I search my emails from a year ago because that is where my memories of those days live. I’ve since had to make room in my mind for many more bad days, more broken black bodies. Stored in my Sent and Received boxes, and in texts messages and chats, are over 170 pieces of communication with the keywords “Ferguson” or “Mike Brown.” No search results for his killer’s name. In the emails I can see myself trying to keep a distance from indignity upon indignity, events that make me want to curse and hit and wail. The image of Michael Brown’s body in the street is like that. I tried to find logic:
-Am I wrong to think that they should’ve taken him somewhere? Is there maybe a justification, legally?
There was no justification, my friends wrote back. The days progressed and my emails and chats became shorter:
-They keep lying.
-The whole department is dirty.
-All of this gear for 40 people? TANKS?
-They’re tear-gassing crowds with kids in them.
-Did you see that photo?
-I can’t watch anymore.
-I feel helpless.
“Helpless” was not the right word. I felt fear. Not of racist police but of myself. There is an intricate system of tricks you must play on yourself as a black person in this country. You delude yourself that certain injustices are few and far between, and that deep beneath the majority of them is an explanation more nuanced than the tired, hundreds-years-old one about hate and supremacy. You must play these tricks to be able to watch TV or walk down the street or eat at a restaurant without rage bubbling up from your throat and out into the air, where others might smell it and look at you differently. I watched the legitimate grievances of a community and the very real killing of a young man become cable news spectacle, with still no answers or indictments. I feared the rage might turn septic inside me.
A friend wrote:
-This shit is only going to get worse. It’s gonna get real ugly, and then it’ll eventually be business as usual again.
I agreed. But we were wrong. A few days later I began texting friends photos of black women and men standing their ground, passing out food, demanding answers. I emailed links to articles in which black journalists spoke to Ferguson residents about life in a city with a police force that robbed citizens of money and freedom. Writers connected the dots, people stood firm in the streets, and I could feel the momentum building, even from where I lived in Los Angeles. I could feel my own rage subside to a useful, nontoxic level.
It did not get ugly. It got beautiful. It is not over.