The idea of youth, in its essence, exudes a vulnerability and innocence like nothing else. Having recently witnessed my son’s Grade 8 graduation, albeit via an online presentation, I reminisced on how I longed for the day I’d enter high school to commence my own secondary school career, fulfilling new dreams, creating new goals, making new connections and experiencing things that would ultimately shape the remaining formative years of my life. Enter 9th grade.
My first day of high school was similar to most. New clothes. Fresh haircut. Some dope kicks. Nervous smiles. Choosing courses and choosing extracurriculars. Typical first day. After school I returned home to take my older cousin back to the bus station with my mother. I remember it was rush hour and traffic was busier than usual. While waiting in the extremely unnerving downtown Toronto traffic, my mother insisted that my cousin get out of the car, walk over to the bus station and check-in for his trip as parking was limited or non-existent. As we pulled over to let him out, we heard two loud thumps that startled us. A police officer attempted to get our attention by pounding his fist on the driver side rear window causing my mother to immediately get out of her car to see what had happened.
As she exited the car, she was immediately greeted by the officer who told her to “get the hell back” in her car. Flabbergasted by the entire exchange, my mother questioned the officer about where the thump came from, thinking she had gotten hit by another vehicle or cyclist. For some reason, this enraged the officer who proceeded to threaten her with arrest if she didn’t return to her vehicle. My mother continued to question him, at which point he twisted her arm behind her back, slammed her against the trunk of his car, handcuffed her and threw her into the back of his squad car. I immediately jumped out of the car to defend my mother, and was promptly told to “get the f— back in the car.” Being 13 at the time, and half the size and stature I am now, I obliged, and watched my mother being treated like a common criminal, sobbing hysterically in the backseat of a police car. I sat there helpless, scared and wrought with anger. Single mother, detained, arrested, and physically manhandled by police — all for a minor traffic violation.
Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Regis Korchinski-Paquet.
Around this time last year, these names held no major significance outside of their own personal circle. Today they are household names for absolutely horrible reasons. Before this article is published, there will be more names. Their faces will be different, but the outcomes will remain the same.
All around the world people have voiced their concerns about the way George Floyd was killed before their very eyes on their phones, tablets and TV screens. Athletes, entertainers, rappers, and influencers alike from all walks of life, colours, creeds and races came together in solidarity to show support and bring awareness to the complete disdain for life the officers in the video showed towards Mr. Floyd and other injustices against other Black people suffered at the hands of law enforcement. As often pointed out, these atrocities have been happening; now it’s just getting recorded and shared widely online.
As often pointed out, these atrocities have been happening; now it’s just getting recorded and shared widely online.
The world is at protest. Black lives have started to matter, again. The pendulum, it would seem, is shifting amidst a new level of consciousness that garnered attention and tugged at the overtly humane emotions that transcend race. This summer Germany, at one point in history considered the epicentre of fascism, hosted one of the largest Black Lives Matter protests outside of North America. The world has noticed. Humanity has opened their eyes, witnessing firsthand how hate can manifest, all whilst dealing with the threat of COVID-19. Some throw their fists to the sky in protest, while others just raise their hands in exasperation.
Having borne witness to my own kin being mishandled by officers of the law, the gravity of the current climate has not been lost on me. It is reawakened every time I see a young person of colour defencelessly raise their hands in defeat only to be vilified, dehumanized, assaulted and killed. My Instagram timeline is filled with a wide range of atrocities, mostly U.S.-based, that bombard the senses and makes one ponder the question: “Do Black lives really matter?” How did we get to a point where we have to point out that a human life matters? Shouldn’t that go without saying? But yet, here we are, in 2020, living in what feels in many ways like 1960.
Here we are, in 2020, living in what feels in many ways like 1960.
That fateful day I watched helplessly as the officer put my mother in the back of that police cruiser had a profound impact on my life. Like death and taxes, I thought freedom was guaranteed. Sadly, I was mistaken, and I was awakened by the fact that freedom is never guaranteed by oppressors. It undoubtedly has to be demanded by the oppressed. I cried incessantly that day — tears of anger, not sadness. The saltiness in those tears remain as a painful reminder of what my mother and countless others before her endured. The foulness of that taste still exists as I watch the blood of Black people being spilled at the hands of overzealous, power-hungry agents of law enforcement.
Thankfully, I can breathe. And, with my breath, I declare that it is of utmost importance that we do not revisit this era again in another 40 or 60 years. Tolerance, acceptance and the elimination of ignorance and systemic racism is needed to ensure that Black Lives Matter is no longer questioned by anyone but a statement of irrefutable fact.
Writer’s note: It’s been a long time since I last wrote. This article is dedicated to the memory of loved ones: Michelle “Lifesbutterfly” Green, Andre “Simple” Charles and Wayne Ambrose.
Photo Credit: Marco Allasio via Pexels.com