These are traumatizing times.
Cases of police brutality present a large body of evidence that we remain deeply disconnected from each other — not as Americans, or as liberals, moderates or conservatives, or as people of faith and no faith, or as “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” but as human beings.
Footage of the horrific death of 25-year-old Jayland Walker has been released to the public, but I cannot watch it. I can barely say his name.
This is not the last straw, as we are well past that, or even the last time that I will write about police brutality. This is just the effects of trauma, of being stunned into silence, of being at a loss for words to name this uniquely American experience.
Fannie Lou Hamer said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and I know the feeling.
On June 27, Walker was killed during a routine traffic stop by Akron, Ohio, police officers, and I cannot look at the recording. This is unusual for me.
I have watched the footage of nearly every recorded fatal traffic stop and police encounter with an African American person that has made national news (and some that haven’t) — starting with Rodney King in 1991, which was captured on a Sony video camera.
I just want to see it with my own eyes, and I want to see them for the last time. I want to bear witness.
I can’t stop it, but I also refuse to become desensitized to the horrors of living in a racialized society. While I believe that there is an undivided “kin-dom” that is coming, I also know that our divisions as American citizens run deep.
So, it is important for me to keep an eye on these kinds of things. Because for me to understand the deep and abiding need for community, I must also understand the depth of our depravity.
In 2014, Eric Garner was choked to death on a Staten Island sidewalk; it was filmed by a bystander.
Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown died after a police officer told him to use the sidewalk; this time, the city was Ferguson, Missouri.
That same year, I watched 12-year-old Tamir Rice shot “within two seconds of police arrival.” The squad car had not even stopped completely. Rice was playing with a toy gun at the Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The officer, who had been ruled emotionally unstable and consequently unfit for police duty, was later fired.
Seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot by a Chicago police officer 16 times that same year. The state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, said that the officer’s actions “were not justified or the proper use of deadly force by an officer.”
In 2015, Freddie Gray died in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland. He was detained for possession of a knife.
Later that same year, Sandra Bland was arrested after a failure to signal a lane change in Waller County, Texas; she died under questionable circumstances. The state trooper who claimed, “My safety was in jeopardy,” was later fired.
Walter Scott was shot in the back five times by a South Carolina police officer, and Alton Sterling was killed by police after a reported disturbance outside of a convenience store where he was selling CDs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
In 2016, it was Philando Castille. Unarmed but killed during a traffic stop in Minneapolis, his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, had taken to Facebook Live to record it.
Then, there was 22-year-old Botham Jean in Dallas, Texas, in 2019, killed in his apartment by an officer who claimed she thought he was an intruder in her own. The officer was later sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In 2020, Breonna Taylor died at home during a botched police raid though no police were charged in her death.
I looked on in horror as George Floyd was slowly choked to death for nearly nine minutes, his death filmed by a teenage bystander.
However, before I arrived to cover the verdict for Good Faith Media, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who mistook her gun for a taser. I later took to the streets in protest with millions that summer.
Jacob Blake was shot and seriously injured by police in 2021. He was left partially paralyzed.
This year, I watched the body camera video of Patrick Loyola being shot in the back of the head while face down on the ground. The Michigan cop has since been charged with second degree murder.
But I can barely look at Walker’s picture after officers fired more than 90 bullets. News of his body being riddled with 60 bullets in seven seconds during a foot pursuit and then handcuffed before being delivered to the medical examiner has unnerved me.
What kind of laws are we enforcing? What kind of order are we seeking to maintain? And to what end? What kind of community is this?
But, also what have I been witnessing?