Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin.
The list of young men and women whose lives have been tragically cut short due to police and anti-Black violence is too innumerous to list. The roll call of victims is staggering.
Even when there is no association with the victim or the victim’s family, confronting such violence is painful. It is harder still when there are nonstop instances and headlines of police brutality.
When I first heard of Trayvon Martin’s death in 2013, I was overcome with emotion. I was in a complete state of shock. I didn't understand how a grown man could gun down a teenager. Let’s remember Trayvon was walking home from the store carrying nothing but a bag of skittles and an iced tea when he was attacked. I never thought his killer, George Zimmerman, would walk free.
I tried to make sense of how this beloved child lost his life. Shamefully, I didn't want to consider the role that race played. But, like the other victims I mentioned, he was born Black in America. His race played a role in the perception of him as a threat. International recording artist Bruce Springsteen wrote and recorded American Skin to mark the tragedy.
After Trayvon Martin, another African American teenager, Jordan Davis, was killed in November 2013. Jordan was gunned down by a white man who was angered Jordan and his friends refused his command to lower the volume of their music.
A year later, a white police officer fatally shot Mike Brown, and then left Brown’s bullet-riddled body in the street for four hours. Again, I found myself confused, angry and saddened. In fact, Brown’s death took my anxiety to an all-time high. I could no longer be okay with the illusion of safety that my celebrity status may afford. I could no longer be comfortable being "accepted" or being relatively “safe” because I moved an inch from the hood that raised me. I’m still black in America, and police violence impacts us all.
I refuse to sit idly or silently. I am connected in spirit to Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, John Crawford; these people are me. With the reality of their death still fresh in memory, I was heartbroken once again after learning of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The African American men were killed days apart by police in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights respectively.
I watched the Alton Sterling video knowing how it would end, even as it began. I listened to weeps of the bystander and mourned with her. What happened to this father of five could happen to my father, brothers and friends. While I have privileges that others may not enjoy, police violence could befall my family just like it could yours.
This is no time to be politically correct or polite. The only power any of us really have is our voices, and we should never stop using them to condemn these disgusting acts.
Police officers are not exempt. When an officer commits a crime, officers who favor justice should condemn the violence. It’s time to speak out against rogue cops who make other cops look bad. Police should serve and protect the people; not just one another.
Rather than reacting unfavorably to the hashtag and mantra, #BlackLivesMatter, try empathizing with the community. Think about what it might look like to be our ally. You may not fully comprehend it, but it is something you can still support.
I challenge pastors and faith leaders who have answered the call to be leaders to organize and get your congregations involved. I challenge other celebrities to use our platform to keep this conversation going. Don't let it fizzle. The government officials who we have elected must be held accountable. Without pressure, there is no way to win true change.
Lastly, I want to share a message with my Black people: your lives matter. Do not get weary. Don't let hatred cause you to retreat in fear. Grieve when you must. Then allow your feelings of pain, anguish and disgust to be transformed into the fuel we need to fight on.
Even in the face of injustice and pain, I know we’ll continue to stand up for what is right. And in the end, justice will be served.