The Morning Mile is a daily column written by Culture Editor Ryan Shepard and published at 9 a.m. CT. The views of Ryan Shepard do not necessarily reflect those of Def Pen writers, editors and staff. NOTE: This column was originally written on June 12, 2020.
George Floyd is the first Black American to have a funeral. In the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder, riots ate the city of Boston whole, but the Celtics and 76ers continued to play the NBA Finals as scheduled. The Rodney King riots started on April 29, 1992 and nearly 20% of the U.S. population tuned into watch The Cosby Show finale the next day. Kobe and Gigi Bryant died on the eve of the 2020 Grammys. Billie Eilish was on stage within 12 hours. Black lives have been left to rot in the Tallahatchie River and neglected in Louisville apartments. Millions of Black Americans have been buried, but none have truly gotten the funeral they deserve, until now. America has never mourned a Black life until it had to.
“This guy Jordan Crawford was a saint. He was there buying shit, so him and his kids could make s’mores. But Michael Brown got shot the same week and Michael Brown became the story.”
Dave Chapelle’s 8:46 is a reminder that America buries one Black child at a time. Jordan Crawford. His name has not been uttered on a news station since August of 2014. Michael Brown’s name became a national headline, but even his memorial lacked care. Murdered on Canfield Drive, Brown is the reason society knows the answer to Langston Hughes’s question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Denied the opportunity to attend his first college course a week later, his body was left to fester like a sore under the sun for hours in the Missouri heat. The teenagers and young adults that survived the summer of Ferguson and the spring of Freddie Gray hadn’t been told that their dreams were not deferred, but rather their untimely death at the hands of police was.
“I want to shout out all the young people who have had the courage to go out and do all this amazing work.”
Trayvon Martin is 25-years-old. Michael Brown is 25-years-old. Breonna Taylor is 27-years-old. The kids who watched the memories of Black teenagers spat on by the criminal justice system for summers on end are no longer kids. This moment is not just the product of amazing work, but it is also venting in an organized manner. In many ways, burning a police precinct is the much-needed group therapy this country has made unaffordable for Black teenagers for decades.
“They found him. Big Bear. [Christopher Dorner] was hiding in a cabin. When they found where this nigga was, no less than 400 police officers showed up and answered the call. Boy, let me tell you something. They swiss cheese’d this nigga. He was as dead as dead could be. He is done. And you know why 400 cops showed up? Because one of their own was murdered.”
When Trayvon was murdered, his generation flooded the streets. When Michael Bown was murdered, his family took the city by storm. When George Floyd was murdered, his community showed up. The police that killed Christopher Dorner went home. Those who protested the death of Michael Brown have been killed. Inevitably, an 8-year-old girl is going to lose her older sibling to the criminal justice system because there is a more refined way of prosecuting looting than murder. Elsewhere, Philando Castile’s daughter will inch another year closer to her tenth birthday as she continues to process the death of her father at the hands of police. Simultaneously, she will grow another year closer to the “talk,” one which involves a discussion about how her area’s police department wasn’t disbanded after her father was murdered, but rather after another 6-year-old girl lost her Dad. If the current generation was pushed to the brink of burning a Target and police precinct, it is tough to imagine what the next generation may be obligated to do to ensure they can live.
“We’re not desperate for heroes in the Black community. Any nigga that survives is my gotdamn hero.”
My step-father was entered into the Marine Corps for the Vietnam War before he could legally drink. My mother lived through the assassinations of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X before she got to high school. My older brother hadn’t learned to drive by the time Sean Bell was shot at 50 times the morning before his wedding. I was called a nigger before I learned how to ride a bike. Young Black teenagers are not allowed to experience youth. Our current American society kills Black kids. Yes, I lived. The bullet of a racial epithet did not leave me bleeding to death in the BART Station, but my state of innocence was buried next to millions of other Black kids’ before I had shared my first kiss. If you were to ask my non-Black classmates, we were 15 at 13 and 21 at 18. The only kids older than my boys and I were the Black girls and non-binary children asked to mobilize millions in our memories while simultaneously working to protect their own lives.
If there is a shining light in the loss of Taylor, Floyd, Reed and countless others, it is that we are exceeding Chappelle’s expectations. Trayvon Martin’s classmates and Breonna Taylor’s co-workers have grown into an adulthood where we are not only surviving, but we are demanding to live. What type of existence is it to have a police officer pull a gun on you before you are married? What type of existence is it to start college the same day Michael Brown was supposed to? I never want my kids to know this pain.