I wasn’t always this guy. I wasn’t always a married father who lives in a nice community. I wasn’t always a writer.
When I was 16, my dad sat me down and had a very real conversation with me. He told me that he’d given up, that he wasn’t going to hit me anymore for acting out. He said he wasn’t going to chase me around to go to school. He told me that he would no longer fight to make me a decent and kind young man. At this point, he thought I needed to feel the full weight of my decisions. I no longer had a curfew. I no longer had opposition to my insistence on going down the wrong path. My hair grew longer. I stayed in the streets. My pants begin sagging. I smoked whatever was around and drank until I blacked out. I was with those guys, on those streets you didn’t want to come down. I was around a lot, saw more than I needed to and if I was shot and killed by anyone, I still would’ve wanted my life to mean something.
I lost one of my closest friends this way. My homeboy Ian was shot and killed when we were in our 20s. I’d known him since we were little boys. Since we would bend hangers to make basketball hoops. He was a bright kid that loved to draw. He had a hustle going in elementary school in which he would make cartoon drawings of some of the most beloved Disney characters wearing some of the dopest gear at the time. He was his mother’s only son. We used to tell people we were cousins. The person who shot him was never found as no snitching was big in D.C. When he was killed, his story was barely mentioned in the Washington Post.
But here’s the thing that won’t get mentioned; he didn’t deserve to die.
I don’t know if Ahmaud Arbery was jogging or not on the day that he was chased down by two white men—deputized by their whiteness—who shot and killed him and I don’t care; he didn’t deserve to die. I don’t know why Arbery was inside that house that was under construction and guess what, I don’t give a fuck, he didn’t deserve to die. I don’t care what he was wearing when he walked outside of his home; he didn’t deserve to die.
And yet there are many, who have seen the video of his killing, that will argue “Why was Arbery going for the white man’s gun?” Instead of asking why a white man feels entitled enough to pull a gun on a black man he doesn’t know, who hasn’t done anything to him or his family.
I don’t need to comb through Arbery’s bona fides and look at his permanent record to determine whether or not his mantle is one worth taking up. It is. And I don’t need to know what he was doing in the neighborhood to do this. Arbery’s only offense on that day was being a black man in a neighborhood where white men lived who didn’t care for black men. That’s it. That’s the crime. For some reason, America thinks that it’s OK to kill a black man unless he’s reached some level of respectability that will make his death truly sad and senseless so that then we can care for him. Then his death will have reached outrage level and hashtag status.
I wasn’t always this guy.
Thankfully and prayerfully, I lived long enough to become this guy so that, should I be shot down just for existing, my untimely death might garner some outrage. But let’s not forget that Arbery didn’t have to be jogging or house hunting or registering voters or any other narrative that helps make his killing less palatable. Arbery was a man. A black man, in a neighborhood where two white men believed that was enough. They grabbed guns, left their home, hunted him down and shot and killed him and the “empty spot” that President Trump talked about is the spot where empathy is supposed to go. That’s the spot where everyone is supposed to just feel the pain of loss, that’s the spot where we don’t need to know what Arbery was doing or wearing or who he was before he lost his life.
His life was enough.