It has been a little over a week since the death of George Floyd sparked a nationwide movement. I recall the day when my social media feed was flooded with comments of frustration, anger, and downright disgust for what had occurred, yet again, to a Black man in the United States of America. I immediately educated myself on the current events and watched the raw unedited video of a man being pinned under the knee of a White police officer. An officer who I know took an oath to protect and serve, jousting Mr. Floyd and making off-putting comments alluding to him being on drugs. I watched painfully as Mr. Floyd called for his mother and uttered his now-famous last words, “I can’t breathe.”
I took in the comments of friends and social media followers, influencers, and leaders alike. I felt the emotional tow the next morning when I witnessed the videos of riots, looting, fires, angry rants, and flying objects launched at the police as they rode through the neighborhoods of Minneapolis. I sincerely did not know what to think, what to say - like most I suppose. It felt like the riots that occurred in Baltimore City when Freddie Gray was taken on “a rough ride,” handcuffed in the back of a Baltimore City Police patrol van. A ride that ended Freddie Gray’s life. I thought about Mondawmin Mall. A mall I used to walk through after school when I attended Carver Vocational Technical High School. Not knowing that I would later work in this mall when I was pregnant with my daughter Morgan.
I had the unique pleasure of meeting Marilyn Mosby at a women's book club through a mutual friend. This was years before she was elected in office as Maryland’s State’s Attorney. At the time of the riots and the case that ensued shortly afterward, I prayed for Marilyn and her family for the warfare that she had endured for taking on a giant. I felt certain that Marilyn would be successful in her determination to prosecute the Baltimore City Police Department because she was doing her job in going after a system that is broken. For me, Marilyn Mosby displayed the kind of strength I looked for in leadership. A leadership that is not afraid to speak truth to power.
I sat quietly in my home as we are still in the spins of a deadly disease that has plagued the globe - COVID-19. I sat in reflection after being in conversation with friends who’ve expressed their views and fatigue over the 400 years of oppression in the land against the Black community. I searched my heart and soul for what I felt. Immediately, the murder of my brother came up. I wanted to quickly dismiss it because he wasn’t murdered by the police. His life was, however, cut short at 20 years old by the hands of another Black man in his community. Tears rolled down my eyes because there is still no closure for my brother, Justin L. Whitehead. The same evening that he was murdered, an assault occurred on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, according to every news outlet that reported the incident. My brother, my friend, my blood relative was referred to publicly as #220, the number that broke the quiet of violence and homicide in Baltimore City. There had been twelve days of quiet, and no murders before the day that my Justin was murdered, which was on November 7th, 2002.
I remember getting the call at work. I was a manager at a four-level banking branch. I had just walked in the drive-thru to send my teller to lunch. I took the call that dropped me to my knees with a gut-wrenching reality. There was an immeasurable amount of anger that rolled up the spine of my back after identifying him at the morgue. I will never forget the cry that emoted from my parents. Or what it was like as I held my mother while she cried, the heat that her body created was that of a teapot on the stove. I wanted to avenge my family! Everything in me needed to strike back. Through tears and mucus, my mother pleaded and asked firmly that I leave this alone. She said, “They will only twist the story and bring up his record to justify how they are portraying this story.” But I did not care; in my nativity, I thought I could rationalize and make it make sense. But, my mother assured me, “This is how the system is. Please promise me that you won’t do anything?” My brother left this earth in 2002, but this year he would have been 38. He’s never met my son, who is named after him - born only five years later. The loss that my family endured has never healed. I kept my mother's request and did not go after the media outlet. My brother kept his promise and didn’t take it to the street in revenge. The detectives on the case never solved the murder because the clues of the case went cold. After all, all resources went to the Johns Hopkins campus assault JHUAssualt. I watched my dad’s heart shatter into a thousand pieces because he didn’t have enough money to compete with an institution like Johns Hopkins, and because his last name isn’t Weinburg, his son’s life didn’t matter. As I look back at my family's experience, there is a theme here.
Black Americans have been taught throughout history to oppress seeking any justice or due process through the established system. We’ve learned in our experiences that it doesn’t work for us. We will be moved aside, or we will be belittled and our faults will be highlighted to justify the actions taken against us. The loss of our lives is minimized to a number. My brother’s address was published in the newspaper before his next of kin was even notified of his murder. I used to watch the news every morning while getting ready for work. I just so happened to have had the television muted that morning, so I missed the report before I got to work. After this experience, I lost all respect for the media because I experienced firsthand how they sensationalized stories for ratings and cross ethical and moral boundaries for a story. More importantly, I learned to stuff my feelings and move on when these injustices happen. When these situations continue, it brings up old hurtful memories and I believe we have all reached our breaking points. We are tired of tolerating this treatment. I believe we are all asking the same questions.
"When will it all end?"
"Where are the leaders that will speak power and truth?"
"How do we give healing to people who have been oppressed and categorized as less than because of the pigment of their skin? "
Yesterday, I started a conversation with my 13-year-old Black son. I wondered, "What will the world look like 18 years from now when he’s 31?" We all have questions, and I know that we all have personal stories and experiences. I’m prayerful that George Floyd’s voice doesn’t go silent. The time to be silent has ended. I’m sorry, mother, but we must speak up! Healing and closure are needed not just for my family, but for all of the Black and Brown people who have endured suffering and injustice for over 400 years.