Black Life in Retrograde


The morning the news broke about the massacre in Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal, I was driving. Having been unemployed since early April I’d tried to make my money by ridesharing. I found it difficult and I never was able to make the ends solidly meet, but made more than I would have on unemployment. Like most mornings, I did my best to be awake and alert at five a.m. in order to catch rides to the airport. Like most mornings, I made my own coffee and turned on NPR. These activities always made me feel more in control, more put together, better at adulting. I heard the news shortly before my first ride, and I was numb.

I was so numb, that I drove nearly an hour north from my home while listening to James Blake’s “Retrograde” on repeat. Something about the melancholy music that buzzes with such heavy vibrations hypnotized me. These lyrics sunk into me for an hour:

Is this darkness of the dawn?
And your friends are gone
When you friends won’t come
So show me where you fit
So show me where you fit
I’ll wait, so show me why you’re strong
Ignore everybody else,
We’re alone now
We’re alone now
We’re alone now

The song is about finding love, but I clung to the emotion of darkness. I felt like we were truly at war with white supremacy. People are gone and we’re so alone here. If you asked me about that hour, I couldn’t tell you anything. All I remember was feeling cold; totally focused on moving forward with the sky full of blushing peach tones of the rising sun. I felt alert, yet dead, completely hollowed out, filling myself with this song.

I spent the later half of that day and the entire next day inside, crying, on the couch repeatedly asking ‘why’. And: Where are we allowed to be human? Where can we feel safe from slaughter?

I didn’t listen to it again for 11 weeks.

Now it makes me cry. It makes me feel despair. If I can get through a listen without tears I feel strong.

The reaction to the tragic killing of two reporters in Virginia in August truly seared this despair into my being. Read more

Video released of John Crawford’s execution by police

WARNING: Below is the silent surveillance video showing an unarmed John Crawford being gunned down by the police last month in an Ohio Wal-Mart. [Video removed. Learn why.]

The video is not graphic. It is just the grainy, abrupt, and unnecessary extinguishing of an innocent human life on camera. Moreover, it corroborates everything we knew about the circumstances that led to John Crawford, a Black man, being summarily executed by White police officers on the false statements of a serial liar (full background at the link). It depicts everything the family told us it did and appears to match the account of his conversation on the phone at the moment he was shot.

At no point did Crawford pose a threat or attempt to threaten anyone, least of all the police, whom he apparently did not see or hear before they opened fire. Nevertheless, as the video shows, he is shot multiple times — first from down the length of the aisle, and then again at close range as he attempts to “surrender” (though he was of course unarmed the whole time).

[Video removed. Learn why.]

As alerted by a reader of mine, I encourage folks to listen to the ten minutes of Crissle and Kid Fury’s reaction (1:09:40 – 1:19:20) to this video on their podcast “The Read.”

And as an additional update to the story, the county coroner has ruled a homicide the death of 37-year-old Angela Williams, a customer who died of a heart attack related to a heart condition as she attempted to flee the store during the panic that followed the police opening fire.


John Crawford was summarily executed by cops on the false statements of a serial liar

On August 5th, 2014, John Crawford III was shot dead by police from behind and without warning in a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio. He was just 22 years old and was a father to two young sons. Police believed, based on a 911 call, that he was preparing to open fire in a mass shooting.

In fact, he was holding a toy gun he was about to buy and was chatting amiably to his girlfriend on the phone at the time he was killed, while they both shopped in different parts of the store. Crawford was not violating any laws at the time — even if the gun had been a serious firearm licensed to him and carried openly, he would have been in the clear under local laws and store rules — and there is no evidence to suggest he was about to break any laws. No one passing him in the store, as seen on surveillance footage, appears concerned or frightened by the toy gun.

Although many things quickly began to not add up about the official version of events that led to his death, much of the justification hinged upon that 911 call. As further details have emerged from the incident (such as video footage and audio of the 911 call, plus reports from his girlfriend who heard the shooting over the phone as it happened) and as journalistic investigations have been conducted into the circumstances surrounding it and the people involved, we have learned that there was very little reason to believe Crawford was an imminent threat to anyone.

In particular, the credibility of the primary witness, who called in the purported threat to 911, has been falling apart extremely rapidly. Not only did his 911 call claims not match reality seen on store camera footage — a BB gun became an AR-15 assault rifle, holding became waving/loading/pointing — but he also immediately lied to reporters in public statements right after the shooting. To bolster his allegedly ability to assess the level of danger accurately, he claimed to be an “ex-marine.” In fact, we now know he was kicked out of training less than two months in the U.S. Marines for “fraudulent enlistment” and a heart condition.

A man with a history of lying made a false report to police (and subsequently reporters) because a Black man living his life, simply existing, and obeying all relevant laws was a clear and present danger in his eyes. Such a a belief stems, inevitably, either from personal racial animosity or institutionalized suspicion and fear of Black men in America that makes unconscious racists out of many others who claim not to be. The latter category, acting out their denied prejudices in mistaken police reports and 911 calls, get a lot of people killed.

One might be tempted to shift all blame onto him and away from police, who were arguably just reacting to the information given to them. But the police officers who responded did so with the most extreme response two uniformed officers can make, and they did not provide warnings before firing, nor did they assess the situation to ensure they were not making a mistake. As they reached the scene, acting on the word of one person, they could not possibly imagine that he was anything but a violent and dangerous man who needed to be put down without any attempt to halt him, negotiate with him, or provide him with due process. They shot him fatally (he died of his injuries at the hospital) and the ensuing panic resulted in the death of another woman in the store.

Meanwhile, dozens of White “open-carry” activists have marched through big box stores across the country with actual AR-15s, to the fright of many customers, to demonstrate their “2nd Amendment rights.” No such “right” or benefit of the doubt was afforded to Mr. Crawford. Meanwhile, the White mass shooters in Tucson in January 2012 and in Aurora in July 2012, ages 22 and 24 respectively, were both arrested alive, having actually killed and wounded dozens of people. No such treatment was afforded to Mr. Crawford.

I want to re-state all of the facts of this situation as comprehensively as possible in one sentence: Police, approaching from behind, shot dead a young Black man in an “open-carry” state, without warning, while he was holding a BB air rifle he intended to purchase, simply because a customer with a record of false statements, who had washed out of the Marines in less than two months after fraudulent enlistment, called 911 with a fear of Black men and falsely claimed the victim was loading and pointing an AR-15 at children in the store.

John Crawford III — and so many like him — deserved so much better.