On August 9, 2014, my mother had been dead for thirteen days. Folded wordlessly in private grief, I was forced, in the presence of sorrow’s clarity, to look out through my veil at the murdered, inert black boy whose stain of blood twisted out like a road from his silence. His body became Mine. Ours. Human. Rights. We Rioted.
Carrying my camera, my rage, and my grief, I went out into the streets last fall and spring. My eyes were open as veins. I remember the bells of voices at Washington Square. I can see again the signs and effigies lifted up in the dark at Times Square. There were all kinds of people breathing and fighting black. I remember going down the main stairwell at Grand Central Station and watching hundreds of bodies lowering in waves as they protested in solidarity of one great death. The death(s) belonged to all of us, built from all of our lives. Because that is the way we can live beyond death. At Grand Central Station, I remember the German Shepherds held on leashes by the police. The dogs’ beast tongues were panting, their paws tense on the marble, and their bright, animal eyes.
On screens I watched the fires, the colorblind lies, the insults-to-injury. I observed the revisions, as America corrected and redacted her blackface.
To carry this trauma, as we all are doing in many forms, has altered me insomuch that I can never perceive my own future in any body, especially my own, unless it is joined in dignity and justice to the greater love and survival of all bodies.
On July 17, 2014, can we see the eyes of Eric Garner, brought to his death by the mob of plainclothes eyes that had already claimed him as plainly criminal?
Double vision. One year later, on July 17, 2015 in Charleston, a gunman murdered nine black people during their evening prayers in a church. In our most sacred nightmares, can we ever imagine their courage?
Listen to the soundless future of 12-year-old Tamir Rice as he bled to death in the snow while his 14-year-old sister was thrown to the ground and handcuffed as she tried to reach her dying brother.
On July 10, 2015, while the capital of South Carolina lowered its confederate flag, Sandra Bland would be pulled over in Texas. Remember that voice of authority, trained on Sandra Bland? The officer who promised her luminous violence when he vowed, I will light you up!
Days before Bland’s arrest I was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in Liberty, Mississippi. In terror so immediate I could barely speak, I took my identification from my wallet so that I would not have to do it when the officer reached my window. I texted several friends that I was alone and was being pulled over and could they phone me back in a few minutes to check in. I tried to remind myself that my mother and my father had both been police officers when they met and fell in love. I thought of the officers who had paid my family respect at my mother’s funeral. I took several pictures of the squad car and the man in my side mirror, just in case.
After he drove away, I realized that the face on my driver’s license had little to do with me. I tried to meet my own eyes in the mirror to take a picture of my fear face. To be sure I existed. To be sure the woman who looked back at me could pronounce her own name. Days later, I recalled how I had repeated my mother’s name, alone on a Mississippi road in the dust. My mother’s maiden name is Pray. I remember how Sandra Bland’s mother and her sister said her name. How her mother said War.
This year is the proof.
Proof is the inestimable footage of bullets, the surveillance of gun-lit flesh. Proof is the foot-on-the-throat text while syllables break like teeth in the windpipe and the spinal cord, the unregulated asphyxiations that occur between the strangled and the vice of the strangler. Proof is the recurring profile of distressed white men who do not match the profile of the authority, the supremacy once promised to them as birthright.
But America is in a state of forcible and necessary revision.
I don’t know if my questions have enough eyes. I persistently ache and try to read and to write with hope. But I can’t stop seeing. Look at the names with me. Your own name is here, crossed. Before each name scabs over there is already another scab, another eye, promised to be ready at the terrorized wound.
I want our voices to replicate a joy and power far more symphonic than gunfire. Our eyes must be the compass, justice our anchor in the dark-blood depths of these familial currents.