In a moment of my personal frustration, a moment during which I felt crushed, ground down by frustration, and my goals seemed too remote and distant to ever achieve, and I wanted to give up and give in, my grandmother pulled me to the side, and as she was often wont to do, gave me a piece of sage advice and encouragement.
My grandmother told me, simply, to stay the course because, in order to achieve that which I wanted to achieve, to arrive at that place of my self-actualization, I would need to stay focused and persevere. The path of becoming, the route from my starting place to where I desired to be, she advised me, did not run straight and downhill, but curved and arduously uphill and even often looped back upon itself, and whoever managed to successfully negotiate it, did so only through sheer commitment and strength of will and patient perseverance.
But, perhaps most importantly, she additionally admonished me to stay alert, to stay on my guard, to always keep my wits about me, and to always in all things make good decisions, because, she told me, catastrophe and mishap do not operate on a time schedule.
“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour,” she told me, “In the time it takes to bat your in eye—in the very twinkling of an eye—anything and everything can happen that could irreversibly change the course of your life for the worse, or you could even lose your life altogether.”
Such is the predicament of time. That which takes so much time to achieve can all be lost in a split second—in the twinkling of an eye.
But, in real time, just how much time, then, is the twinkling of an eye? Would thirty seconds count as the twinkling of an eye? How about six seconds? Fourteen or fifteen seconds? One hundred twenty seconds? Twenty seconds? Two seconds?
I ask this because Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez approximates that less than thirty seconds after Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke arrived on the scene and six seconds after he emerged from his squad car, he fired sixteen rounds into the body of Laquan McDonald, killing him, with only about fourteen or fifteen seconds elapsing between the time Van Dyke fired the first shot and the time he fired the last. And for thirteen of those seconds, Laquan lay on the ground.
At the time of his death, Laquan McDonald had lived only seventeen years.
From the six-minute video of the shooting, it seems that LaQuan McDonald never even saw it coming. It all happened so quickly—in the twinkling of an eye.
Yet, despite having the advantage of the video available just a short time after Laquan’s murder, the testimony of witnesses, and an autopsy, it still took Ms. Alvarez’s office fourteen months to charge Officer Van Dyke with first-degree murder, and, she admits, the timing of her decision and announcement was no coincidence; the announcement of the charges against Officer Van Dyke came only hours before the court-ordered release of the video, and city officials were afraid that once the contents of the video became public, black folk would go all Mrs O’Leary’s cow and burn the city of Chicago to the ground.
But the murder of Laquan McDonald is not the first time something like this, a high-profile police killing of a young black person, has happened. We need only go back to August 5, 2014, when someone called police from a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, to report a black man walking through the store with a gun.
When police arrived, they spotted twenty-two year old John Crawford III walking down an aisle of the Walmart carrying an unpackaged BB/pellet air rifle. Witnesses attest to John Crawford only carrying the BB/pellet air rifle, and at no point shouldering it or pointing it at anyone. Nevertheless, one of the police officers responding to the call shot him two times within fifteen seconds of spotting him, later claiming that he would not respond to police commands.
Of course, everyone remembers the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. How could we forget?
Only about two minutes—one hundred and twenty seconds—passed from the time eighteen-year-old Michael Brown came into contact with Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 until he lay dead in the street after having been shot by Officer Wilson six times. And in what could only be regarded as a remarkable instance of disrespect, the Ferguson, Missouri, police department allowed his dead body to lie in the street in full view of the residents of his grandmother’s neighborhood and his friends and family, to include his parents.
Then, only nine days later on August 19, 2014, and only minutes away from Ferguson in North St. Louis, overshadowed and drowned out by the tumult of riotous Black rage following the murder of Michael Brown, the confrontation between police and twenty-five year old Kajieme Powell resulted in Kajieme being shot twenty times by police about twenty seconds after they arrived on the scene.
Do you remember Tamir Rice, or have you forgotten?
On November 22, 2014, two Cleveland, Ohio, police officers were dispatched to a city park after police received calls reporting a black male randomly pointing a gun at people in the park, and according to accounts and the indisputable testimony of surveillance video of the incident, a mere two seconds after the policemen arrived at the scene, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice lay mortally wounded on the ground. According to some reports, one of the policemen began firing his weapon even before the patrol car came to a halt.
Tamir Rice fought for his life for almost twenty-four long, agonizing hours before finally succumbing.
I will discontinue, now, cataloguing the instances of the deaths of young black people at the hands of the police. I do not wish to bore you. However, I could, if I desired, go on and on; the list runs long and deep. But I think that I have given enough instances to establish a definite pattern.
Too frequently in confrontations between young black men and women and the police, within mere seconds of contact—in the twinkling of an eye, the young black person becomes a victim of America’s fantastical phantasmic fear of black bodies, the promise of his or her youth effectively foreclosed upon.
And in each and every one of the instances above, as is almost always the case, every one of the police involved have yet to receive one minute of time.
This has been the predicament, our predicament of time, time after time after time, year after year after year, generation after generation after generation. It is time that there be no next time after the last time. But to do so, the end this pattern within our time, takes sheer commitment and strength of will and patient perseverance.
It is time for us to reclaim the lives of our children and return to them the promise and prerogative of youth. We must act with all due haste, taking up every tool at our disposal.
And the path of our becoming, the route from this, our starting place, to the place where we desire to be, does not run straight and downhill, but curved and arduously uphill and even often loops back upon itself.