With mounting trepidation, I watched the morbid cell phone videos of two black men who were killed by police officers this week. Each time I saw the footage—on television or online, alone or with others—I cringed.
Perhaps it was anger or fear that made me look away when the bloodstains spread across the bodies of Alton Sterling, of Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile, of Minnesota. Or maybe it was fear. Maybe it was the knowledge that the lives that were so easily taken could have been mine.
I am a black man after all, and we are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than our white counterparts. That knowledge, hammered home by shaky cell phone footage, questionable grand jury decisions, and police trials that almost always end in acquittals, has cost me a measure of optimism.
But even in the face of a system where black lives are too often snatched away by the very people who should be protecting us, I refuse to give in. I refuse to give up. I refuse to acquiesce to the creeping belief that things will never change.
Because it’s clear to me now that the battle against police brutality is beyond the parameters of protest. It’s well past the limits of politics. It is a battle that will require us to stand fast in the strength of our conviction, to stand up for the power of right, and to stand in for leaders who fall by the wayside when the moment calls out for courage.
In the words of the old Negro spiritual that rings in my ears as the blood-soaked videos loop through my consciousness, I shall not be moved.
No rationalization can convince me that in Louisiana, the open carry laws that allow citizens to legally bear arms are unequally applied to black men like Alton Sterling.
No argument can persuade me that the violent spectacle of two white police officers throwing Sterling over the hood of a car, pinning him to the ground, and shooting him six times is justified.
No reasoning can compel me to believe that Louisiana’s Blue Lives Matter law, which makes an attack on police a hate crime, is anything more than a right wing attempt to tell black people that our lives matter not at all.
The fact that Alton Sterling legally had a gun does not matter. Nor does the fact that he had an arrest record. I watched the life flow out of him in a crimson stain that spread across his chest, and having seen that, I stand on the strength of my convictions. And like all black men in America, I carry the heavy cross of police violence against my people.
But in the words of the old Negro spiritual, When my cross is heavy, I shall not be moved.
And make no mistake. My cross is heavy indeed.
It’s heavy because Philando Castile, a cafeteria worker and law abiding citizen who reportedly was licensed to carry a gun in Minnesota, was stopped by police and killed in a car in front of his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter.
It’s heavy because Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, sat next to him in that car after he was shot and live streamed Castile’s dying moments for all the world to see.
It’s heavy because when Diamond Reynolds was taken from the car, when she was no longer able to bear the thought of seeing a life snatched before her eyes, when she finally broke down and screamed under the weight of the moment, it was her daughter who was forced to console her.
“It’s okay,” the child says in the video. “I’m right here with you.”
And like that little girl who provided strength to her mother in her moment of anguish, I shall not be moved. None of us should be moved.
Not until our lives are valued. Not until the shootings stop. Not until justice is done.
In the words of that old Negro spiritual, I shall not be moved.
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