[Note: the following opinion is entirely the editor's own. Read at your own discretion.]
"Why is a a black life any more recuperable than a white life?"
June 16, 2017 will be one of those days that lives in infamy for many. You know, one of those days that when said aloud, you immediately start to recount something so heart warming or so heartbreaking that it shifted the way your world was viewed. For me, June 16 has always been associated with the birth of one of the most impactful rappers and social activists of all time. On this day, the son of a Black Panther, Afeni Shakur birthed Lesane Parish Crooks, who came to be known as Tupac Amaru Shakur. Beyond being one of the most celebrated and antagonized rappers of the 90's who would later be known as one of two martyrs in hip-hop, he was a gregarious, charming, paradoxical human who used his voice to boldly denounce mistreatment of blacks, youth and hip-hop culture in America. While Tupac's discography contained unrivaled party anthems, inspirational anecdotal songs of self love, and a few damning self prophesies over the span of his brief 5 year solo career, his interviews are another window into his soul; looking inside is simultaneously daunting, haunting, and fulfilling–his unabashed honesty and transparency, hypnotic. The very feelings we were often taught to hide, the east coast born, west coast heralded legend displayed unapologetically and eloquently--fear, anger, frustration with living in duality, and it was and still is enthralling to watch. It is a feeling that no other rapper has ever been able to consistently replace for me.
"The press and the media make you think that a black man arming himself is illegal, or criminal, or that he's arming himself to rob a liquor store or some shit. "
It was on what would have been Tupac's 46th birthday I was at Miami International airport, the dark grey skies more ominous than the delayed flights they brought with them. As I sat, re-watching uncut versions of timeless interviews a storm was brewing much larger than the one in Miami. On June 16, 2017, Philado Castile's murderer was acquitted of 2nd degree manslaughter, and two charges of Intentional Discharge of Firearms that Endangers Safety, In November, I watched angrily as Philando Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, held her smartphone and composure, as she fulfilled her mission to share the story of Castile's unnecessary death seconds after an on-duty officer shot him five times after Castile informed the officer that he had a gun. A gun that he was licensed to carry. A gun that he did not brandish at the officer or conceal the fact that he had it. It would seem that Castile would be the NRA and second amendment supporters poster child. That they would rally to defend the card carrying, legal gun owner who not only had his right to bear arms infringed but paid with his life in front of the woman and child he most likely carried to protect. How much more American can you get? But like Tupac said in his 1994 Interview with BET reporter Ed Gordon, when a Black person has a gun, then suddenly it's not for protection but for pilfering. His loss of life doesn't spur advocacy, but apathy. A jury of the purposely unnamed murderer's peers found him not guilty, understanding the murderer's fear. But what about the fear of Philando, Diamond, or the young girl who watched the man who was raising her with love and honor die right in front of her by a man who was wearing the uniform that matched he people she was told to turn to for help if she was ever in trouble?
"Once my life is gone, it's gone; can't nobody give it back to me. Not the judge, not the President, not the governor, not Calvin Butts, not Jesse Jackson. They can't do nothin' but come to my funeral and talk pretty about how Black people suffer."
The day after the verdict was handed over, Philando Castile's mother, Valerie Castile, used the same platform that documented her son's murder to clearly and unequivocally release her war cry. With the same music that voiced a generation's revolution against inequality, Valerie Castile lamented her role as newest mother in the "Fucked Up Mothers Club" over hypnotic hip-hop beats that moved in harmony with her words rather than distracted from them. She lost her son, grieved demurely for the cameras, and still saw no justice on watered down charges. Though her face was mostly covered in sunglasses, one glance at her mouth as she gave her unfiltered feelings on the verdict, Minnesota, the legal system, and police corruption, and you knew this mother bear was prepared to fight for her cub, and encouraged others to fight for theirs. Being a part of the mothers whose losses made them the faces of the Black Lives Matter movement wasn't a position that she was willing to play traditionally. She was clear, she had no sympathy for the man who murdered her son or anyone who thought like him. I felt empowered listening to her, moved to take action, just like I did as I listened to that Tupac interview. We weren't to be feared for just breathing, but we should fear those who want to take away our breath.
"Everything I'm saying is a warning, is a plea for help. If everyone is so goddamn worried about me, why didn't nobody come to help me."
It's not lost on me that some may think Valerie's message of acting before we are rendered inactionable is more damaging than helpful. That instead of saying "Fuck the police" she should have called for the community to forage better bonds with the police, or instead of condemning the justice system, she should have commended the prosecutors for giving a good fight. But Tupac said it best, "talking pretty" does nothing after the brutal loss of an innocent life. If everyone is so worried about the state of Black lives in America, where is the kinship, the change in legislation, the convictions? Directly after the verdict, Valerie stood tall in front of cameras, supporters, foes, and neutral bystanders ad warned the world that this injustice did not start with her son, and it will not end with her son, and that everyone needed to step up and speak up. Immediately I thought her speech reminiscent of the famed Martin Niemöller poem used in reference to the Holocaust, "Fist they came..."
In her most recent video, Valerie said, "Fuck the police. This is the real Valerie Castile. I don't give a fuck no more...They are going to keep on killing us as long as we sit down and take it." And she's right, a least about untrained, and , or hateful police having no regard for black and brown lives. Hashtags help to spread awareness, marches help to shape public opinion, and all are important, but none of these things bring our young boys and men back.I remember the sense of awe, admiration, and pain I had for Reynolds as she held that camera phone until the police took her out of the car and placed her into the squad car. It was the same feeling I had as I watched Philando's mother stand and not crumble, declaring "ya'll really don't know how a sister is feeling right now." With all of the empathy in the world, I can say I do not know this feeling, and feeling like my heart being ripped out of my chest for someone else's son, father, brother, boyfriend, husband pales drastically in comparison to if it were the brutal loss of my own. In the words of one of my favorite activists who will now forever be entangled with the legacy of your son, "I know you fed up lady, but you got to keep your head up."