A Subject

Northwood High School, Silver Spring, MD Photo by: Amanda Bellatin

Sitting on her bed, in an air conditioned room sipping peach tea, she is safe from the outside forces. But in the room next to her, a young 26-year-old girl, an EMT, lays in bed asleep, woken by eight bullets to her body by the Louisville Metro Police Department. In another room, she hears, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” from a 46-year-old man as a white Minneapolis police officer, with the full weight of his body, grinds his knee into this man’s neck. Another officer’s knee compresses his back, another officer holds down his legs, and another officer stands there happily letting it unfold. The dying man calls out for his momma…who died three years ago.

 Just next door, she sees a 25-year-old boy in a white T-shirt attempting to disarm two white civilians who hunted him down in the street during his daily run in his own Georgia neighborhood.

Sitting on her bed, in an air conditioned room sipping peach tea, she is safe from the outside forces.

Down the hall she heard the same echo from another man, “I can’t breathe,” repeated 11 times while multiple NYPD officers piled on his body, one grasping his neck in a choke hold until he lost consciousness. Across the way, she saw a man face-down in a black hoodie on a train platform, a BART police officer had just shot him in the back. He was already handcuffed and unarmed. She kept walking further. Out the corner of her eye in another room, all she saw was a bag of Skittles, an Arizona tea, and a pool of blood.

Sitting on her bed, in an air conditioned room sipping peach tea, she is safe from the outside forces.

Breonna Taylor.

George Floyd.

Ahmaud Arbery.

Eric Garner.

Oscar Grant.

Trayvon Martin.

…the list of black bodies is never-ending.

Sitting on her bed, in an air conditioned room sipping peach tea, she is safe from the outside forces. But one thing she has in common with these souls is the color of her skin –– a different kind of force.

It has taken me multiple days to write this post because every day I have to change my intro. Every day I have to add a story, a killing, a name, a black life. Every day I have to take breaks because I can feel how my heart is actively beating out of my chest with rage, sadness, and heartbreak. It’s no secret the power that the white man holds. The power to feel threatened by the color of someone else’s skin and use that as a reason to act on impulse, inflict pain, and take souls.

It took another killing of an innocent black man by the hands of the police to wake and rattle the nation –– a killing that was filmed on video from multiple angles. Amid a worldwide health pandemic, Americans could no longer stay silent, they could no longer shelter-in-place, they could no longer allow the pain that the black community has been experiencing for so long to continue in a nation that is known for “the land of the free.”

Black people and people of color are historically known for being subjects. According to MSNBC national correspondent, Joy Reid, during her guest appearance on “All in with Chris Hayes,” “Europeans came to this country to get away from being subjects of the kings in Europe, but what they did was they created for themselves sort of a kingdom, every man a king, but the subjects are black people –– black and brown people and Indigenous people,” she said. “The rest of us are subjects.”

We are placed under authority or control, we owe obedience or allegiance to the power or dominion of another, and we are made amendable to the discipline and control of a superior. Those are the three ways to define “subject,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, as the number one entry for a noun, adjective, and verb. Black people are all of these –– all of these without the power to question authority without facing repercussions.

Black people are also known for being another kind of subject, a dead body for anatomical study and dissection, similar to your science class frog in high school. On August 28, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till, an African-American, was brutally murdered by two white men in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. The only thing identifying his unrecognizable corpse was an engraved ring on his finger. In his home city of Chicago, his mutilated body laid in an open casket for the world to see, and I will never forget the tears that stained my cheeks when we saw a picture of him in my history class.

Sixty-five years later, George Floyd’s family held an open casket funeral in Houston, Texas to show the brutality that was used to take his life. Floyd’s body is now laid next to his mother’s, the same “momma” he cried out for moments before he died.

Northwood High School, Silver Spring, MD Photo by: Vinh Dang

Black bodies are continually dropping at the hands of the police, those meant to “protect and serve.” According to Trevor Noah, South African comedian, political commentator and TV host, on his Instagram TV video, “Police in America are looting black bodies.” They lay lifeless in the same streets we walk every day, later to be opened by coroners to either prove or hide (take your pick) the negligence, racism, and injustice that is rooted in the police system –– and quite frankly –– the American system. George Floyd’s death was caught on camera in 2020, similarly to Rodney King in 1991 and Philando Castille in 2016 (who was also killed in Minnesota like Floyd).

Now, imagine all the black bodies painting the streets that weren’t recorded.  

During these movements, like the ones we’re seeing today, we become another kind of subject –– the topic, the theme –– one that is being discussed and described. With the power of social media and technology, citizen journalism is more powerful than ever before. Twitter is a constant flow of everyday people reporting police brutality. Peaceful protestors are being abused for expressing their First Amendment rights, “non-lethal” rubber bullets leave bruises on their skin –– or bloodied holes if shot from a close range –– and tear gas fills the lungs of protesters of all races, genders, and ages. Women and elderly people are shoved to the ground, and peaceful protesters are being unlawfully arrested and held in custody for extended periods of time.

Washington Square Park, NYC

Black people hold the forefront of the news (among the illegitimate statements and claims made by President Trump). The Black Lives Matter movement is making headway around the world in places like France, Germany and New Zealand, and if you ask me, it’s unlike any movement we’ve seen before. The nation was shaken like an apple tree, all the apples falling to the ground revealing their vulnerability. These apples are America’s problems showing their true light, showing the issues that need addressing and the groups of people that need true protecting.

This is the kind of “subject” we need to be in order to bring change. Black lives need to be talked about because black lives matter. The system that America was built on was created to keep black people “under control,” to make them seem like they have enough of the same rights as the white man to keep them satisfied. But systems were meant to be challenged and changed. We can’t let our voices die down, we can’t sit back and wait for another uprising, and we can’t continue to let black bodies drop like strange fruit.

Black Lives Matter.    

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” –– Audre Lorde, American writer

“You must be bold, brave, and courageous and find a way…to stand in the way.” –– John Lewis, U.S. Representative

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