My shower rains down the city’s hot, stinging tears as sirens blare and helicopters fly over my roof. We’ve heard the names all year – Ferguson, Baltimore, Tulsa – but oh, how sobering it is to see your own city’s name plugged into that now all-too-familiar headline: “After Fatal Police Shooting, Protest Erupts in Charlotte, NC.” How surreal it is, when the apartment complex in which you lived for a year during college becomes the site of the latest nationally publicized abuse of power. Should the loss of this life hurt any more than the previous ones? It shouldn’t, but it certainly does.
Last night, the trees outside my window swayed gently in the breeze as if humming along to a blues ballad. This morning, those same branches blow angrily with unrest; the leaves overturned as if a storm were on its way, despite the clear sky behind them. A palpable uneasiness hangs heavily in the air today, and every living thing can feel it. All I can do is write and listen to the blues. No black, no white, just the blues.
According to NPR, it remains unclear what exactly took place moments before Keith Lamont Scott, a black father of seven, was shot by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer Brentley Vinson, also black. Police reports claim Scott stepped out of his car pointing a loaded gun at officers, who were there to serve an arrest warrant to a different man altogether. They say he ignored multiple warnings to drop his weapon. Why would Scott point his gun at policemen unprovoked? According to Scott’s family, he didn’t.
“The daughter of Keith Lamont Scott says that her father did not have a gun, that he was not armed, and that he was sitting in the car reading a book waiting on his son to get off a bus from school,” says local NPR reporter Gwendolyn Glenn. Neighbors agreed that was his daily routine. Is it possible Scott owned a gun he kept secret from his children for their safety? If so, then kudos to him for being a responsible gun owner. However, such an act of a responsible gun-owner does not line up with the act of pointing a gun at officers unprovoked. Something is amiss in the police department’s story, whether Scott was armed or not. And seven children will never hear their father’s voice again, whether he was armed or not. Who will watch over them? Who will watch over us all?
No clothes feel like the right ones to wear today. I’m hungry, but I don’t know what to eat. (Eventually, I decide on all-black and vegetable chili, respectively.) By early afternoon, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney announces in a press conference that a handgun was recovered from the crime scene, but a book was not. Still, one witness insists she saw a book fall from Scott’s lap as he stood. No one can agree upon a cohesive narrative that makes sense. Maybe you’re not supposed to make sense of senseless acts.
Anytime people lack solid, reliable information about an emotionally disturbing event, the emotions surrounding the event grow exponentially more difficult to manage. And when those unmanageable emotions gather by the thousands under glowing streetlamps at midnight, police cruisers get smashed in with bricks, bonfires are lit on the highway, and tear gas is released upon shirtless men wearing bandannas over their faces and screaming “No Justice, No Peace.” My heart hurts for those shirtless screaming men, filled to the brim with pain and blind rage. My heart hurts for the business owners whose hard-earned property was destroyed in the chaos. My heart hurts for Keith Lamont Scott’s surviving family. And my heart hurts for all the young, black boys of America, who I can only imagine must be terrified of what future awaits them.
To those boys and to all my fellow Americans, I can offer no guarantees about the future; I can only mine for hope in the past. While traveling the country last year, I went to Chicago, home of arguably the most famous race riots in American history. There, I visited an art exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art about the Chicagoan jazz artists of the 1960s and how they used music and art to unify their people during times of social unrest. In those days, racially-charged acts of brutality went largely unreported by the media, and protestors were viewed as unruly troublemakers by the white American majority. But those artists didn’t wait for change to happen around them – they made it themselves.
When the local government and the media ignored the problems of the inner city, people beautified their own Southside Chicago slums with giant murals and streetside drum circles. They told stories of their struggles and expressed their frustrations through blues and jazz music (which they made with household objects when they couldn’t afford real instruments). They offered hope to their disenfranchised neighbors and provided an outlet for lost, angry youth. Those artists insisted upon leaving their mark upon history, whether anyone else liked it or not. They understood that although they weren’t accepted in their own time, they might be appreciated by future generations after society had progressed a little. And as sure as I sit here telling you about them fifty-plus years later, they were right. As sure as the media now regularly reports acts of police brutality like the one in my city last night, their plan worked. As sure as the American public is now outraged by these injustices, progress is indeed happening, even though it’s hard to see it on days like today.
So keep making your art, even if no one cares about it yet. Keep writing your story, even if no one is reading it yet. Keep singing your song, even if no one hears it yet. One day they will. Keep making your world beautiful, whatever that means to you, even when things around you are ugly. Don’t ever let anyone silence you. Art will keep us alive long after we’re gone.
Peace be with you and yours tonight.
Domonoske, Camila. “After Fatal Police Shooting, Protest Erupts in Charlotte, N.C.” NPR.org 21 September 2016. Web.