Amadou Diallo Died February, 1999
Last night I woke myself up, tossing and turning, and suddenly found tears streaming down my face. The picture of Michael Brown, the teenager killed in Ferguson, flashed in my mind. Unarmed and killed with his hands in the air by the very police who swore to protect the citizens of that city. He was going to start college the next day. Then more tears. I’ve been reading a lot about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri and it’s affected me deeply. I think back to Trayvon Martin, who was hunted down in Florida by vigilante, George Zimmerman, after coming back home with snacks he bought. He was walking through his own apartment complex, but he looked suspicious because he was wearing a hoodie in the rain. I recently read about John Crawford, the 22 year old black man who was shot and killed by police in a Walmart in Dayton, Ohio, for holding a toy gun. He was on the phone with the mother of his two children at the time. She heard the shots and his cries. And then there is Eric Garner, the man who was placed in a chokehold in Staten Island and died moments later. His crime? He wasn’t doing anything when the police went up to him. He did have a rap sheet and pending cases for selling illegal cigarettes. Illegal cigarettes have been sold on the streets of New York since I was a kid. My mother would buy a six month supply when the truck came up our block. It’s nothing new. Garner was not armed. He weighed over 300 pounds. He had asthma. Police say he resisted arrest. How much resisting could he do against four officers? Maybe he was resisting arrest or maybe he was resisting harassment. How far could this man have gone if they left him alone while they found a less forceful and legal way to arrest him? He even said, “I can’t breathe,“ six times. It fell on deaf ears. Now this man, the father of six children, is dead, killed by an officer with a record of falsely arresting and abusing people.
All this was swirling around in my mind. It wasn’t because I can relate to the black experience. I don’t know what it is like to be black in America. I only know what I have read and heard of the injustice and inequality, of the racism and hatred that still exists today. I never quite understood that black men, sons and fathers, could be shot and killed in cold blood, by police officers, for doing nothing. The first time I can remember being stricken by a similar story was back in 1999. A 23 year old immigrant from Guinea, named Amadou Diallo, was shot outside his apartment in the Bronx. He was mistaken for a rapist in the area at the time. Four police officers were involved. A frightened Diallo reached for his wallet to show them his identity and, as he did, forty-one shots were fired, 19 of them hitting the unarmed young man. His parents came to claim the body. The officers were acquitted. I was stunned by the outcome and never forgot it.
And, in between 1999 and now I learned that this is the “way” it is. Black mothers and all mothers who have black sons, have to worry about their sons being murdered for doing nothing at all. In America. They can be gunned down for wearing a hoodie, for reaching for a wallet, for carrying a toy gun, for selling illegal cigarettes . . . for just about anything. They can even be shot with their hands in the air. And their grieving mothers cannot even be sure of getting justice for their sons because they were killed by police officers who were “doing their jobs” to uphold the law and protect citizens. How do you live with that?
While I was tossing and turning and trying to go back to sleep, my mind wouldn’t let me. I kept thinking of all the mothers who lost their beloved sons. I thought of their lifetime of worrying that something like this could happen . . .and then it does. I understand the worry of a mother. I have two girls I worry about all the time. I worry when they are out driving, when they are sick, if they have to be in a parking lot late at night. As mothers, we all worry about our kids. When you have a child you will worry about them from the moment of conception to the last breath you take. You want the best for them. You want them to be healthy and happy in life. It’s unconditional love in it’s purest form. I worry about everything, but I never felt the need to worry that my girls would be shot and killed by the police for doing nothing. I can’t even begin to imagine having that kind of worry. No mother should have that kind of worry. My heart goes out to all the mothers, those who have lost their sons and those who have to worry it can happen to their sons, just because of the color of their skin. I pray for justice, I pray for peace, I pray for the America that should be, the one where everyone is respected and treated equally as stated in our Constitution. I pray for every mother who has a black son, that she will someday have one less thing to worry about.