This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.
When I began writing this piece, in mid-July, more than 500 people had died in police-involved killings in 2016. Since then, we’ve broken the number 800. These are just the names and lives that we know.
I grew up with the privilege of never seeing the police as a threatening institution. I believed that everyone was treated equally, and that the only people who got into altercations with the police were “bad people.” I knew of the possibility of “bad police officers,” but they were only as real to me as crooked cops were in television shows and movies. I never had any reason to fear the police or authority figures until I was much older.
That was because of my older brother, who was and still is a police officer for the city I’ve lived in for more than 20 years. He was and still is like a superhero to me.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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I still remember when he came to my sleepover birthday party and his police lights were flashing through the house window from the top of his cruiser. You couldn’t tell me anything because my big brother was a police officer.
I couldn’t relate to the girl at my party who ran upstairs because she thought my brother was after her. I didn’t yet know that innocent people, including kids playing with toys in the park, had a reason to fear the police.
It’s not that my parents shielded me from experiences of police brutality and racism that were beyond my grasp. They told me all about the Black Panthers, the civil rights movement, the racism and discrimination they faced from their coworkers, and their experiences being the firsts in their fields. But that discrimination was never real to me in the way that it is today.
The security that I once felt has all about vanished in the last five years.
Because of the growing number of people using social media for news instead of waiting for reporters at media outlets to tell their story, I have been able to get more personal and unfiltered accounts from those experiencing racism.
I didn’t always use social media platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook that way; they were for fun, initially. But they’ve become faster and more direct ways to become engaged with people around the country. This experience has made me see that racism is still alive and rampant today and not just a thing of the past, of the riots for Rodney King or of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight.
People truly believe that Black people are “less than.” Until everyone becomes aware of that, we’ll never move forward. But from what I can tell, some people in our society don’t want us to be seen as equal. In my lifetime, we may never be treated equally.
This knowledge has affected my life and how I live it.
The absolute refusal from white people or other groups to talk about and deal with the effects of racism and discrimination within the police force and our society as a whole is putting my life at risk.
I wake up, covered in sweat. Crying. Gasping so hard I’ve triggered my asthma.
Statistically speaking, I know my Black life has a high chance of ending in violence. And there’s little I can do about it.
I have lost count of the number of nights I’ve dreamt of my family members dying just beyond my reach. My voice being silent. My attempts adding up to nothing that can save their lives, which I hold so close to my existence.
My anxiety over this is real. My depression is real. My physical pain is real. My fear is overwhelmingly real.
Now that I’ve become aware of how dangerous it is to merely exist as a Black person in an overly policed society, I don’t like it. That’s actually putting it mildly, because I hate it.
I hate that Black people are expected to work twice as hard and yet we are seen as half as good as our white counterparts. I hate that Black children are expected to hang the moon and the stars while their white peers just have to put up glow-in-the-dark stickers of moons and stars on their bedroom ceilings in order to succeed.
I hate how there’s a “How to Survive” speech that Black parents have to give their children. I hate that Black girls and boys are punished more severely than their white peers when it comes to school behavior. I hate that the school-to-prison pipeline is such a reality for so many Black lives.
But, most importantly, I hate how it feels to lose that security and trust I had in a system that is supposed to protect me.
I feel tense, anxious, and scared just thinking about police authority. I still feel protected by my brother because he is my family, and I know he’s working to try and bring changes to the communities in which we’ve grown up. For example, I’ve seen him plead with people on social media to intervene with their loved ones who may be in gangs or involved in crime.
It’s why I trust him: I understand the motive for his actions.
But I also know there are cops in my city who are “unapologetically unashamed” and go without punishment. Because of those officers, I do not feel protected by the police.