On Freddie Gray And The America I Know

I know, just by virtue of being black, that if anything should happen to me, there are plenty of people ready to defend my would-be killer.

A few days ago, yet another one of Freddie Gray’s killers got away with his murder.

But when I think of Freddie Gray, for some reason, I don’t first think of thuggish police officers, broken spines, white vans of horror, and a frightened, disabled man running in terror.

I think of his mother.

I think of those months she spent sick and exhausted, realizing that she had a baby on the way. I think of how she talked to Freddie, the little one inside her, before he had a name. I imagine him moving comfortably in the safety of her warm belly. I see her rubbing her round stomach, talking gently to him, telling him stories. I think Freddie’s mom sang to him. She hoped and prayed and waited to hold him in her arms.

When her family undoubtedly threw a baby shower, anticipating Freddie’s arrival, I imagine there was joy. There was never a thought about the other children growing up who would one day get badges and guns. There was never a thought that these children would, one day, kill her son.

Of course, we know that every black person a police officer kills was someone’s child. But I don’t think people think of their birthdays. What Freddie’s smile was like when he was 3 years old. When he spoke his first words. The happiness his mother felt when her son first started to walk. What she sacrificed for him, all the tired nights she rocked him to sleep. Freddie was someone’s entire hope. And in a moment of brazen inhumanity, senseless violence, and utter brutality, all those years, all that love and hope and pain and sacrifice, it was gone. Like it was nothing. And his killers keep walking free. Like he was nothing. And we’re expected to accept this as justice. Like we deserve nothing.

Sometimes when I tell someone close to me that I fear what I might do if someone kills my child, the person listening gets angry. They don’t want to hear such things, afraid that even mentioning it will invite some dark magic that will make it true.

But I know American terror.

I know bodies swinging on trees, and babies ripped out of a woman’s body and stomped to death by white people for their entertainment. I know black men dragged and decapitated behind pick-up trucks, and mysterious deaths of black men with white wives in the Deep South. I know of a black boy killed by a white man while he brought the garbage to the curb like his mother asked. I know little black girls killed by cops in their sleep or a mom shot dead while holding a baby in her arms. I know white cops can shoot an unarmed man who has done nothing wrong 41 times while he is walking home, and that an all-white jury will let them get away with it. I know a cop can rape a black man with a plunger in a police station bathroom while calling him a nigger.

I know Freddie’s killer is not the first to go free.

A few days ago, the man who stole Trayvon Martin’s life sold the gun he used to hunt and murder him. It is 2016 and there are white people still buying and selling lynching mementos.

I know all of this. And so I steel myself for the worst. I pray that it means I value every day more, that knowing that I live under terror gives me some way to dispel the worst of its trauma. I hope I do not lose my mind.

And despite all of this, I feel my hope tainted with horror, my joy poisoned by fear. I know just by virtue of being black, that if anything should happen to me, there are plenty of people ready to defend my would-be killer. There are plenty of people who think I’m nothing. And I know, too, that most of these killers are still in uniform, still patrolling and abusing the people they’re supposed to protect and serve.

But I also know you can’t keep killing people’s babies and expect no response. I know that, too.

Khadijah White is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University. She is currently writing a book on the rise of the Tea Party brand in news.

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