I’m sitting on a roof wrapped in a blanket, watching the sunset and sipping on warm coffee. I’m trying to lock up my demons in pixel letters on a computer screen with the soft tapping of my keyboard. I’m thinking about the day you died, and the following days after. I’m trying to remember who I was, and what things were going through my head. I remember justifying your death. I’ll be honest; at the time I didn’t know what racism was. But what I knew then was if a black kid walked through a wealthier neighborhood, a neighborhood with a history of break-ins, none of us should be alarmed when they end up shot. I figured people like me should have every reason to fear people like you under those circumstances.
I took my beliefs to the Internet, as many of us did. I wasn’t thinking about your friends when I said things like “He probably got what he deserved.” I wasn’t thinking about your family as I was sharing all of the reasons why I thought you shouldn’t have been where you were, when you were. I wasn’t thinking about your grieving mother, who didn’t tuck you in at night, and listen to how your day was, who didn’t spend sleepless nights with you as a baby, who didn’t go through labor pains, and who, beaming with pride, didn’t watch you grow a little more every day only to see you laid in a coffin because some grown man was scared of you. No, I wasn’t thinking about her as I posted everything I could find to paint you as a thug. There is a painfully easy to find video of George Zimmerman justifying your death on my Twitter. It’s painfully easy to find me justifying your death.
The sun is setting quickly. It’s beautiful. I can only think about how you’re not alive to see it, and how at the time, I didn’t even care.
A couple of years after you were killed, another boy, by the name of Mike Brown, was gunned down in the streets by a police officer. The situation wasn’t all too different from your own. He was black, unarmed, and yet was still seen as a threat. He was only a little older than you were when you were killed, and a little younger than me at the time.
As for me, I had changed a little in the couple of years that had passed. I can’t sit here and tell you I didn’t believe in God, or that I wasn’t a Christian at the time of your death, to tell you that would not only be a lie, it’d downplay the love of God. For whatever reason, even with all of this evil and hatred in my heart, Love was still calling my name. Love was still working in me; it was still casting out fear.
By the time Mike Brown was executed in the streets, God had instilled in me a deep value of life. I began to see everyone as made in the image of God. Even the people I didn’t agree with; the people from different religions, and races, and social classes and upbringings. Even the people who the rest of the world thinks are bad. They tried to paint Mike as a bad person. I tried to paint you as a bad person. I don’t know if there was any truth to what was said about the both of you, but I believe everyone tries the best they can. I believe Mike was trying the best he could to make it through this world, to find belonging and purpose. I believe the same about you.
I don’t know if you know this, but the word in the Bible that was used to say we are made in the image, is the same word the Bible uses for idols. We are living representations of God. Objects used to worship something bigger. I began to see the taking of another’s life as stealing a piece of the glory of God and burying it six feet under the ground. I felt in the very core of my being the wrongness in the death of Mike Brown. Everything in me that aches for the presence of God was also telling me Mike Brown deserved life and second chances; the same as me.
Once I again I took to the Internet with my beliefs. I filled my timelines with questioning and outcry, wondering how Mike’s death, how six fatal bullet holes in fragile flesh, could be considered right. In the 90-second encounter I feel at least one or two of them could have been spent deciding mercy. Many people disagreed with me, and many will continue to disagree with me. I don’t expect much of this apology to find open hearts. While for me there was a clear line between right and wrong in the situation, there were many shades of grey for others. Some people said it was justified, some said it wasn’t; some were just unsure and waited for the facts. Here’s one thing I can tell you without any doubt: no one will ever have to wait for facts to mourn my death.
I wish I had of seen your death as the tragedy I now see it as. I wish people could have just seen Mike’s death as a tragedy, despite whatever facts they wanted. Being right is sometimes a thief stealing the beautiful things that make us human. Though I had changed, there were a lot of people who hadn’t. I was beginning to realize your death was wrong too. My eyes began to open. I began to see people who were hated for the color of their skin. I saw people who hated people for the color of their skin. I saw people who started to think skin color was the issue itself and tried to become “colorblind”; failing to realize that treating everyone as if they are the same color is not equality, it’s ignorance with the hope of bliss. It’s failing to see when God created man in His image and called it “good”, He also knew and created every color man would ever be, because Beauty creates beauty, and color is beautiful. Color is good, and to be blind to its beauty is to be blind to part of the beauty of God Himself.
Two years passed again. Those two years were filled with more deaths of unarmed black men, and women too. Some I spoke out against, some I didn’t. Our nation is becoming more and more aware of these deaths. Some people think it’s all dividing us– all the protests, the politicization, the opinions spewing from anyone and everyone– but I think it’s just forcing us to pay attention to the divisions that have always been here.
I became tired of seeing people with hope and dreams be turned into hashtags and Facebook statuses. I became detached to an extent. Which is something I was able to do because in reality, what difference does it make for me? Of course there is the issue of what is moral, but I don’t think it’ll ever be an issue of life or death for me. I can choose not speak out against the deaths of unarmed black people because I will never be an unarmed black person. There will never be the same risk for me, never the same urgency, never the same fear or pain. But there was a shooting that happened not long ago that hit me a little more personally.
I was traveling with a friend for a couple of months when Terence Crutcher was killed. My friend shares ethnicity, and also his name, with this man. I’d never seen the seen the anger, and the fear, or the confusion, or mourning in this way. It was real to him. Not only could it have been him, it could still be him. I myself had never before felt the reality of it. That someone who had become like family to me could be taken from this earth just because someone might think he looks like “a bad dude”. The mourning was more personal this time. The backlash for speaking out against the shooting was more personal. People waiting for facts felt like people waiting for an excuse not to be human. Four years after your death I finally understood as well as I think I ever can. It hurt deeply. I lost more sleep over death than I ever had before. From justification, to wrong, to the death of brothers and sisters, I finally realized the full extent of the evil I harbored for years prior.
The sun has been set for a few hours now. I’ve had an entire pot of coffee. My fingers are numb. The blanket around me can no longer keep out the cold of this January night. And like the darkness of night around me, the darkness of racism shrouds the world. There are those, like I used to be, still trapping themselves in it. I hope– and I know it can mean nothing to you now– if I can change, others can too. I pray it may be. I know I will still fail. I won’t speak out against racism as much as I should. There is still fear in my heart. Even still, my voice shakes. I know this will probably not be my last apology. I also know this apology cannot atone for the past. But still it must be said, I must realize my guilt and take part in the shame, because on the night you were shot, my finger was on the trigger as well. Lord forgive me of my sins.
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