This was a blog post and article I wrote in the summer of 2016 following the officer involved deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. This piece originally occurred in "Threaded" the digest of the SoulProsper Media Group.
Here we go again, another crazy week in the media…and in our neighborhoods. With the highly publicized shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, all forms of media have been frenzied since the first video was uploaded to Facebook last week. Also a part of the frenzy happens to be the millions of viewers, worldwide. In our varied attempts to illuminate the plight of black men in America and the violence many face at the hands of police, we’ve used these videos to bolster our strong viewpoints. These video shares are not without hidden damage.
Last week, after watching the Philando Castile video another video surfaced showing another angle of the officer involved shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After watching nearly the entire video, I had to pause the video. I didn’t look away when the shots were fired, and I didn’t look away when I saw blood…I looked away when I realized that I was watching Alton Sterling die. Literally taking his last few short breaths there on the ground. I was angry, but something else was happening. Rage? Fear? Confusion? All of this happened at once yet pausing the video didn’t wrangle the wild emotions.
From there, I was embroiled in heavy Facebook dialogue, some of which came off the pages and into phone calls and text messages. Some brought severe division between myself and some of my longest standing friendships. Once again, we reminded that I am black and they aren’t. As a journalist, I wrote…unapologetically about how the deafening silence from what should and could be our friends is hindering any possible progress. I chided religious leaders for having nothing major to say…and then, it happened…
The unthinkable…someone declared war on the police! Before the night ended, five Dallas officers were dead and seven others wounded from the attack. Of the five deceased officers, one was a friend. A fellow band nerd, Officer Patrick Zamarippa. My days at Paschal High School were full of self discovery and the struggle of being young, gifted and black. A speech that began as a diatribe in search of empathy towards our community ended with me tragically searching for the words to comfort mutual among perceived enemies. When I say #BlackLivesMatter, I post it to a mixed audience. Last week, I wasn’t met with #BlueLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter, I was met with…SILENCE!
On Thursday evening, I made a concerted effort to reach out to old friends I’d undoubtedly yet inadvertently alienated by expressing my disdain with the week’s earlier shootings. I had to also re-visit a quandary that plagued me during High School. Many who were quick to memorialize Patrick as an officer of the law and veteran of the US Armed Forces were the same ones that paid very little attention to him in band. You see, we were divided back then, in band and in school. Did we make awesome music? You bet and nobody will ever take that from us. The lines that divided us somehow followed us into adulthood yet we find ourselves drawn together again, by this senseless loss of life.
Can you imagine the week I’ve had? It pales in comparison to any of the families who lost loved ones or even those who remained trapped in a live crime scene last Thursday night. Some were in their cars for hours, a very good friend and colleague Shannon J was in her car for 10 hours while the officers subdued the suspect and continued their investigation into Friday morning.
Trauma. That’s the word for it. We’ve been traumatized, the whole nation. This is the prime example of why so many have been rendered speechless. Some fester in silence; but for many the reality of violence whether at the hands of officers or a trained sniper, has rendered them speechless. What we have uttered is the best we can and even that has taken both a tremendous level of courage and a huge toll on us. A week later and many have yet to understand the gravity of the toll. I reached out to Dr. Kristen Guillory lend her expertise about the psychological ramifications any of the videos and ensuing interaction may have had on us. She had this to say:
“…it’s not about not watching but making sure you’re aware of the possible impact as well as what to do when you’re impacted- counseling, stepping away, prayer, etc and the signs. There a lot of layers and how to identify the signs in a loved one”
This I agree with and want to encourage any of you who suddenly “feel some type of way” following the events of last week to seek help and encourage others to do the same. Human lives matter. Your quality of life matters and help is available if you need it. Not all of us involved are on the front lines, still the effects are there. People like myself have contributed to progress via the various forms of journalism. I hosted a live show on last Friday with Dick Gregory, Fred Sandifer, Reggie Williams, the Rev. Kyev Tatum and Nichole C. Mullen that allowed us to talk about our feelings and what we need to do on both sides of the conflict. I can’t make it to every march or gathering but I am doing what I can where I am. Even so, I experienced trauma last week and will be doing what I can to heal where I am as I help make healing possible for others.
Think of the impact of seeing ones mother get hit, or seeing a child get hit or even what soldiers see in combat. Rosie O’Donnell suffered from depression after the Columbine shooting and she didn’t see anything. I’ve been concerned about those who not only watched but how learning of this information impacts us because many didn’t share deeply with someone how they really felt in the moment. We let it fester. (“Dr. G” Kristen Guillory)
Have you spoken to anyone about how the turmoil in the nation affects you? We need to decompress. Perhaps a moment to breathe, but how can that be so with the image of a dying Eric Garner saying: “I Can’t Breathe” seered into your subconscious? When do we breathe again, where oh where is that sigh of relief? I don’t know…
Calamity surrounds us and if the world remains unchanged, shootings and violence will continue. I urge you take pre-caution when engaging in social media following the events. Cover your mind and your heart, keep your well being in mind. We want to get perspective, we want to know what facts can be derived from video, but we also must remain vigilant against the onset of undiagnosed symptoms of mental illness and directly attributed to the exposure/overexposure to graphic content.