Black History Month Series

My Birthday Used to Reflect on the Victims of State Violence: Black Lives Lost

Yesterday Travyon Martin would have turned 22 years old. Not a year goes past that I don’t reflect on his death. Today is my birthday and I am now the same age Martin would’ve been, turning 22 years old. I remember when I was the same age as Martin after he was murdered, during the trial when Americans haggled over his death in 2013, I felt my own life hanging in the balance. There are days I walk home in the dark from the gas station or even from my car when I’m forced to park far away from my apartment. Perceived suspicion is something I try to guard against, hoping my womanhood would save me, but I know if I were to wear my coat’s hood on a cold night, a Black body is all someone would see. 

When Trayvon Martin was killed at 17, I felt a piece of myself also pass away. When his murderer was set free I felt like a gunshot wound was embedded in me, one that I’d be reminded of each year as I age, one day after Martin’s birthday. Since Martin’s death in 3 years ago several young Blacks have been wrongfully murdered. There is no reason for people to be killed as a result of ‘perceived suspicion’ such as in Martin’s case or in the case of 12 year old Tamir Rice, who was shot dead in a park drive-by style by police officers. For Blacks especially, perceived suspicion is skewed by the way that Western culture has criminalized us since the 13th amendments loophole allowed for corporations to continue to benefit from slavery. In addition to perceived suspicion, Blacks have been killed as a result of misdemeanors, petty crimes, and even traffic violations. For example, in the case of Sandra Bland, a black activist and entrepreneur (like myself) who died in police custody as a result of failing to use a turn signal. Women are not safe from these genocidal attacks on Blacks from executive forces. Bland’s 30th birthday would have been tomorrow. My birthday sandwiched between the deaths of two iconic young black victims of state violence. “Am I Next?” the thought passes my mind as I read the stories of victims who remind me of myself in more ways than I can feel comfortable, “That could have been me” I think as I reflect on the 968 deaths that occurred as a result of excessive police force just last year. When Bland died in police custody, my father stressed to me the importance of calling him if ever I’m stopped by police. This became a reality for me on my birthday.

On my way home from a birthday date with my father, the icy roads were a severe hazard. There were several cars that were already pulled over to the side, one had crossed over the highway median and many people were standing on the side of the road waiting for a tow.  As a tried to navigate through the stalled cars and others driving by, my car slid on a patch of ice and revolved around 360 degrees. As I was spinning I thought my car was going to be hit by either a stalled car or another driving by. The entire situation felt like a death trap. Thankfully the spin did not end in a wreck and I wasn’t hurt. I reversed back onto the road, ready to continue my drive home when an officer flagged me down to pull over to side. He tapped on my window, he didn’t ask if I was ok instead he yelled, “You almost hit my car!” I opened the door to check and see if my car was dented, “Get back into the vehicle!” he told me. His assertive tone negatively struck me, “I’m sorry” I told him as I got back into my car. “I’m calling another officer to the scene to deal with you” he said and as he walked away I text my father about what happened. Just as the other officer arrived, my father parked and waited in front of me on the side of the road. After being asked for my license and registration I was asked, “Do you know who’s parked in front of you?” “My father,” I told him, at that he walked away and returned with a $120 ticket. What a birthday gift I thought to myself. I was happy that I wasn’t hurt, but I felt a type of hostility from officers that made me very uncomfortable. The fact that my father felt he had to come to the scene to protect me from ‘community servants’ left me with an eerie feeling. 

October of last year police chief Terence Cunningham apologized for the historical mistreatment of minorities by police forces, he acknowledged police forces as being “the face of oppression”. This was a fact that people of color across the country have been forced to face daily, a reality that we’ve been screaming out against for centuries. When I see countless people who look like me, that are my age being killed by these ‘faces of oppression’ there’s absolutely no way that I can enter a situation with an officer without some level of fear, especially knowing that if I were to die my killer would most likely be able to avoid prosecution, just as Martin’s, Rice’s, Bland’s and hundreds of others were. We must demand more than an apology, we’ve seen throughout history how little to no solutions have been made in regards to the historical mistreatment of people of color by police forces. We protest the value of Black life as we look at the many lives lost in this battle to create an equitable solution for our people. We cannot continue to live in this country fearful of our ‘servants’. Our ancestors demand our success in this struggle.  

Not a year will go by that I age, my birthday entangled between your days, without remembering you all.

Happy Birthday Trayvon Martin,

Happy Birthday Sandra Bland,

Rest in Power

#SayHerName

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