.

You’re in your second semester of your first year at the New School when you’re emailed a picture of a black man wearing white Chucks, khakis cut at the knee, a black tank and a straw porkpie hat holding a portrait of Malcolm X. You have to look twice to peep the double-entendre tattoo of Africa on his arm that is also a fist. You look at the fluff-stuffed Tweety-Bird and the Santeria candles. You see the balloons. You spot the black aerosol on the asphalt: “RIP MIKE.” You learn what you already suspect: this is where they left him for four hours. You look at the backdrop for half a second.

You see the forecast weathers a nice day. You know it’s a nice day because there’s two niggas who don’t have their shirts on. “Niggas stay taking their shirts off when it’s hot,” you say to yourself. You try to make light of it but your eyes are tugged back to that dark corner where the aerosol lies atop the asphalt like a body at its wake. You were told to write about this in the second person: you did that. You were told to write about this picture in seven to nine hundred words: you tried to do that. You were told to make this energetic and almost (or entirely) fictional: That you cannot you do. You know that aerosol and that asphalt all too well to make anything up. You know the portraits of Malcolm; the tattoos of Africa; the fists; the niggas without the shirts; the one white old man who refused to sell his house when all the other white people did; the stuffed animals; the Santeria candles—you know all of this stuff too well.

You don’t know all of this because you got on a plane and flew to Ferguson; you know all of this because you’ve seen it on every other corner in Brooklyn—and Harlem; and Queens; and the Bronx. You know all of this because your friend’s names are aerosoled on the asphalt—and carved into the sidewalks. You know all of this because of the funerals—so many you decided not to attend any of them because it’s just too much. So many you decided to get life insurance because you didn’t want your family to worry about where they’d get the money to bury your body if you were to ever run into a Darren Wilson, or a nigga missing more than just his shirt—and you didn’t want Sharpton delivering your eulogy. You don’t want to be like your friend: driving himself crazy because he knows he’s not crazy posting “every28hours” every half hour. You know the bodies drop more frequently than your friend posts his statuses. You see your friend post something about Sandra Bland. You refresh your feed.


Request: Permission to Occupy Your Body, Roger Reeves


From Within the Dark-Blood Depths, Rachel Eliza Griffiths


Other Outrages, Other Deaths, Rion Amilcar Scott


A Brief History of the Present, Morgan Parker


Rachel. Trayvon. Michael. Dying. Laughing. A. Fiction., Kiese Laymon


How Do You Write From a Country That Doesn’t Exist, Danielle Evans


To not write another word about who the cops keep killing, Khadijah Queen


Am I a Reliable Witness to My Own Life?, Sarah Labrie


Keyword Search: “Ferguson” and “Mike Brown”, Angela Flournoy


Slow Dance, With Bullet, Hope Wabuke


A Very Brief History of Police Killings in the U.S., Metta Sáma

Yahdon Israel
Yahdon Israel
Yahdon Israel writes about race, class, gender and culture in American society. He is currently attending The New School for his MFA in Creative Non-Fiction. Bed-Stuy till he dies.

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