When Your Hometown Becomes a Hashtag

Since early May, I have been consumed with preparing for the Louisiana Bar Exam. Early mornings and late nights spent buried under seemingly endless laws somewhere between Starbucks, CC’s and the library. In an effort to focus, I deleted all of my social media apps.

The world just seemed to continue around me and my bar prep bubble. Until this week, I’ve quietly taken note of current events, the mess that is the 2016 presidential race, the Orlando Massacre, the House Democrats’ sit-in, the Brexit vote, the continuing attacks in countries overseas, with the same mixture of annoyance, shock, horror, and confusion shared by so many. The collective bubbling concoction of emotions can only be explained by so much happening in such a short span to time and every independent event eliciting strong and often opposing emotions. All the while desperately trying to maintain my level of focus as the bar exam menacingly draws ever closer.

Then, my bar prep bubble imploded.

I received a link to a viral video from a classmate. As soon as I opened the link and realized I recognized the backdrop, my stomach sank to my feet. I was looking at Baton Rouge. I was looking at my hometown.

I watched the murder of Alton Sterling.

I felt anger. I felt sadness. I felt scared. I felt vulnerable. I felt apprehensive of what would come next. What I didn’t feel was surprised.

When videos of unarmed black people began prominently circulating, I had a gut feeling that eventually an incident would occur in Louisiana. Late last year, when marshals in Marksville, LA tragically killed an autistic boy riding shotgun with his father, as his father fled from authorities,  gaining national attention and inciting public outcry, I hoped my terrifying and unwelcomed premonition had been placated. Wishful thinking. Wish denied.

I watched the murder of Alton Sterling.

Then, I watched my city devolve into chaos.

I watched the streets I’ve moved through my entire life be swarmed with throngs of people. I watched vigils degrade into hysteria. I heard the angry calls for the resignation of city leaders. I heard the screams of “F*** the Police!” and despite my disapproval and personal stance against characterizing all police officers with such a broad brush and regardless of my initial and in some cases continuing doubts concerning the motives of some of the protesters, I still get it. I still feel the anger. I can feel long boiling tensions coming to climax. I’m well acquainted with the feelings of unmistakable and unwavering outrage, indignation and resentment when people who do not live our daily reality, but by omission, tacitly support a system that was broken from the onset, all while persistently attempting to dismiss and ignore that a problem even exists. We share the same weariness of being forced to grapple with a slow simmering anger caused by our efforts to gain advancement being continually rebuffed and ridiculed. We feel the same sense of injustice in the quiet understanding that we must work harder to achieve less. And regardless of our separate life experiences, most, if not all of us are painfully familiar with the unsolicited rise in anxiety levels when flashing lights appear in our rearview mirrors. We live with the ever-present nerve-wracking reality that from a split second deterioration of an “routine” interaction with police, people who look like us, our families, and our friends, have been killed for crimes including but not limited to: playing in the park with a toy gun, refusing to extinguish a cigarette, walking down the street, catching an officer’s eye and looking away, selling cds and most recently, reaching for identification, per the officer’s instructions. We have to juggle the uncertainty of wondering, who will be next, with the dread of understanding, that someone will be next and the wait will be brief.

As tensions mount and pressure builds, we need to pause and take a breath. Take a moment to consider the possible conclusion of this chapter in our history, if we fail to reign in our justifiably intensifying emotions. Alton Sterling should not have died that night. His murder was and is wholly indefensible. Both involved officers deserve to be held accountable for their actions that tragically ended Alton Sterling’s life.

The anger is reasonable. The demands for genuine justice and lasting change are both, overdue and crucial. But, reacting out of pure rage and not taking time to set forth a plan to actually achieve meaningful progress, does not a movement make.

Marching without a goal is purposeless. Demanding change from politicians, but not bothering to vote them out of office if they fail to deliver is asinine. This battle will not be won by declaring war on the police. Violence will only be met with more violence and eye for an eye eventually leaves the whole world blind. Resorting to violence only serves to validate the stereotypes that brutality deniers cling to in an attempt to rationalize their need to automatically place blame on the  victim. Never once even bothering to consider the possibility that any fault should or could fall on the officer holding the smoking gun/administering the illegal chokehold/ planting the taser.

The movement will not be silenced or hindered by people attempting to discount and disregard the existence and proliferation of police brutality against minorities in favor of swaddling themselves in their privilege. Willful indifference is just as dangerous and deadly as active opposition and as worthy of guilt as if you pulled the trigger. America loves to hold up our freedom as a shining example to the world. Freedom breeds choices and decisions and decisions breed consequences. No one is ever obligated to stand and fight against injustice. No one must speak out against discrimination or bigotry. But, if we, as a nation, lack the basic strength of character and minimal moral fortitude to demand that the fundamental guarantee of justice for all be equally available to us all, then we must reevaluate our self-congratulatory assertions of being the home of the brave and consider the great responsibilities that come with great freedoms.

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