And What Shall We Read, Given Michael Brown Is Still Dead?
Yesterday, we all heard that there will be no Grand Jury indictment of Darren Wilson in the Missouri, USA shooting of Michael Brown in August.
I am so cold.
What makes me colder? The raging arguments on social media, where white people tell black people to settle down because due diligence was done? Where black people tell white people to shut the fuck up when they ask well-meaning questions?
What makes me colder? The increasing chasm between those people who understand the ways that institutionalised prejudice works, and always has worked...and those who not only don't understand, but tell us - the barely-paid poor, the women who still do most of the housework and get raped, the young black men whose street-bounce is always 'thuggish', the young lesbian woman who gets bullied at school until her nosebleeds won't quit - who tell each and every one of us that everything's alright, it's our imagination, an exaggeration, our conclusions don't quite follow logically, that we must be more patient, more thoughtful, less noisy, less irrational, less...what?
Or the fact nobody I know expected an indictment?
If you think all these things aren't the same thing, that they aren't inextricably linked, you're someone who needs to read more than you're reading.
People Who Don't Feel Cold, This Morning: is it just that you think the rest of us are crazy, or what?
Maybe I'm cold because I don't want to think about Michael Brown's mamma. I am not a mother. Yet when I think about the deaths of innocents in police custody; when I think about the righteous rage of one set of people and the bewilderment of another set of people; when I think that I am so fucking lucky not to be that one in three or four women beaten in the home where I think and chill and eat and make love; when I think of Michael Brown lying dead on the street for more than four hours, I feel it in my belly.
You don't have to be a mother to feel it. You don't have to be poor to feel it. You don't have to be gay to feel it. You don't have to be black to feel it, or a woman to feel it all, do you? DO YOU?
Maybe you do.
I rock. I want a hug. I stroke my cats.
I go for a walk. People pass me in the park. No-one's talking about Michael Brown. Of course not. Why should they? They're British (I am, too); they're here for an ice-cream in the cold (I like ice-cream); they came for a walk, too. Why should they care? Maybe they do care: I mean, I don't do a straw poll or anything, how do I know?
But if my brother goes for a walk, will someone think he's committing a crime, because he's wearing a hoodie, because he has dreads?
Because if you think this is just an American thing, you're a fool.
In 2013, the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said that in some parts of England and Wales, black people are twenty-nine times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by the police. The national average is six times more likely. I know that; anyone who has spent any time in a car with a black man knows that.
I'm really glad that UK police don't habitually gun-carry, says another pal.
Yup. Except there are other ways to kill us.
This is not news. Everybody knows this.
Or do they?
I come back home. I turn to reading, to warm me up. I read Langston Hughes. Like I did when George Zimmerman was set free after he murdered Trayvon Martin, like I did back in 1993, when the police in north London killed Joy Gardner during a struggle in her own home.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
What if I explode? Makes no difference, the cars we overturn, the fists we punch in the air, the legal remedies we seek. The community meetings we have. The 'riots' that ensue. I go back to James Baldwin's eloquent, loving rage, The Fire Next Time, still so heart-wrencingly relevant in 2014, quoted so well by dear friend and colleague, Musa Okwonga in his New Statesman article, this morning. But all I can think is: we're not learning quickly enough.
I can count on one hand the people I know who've read Baldwin.
OK. maybe two hands. We're a rarified crowd. In the minority, you might say.
Lots of people quoting Martin Luther King this morning, too, as protesters in the USA...protest:
It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.
Something does touch me about the white faces I see in the streets.
It is a good reminder.
A friend tells me that Claudine Rankin's Citizen: An American Lyric is an astonishing tome of our times, so I read the first ten pages on Amazon. The litany of micro-aggressions she references have me crying while I hit 'order'.
Finally, I read what I'd been avoiding, all morning. It is all over the internet. Anyone can read it. In his own words, Darren Wilson's testimony to the Grand Jury. You can read it here, too.
I read it all.
His narrative, in its own way, is simple. Darren Wilson says that he questioned two young black men, walking down the middle of the road. Says Michael Brown was huge. That they were rude, and aggressive. Says Michael Brown punched him while he sat in his police car. Grappled for his gun, and said he was too much of a pussy to use it. He says that fighting Michael Brown made him feel like a five-year-old against Hulk Hogan. That Michael looked like a demon. That when he pursued this demon on foot, that Michael turned around and charged him.
He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound...his right hand goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts running at me.
So he shoots, he says. Hits Michael at least twice.
At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I'm shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn't even there, I wasn't even anything in his way.
Like a mad litany, I have the theme tune to Shaft in my head. That Michael Brown was clearly one baaaadd mutha...
Shut your mouth.
Ultimately, all I can do, is read. Think. Talk. Discuss. Protest. Learn. Read again.
I can't do anything else except be witness to the sorrow, and the outrage. Give voice to our collective bewilderment that we can land a fridge-sized device on a speeding comet but still not truly care about, or comprehend the person next door.
Every 28 Hours
The young black man dies like a flower. Crumples in red dew. His bloom fades, hand falling to his side like under rain, his mouth a puzzled 'o' shape. The bullets hover around his head, bees and hummingbirds. Winged bullets. He sags. One of his petals falls. The weight of his body tilts him forward and off the stem.
The little girl standing in the store watching will refuse flowers for the rest of her life: balk at buttonholes, suck her teeth at Christmas wreaths, reject a wedding bouquet.
What's the matter with you, the wedding planner will say.
Phyllis Wilson went to the store to buy bread. When she got back, with a Battenburg cake and hot chips from the chippy, her sixteen year-old son, was lying handcuffed on her living room, with his cheek against the TV Guide.
Sleeping, Phyllis thinks, stepping in and contemplating her son's other cheek, sitting across the way on her clean kitchen table.
The police buzz around her apartment, apologising.
The horticulturist appreciated his asthma. All his life, it got him out of gym class and jogging. He wielded his inhaler like a wand. The pretty girl he dated when he was seventeen thought it was romantic. He was her wounded king, like in movies. She'd see to him, she said, she'd be his heroine. In actual fact, she left him, a little bored at his lack of athleticism. Sometimes she ran through his mind on a hot Wednesday afternoon.
He lost his job for the parks department because he won't suffer fools; sometimes his wife snaps and says he has to get over that.
Be patient, she says. You make me breathless, baby, he says and she can't help but laugh.
He sold cigarettes patiently on the road, and he stepped patiently towards the two young bloods having a fight over a pretty woman. Stop that shit, he snapped. They wouldn't stop; their angry cries shattered the street.
The policeman who came was clearly a fool. The chokehold that brings the horticulturist down, more illegal than the cigarettes.
I have asthma, thinks the horticulturist. Don't you know?
Imagine, dem jus' kill di gyal fi no good reason. Say dem did T'INK seh she know one a dem gunman who operate through Port Antonio. Seh she was standing up next to him, and dem jus' open fire pon di both of dem, like she name calataral damage. A know seh dem haffi get him, but dem police bwoy nuh have no conscience. Miss Puncie down di road tell mi seh dem couldn't see neider of dem face by di time dem corpie stop fire. Bradap-brap-brap-brrrrrrr. You know 'bout M16.
My daddy said there was a Heaven.
Every Sunday, in church.
Hands up in the air: oh, praise Jesus.
There is no Heaven, daddy.
Rest In Peace: Joy Gardner, Michael Brown, John Charles de Menezes, Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Alonzo Ashley and many, many more.