Black Lives Matter
(All) Black Lives Matter (To their loved ones):
I didn't know this man. I don't know his family. I am not certain exactly where he lived or how he lived his life. I don't know if he had ever been arrested, or what his grades were in high school, if he ever took a single college credit course. I don't know if he ever had children, and until I decided to write this post, I was never certain of exactly how he died.
As it turns out, he was murdered by a 17 year old passenger in the taxi-cab he drove. I don't know the name of his assailant or if said person was ever convicted in his murder. I also don't know the race of his assailant, but given the demographics of my hometown, it would be a fair to assume that it was a person, probably male, of color.
In fact, I don't know any of the answers to the questions that are generally asked when a black person is killed. As though the answers will determine whether or not his or her death was justified.
Why do I bring this up? Why I am talking about the death of someone I never knew? The answer is simple--because his life mattered.
Given all the stories of police brutality and racial unrest during the past few years, one trope is often employed in order to distract from the conversation: What about Black on Black crime? On the surface it seems a fair question. If racism has succeeded at nothing else, it has helped to ingrain in people's minds that
Black people are inherently dangerous and thus always at the brink of criminality.
So when one waxes political about crime rates in Black communities, they are really asking:
why are Black people so "selective" with their anger? Why don't they march in the streets and demand justice when they are killing themselves? Why do they only care when the alleged perpetrator isn't black? And lastly, isn't Black on Black crime more prevalent than police shootings? So why are we focusing on these (supposedly) rare occurrences when the real threat to Black people is other Black people?
Since Black people are always dangerous, any and all violence against them is always justified.
For so long I have listened to these arguments, frustrated and angry at myself for not being able to properly articulate a rebuttal.
I knew instinctively that racial profiling and police brutality had no correlation to crime rates in Black communities. Yet, I had internalized racist narratives. The conflict between my instinct and my socialization led me to be unable to point out a very obvious fact.
The principle word in the phrase "Black on Black Crime" is the last one--crime. As I stated, I don't know much about Mr. Miller's killer, but I do know that the person was arrested and charged with his murder a week later. Conversely, it is important to note that all the people who have become figureheads for the protests as of late had one thing in common--their assailants were not initially charged with crimes. It was only due to public pressure that these steps were taken.
This is certainly true is the case of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Or only when video evidence of these incidents surfaced that resulted in arrests were made, as in the case of Walter Scott. But we have seen that video evidence doesn't always bring about justice. Case and point
Eric Garner whose death by chokehold was deemed by even some Fox News pundits to be unjust. Video evidence also hasn't seemed to fully helped in the in the case of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy who was playing with a toy gun, when a police officer drove up and shot him within seconds of arriving on the scene.
It is important to note that, to this day, even though he was killed over five months ago, Tamir has not been buried. And despite the video evidence, his case is still under investigation.
What do these cases have to do with Mr. Miller? Absolutely nothing. But that is a topic for another day. So again, why am I bring this up? Why am I talking about a victim of a (supposed) Black on Black crime? Because what annoys me the most about the "Black on Black Crime" discourse is that it alleges that Black people do not care when other Black people are killed--except when the case can be politicized and/or racialized. That is why I am posting a picture of this billboard.
Again, I don't know much about Mr. Miller's life, but I do know about his death. Why? The people that loved him have put up this same billboard every year since he died. It is located on one of the main streets of my hometown. To note, this photograph was taken over three weeks ago, and it is currently still posted now. In a few months, it will be replaced with an ad for alcohol or for Metro PCS, or most tragically, for payday loans. But for a few months each spring Mr. Miller's friends and family, who presumably put up this billboard, share their grief with the world. They announce to the world that this was our son, his death was senseless, but to us, to those that loved him, his life mattered.
Black life matters and Black grief matters. When one or many of us dies, we do not simply shrug our shoulders and mutter "oh well" underneath our breaths. We cry, scream, get angry and demand justice. This discord may not always end up in a nationalized public protest, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen.
It isn't that people aren't crying out, it is just in these incidents, national media isn't listening.
But in the national silence, people put up small memorials, hold vigils and call out for peace in their communities. In this case, Hassan Miller's family chose the loudest way to call out in the silence. Because for them, Hassan C. Miller, Jr. is not a statistic. He not a nameless, faceless victim to be bastardized in racist and de-centering rhetoric about "Black on Black crime." To them, he was a child, a son, a friend, a person who mattered; as I am certain to someone, whose names and faces I'll probably never know, are you.
Photo Credit: Steven Trotman