Not the essay I thought I’d write: After Ahmaud, Breonna, and George

Every year, as my birthday nears, I reflect. The previous year speeds like a supercut through my brain. Sometimes, I share what I’ve “learned”. I use learned loosely. I’ve never claimed to be an expert, an arbiter, an authority. I am a person in her twenties wading through the murkiness and uncertainty as best I can. That best isn’t always the best out there. It’s a shoddy amalgamation of limited experience, moxie, and hope– lots of hope.

On May 8, 2020, I was 26 years old. I am still 26 years old. Ahmaud Arbery was supposed to be 26 on May 8th of this year. On February 23rd, he was murdered by Travis and Greg McMichael. He was murdered while running outside in broad daylight. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve sprinted through nightfall. In high school, I’d run late at night with one of my hometown police cars following me. This was no chase. This was law enforcement protecting a young white woman. There was no protection for Ahmaud. Greg McMichael stated that the 25 year old young man looked like the suspect of break ins in the area. Surveillance footage from the site showed that there were multiple trespassers, but Ahmaud was the only one killed. He was born almost 1 year after me, and now, he’s dead. A young death is always tragic. There is no chapter in What to Expect when You’re Expecting about burying your kid. There is no card, no poetic words to soften the searing loss. And then add murder to that. Add delayed justice. Add that of all the things this young man could be and all the ways we could have learned his name, but this is how we know it– as an epilogue, a no outlet.

Breonna Taylor was 26. An ER tech in Louisville, KY, She was fatally shot in a police shooting at her home. At 1am on March 13, 2020, Taylor and her boyfriend were asleep when two officers lerched into their apartment for a drug raid. Taylor was unarmed. Neither Taylor nor her boyfriend had any previous convictions or criminal history. No substances were found on the premises. So it was for nothing. The nighttime seize. The firing. The killing. It was for no reason, and even if any of that information had been different, does that mean Breonna should be dead? No. Breonna’s 27th birthday is June 5th. I am one week older than she is. According to the zodiac, we are both Geminis. I wonder if she was already talking about her birthday to her boyfriend around the time she died. I feel like life is just getting good at almost 27, and she was denied that–is forever denied that.

In Minneapolis, 46 year old George Floyd was handcuffed, pinned to the ground, and his death beneath an officer’s knee was filmed. The commonality that the tragedy porn of filmed black deaths has become is disturbing. This is not a new occurrence. It’s just new that the press and whites care about it. Like Eric Garner before him, Floyd audibly says, “I can’t breathe” as he is denied relief. Despite the footage, Floyd’s death was ruled as a “medical incident”. Oppression means being regarded as so inconsequential breathing is a luxury, and cause of death is named by your oppressor. Retired NBA player Stephen Jackson grew up with Floyd, so close they regarded each other as “twins” . Jackson’s social media posts in the wake of his twin’s passing are harrowing and painful. His grief rattles beyond the image and captions. A death is always a loss. A senseless murder is the most insidious theft.

Ahmaud, Breonna, and George aren’t here. They are hashtags, pictures, people some white woman in Ohio is writing about on her blog. I hope this doesn’t come across as exploitative. They are not content. Ahmaud Breonna, and George were people, should still be living people, should still be someone’s favorite voice to hear and somebody else’s best friend. And here I am, walking into another year of life, privileged in my anonymity, my innocuous whiteness that the gods of colonialism swayed my way. I am so grateful to be alive, Reader, and I am also so fucking angry. It must be exhausting to be black in america– the perpetual trauma of another name, another hashtag, and no relief– not even when running or inside a church or wearing your favorite hoodie. I don’t think you can call it a bandwagon when the public rage is not a trend but white privilege awakening to the reality of black life.

I turn 27 on May 30th. What a blessing it is to be alive, unknown, not a hashtag, a picture someone else picked of me to suit their narrative, to have my whole life amount to my death. I never thought I’d be so grateful to be such an ordinary creature because it also means being alive.

Sources:

Boucher, A. (2020, May 27). Former NBA Player Stephen Jackson Emotionally Opens Up About the Killing of His ‘Twin’ George Floyd. Retrieved from https://people.com/crime/former-nba-player-stephen-jackson-emotionally-opens-up-about-the-killing-of-his-twin-george-floyd/

Campo-Flores, A., & Siddiqui, S. (2020, May 24). Police Killing of Breonna Taylor Fuels Calls to End No-Knock Warrants. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/police-killing-of-breonna-taylor-fuels-calls-to-end-no-knock-warrants-11590332400

Fausset, R. (2020, April 28). What We Know About the Shooting Death of Ahmaud Arbery. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/article/ahmaud-arbery-shooting-georgia.html

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