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Daddy, why did you record the police?

Weekend mornings in my house are family time. Our 2 daughters, ages 9 & 7, run around making breakfast themselves or helping my wife and I with meal preparation, while my 1-year old son looks for new ways to climb up on (or eat) anything in sight. Though our morning engagements can sometimes be brief, I always look forward to talking about our week or what’s coming up for all of us. The comfort of one Sunday morning was shaken, however, when my 7-year old walked up to me and said “Daddy, why did you record the police?” Everyone else continued like it was business as usual but my heart sank as I tried not to look like my brief moment of bliss had not just been shattered by my daughter who just happened to see video on our iPhone Photo Stream that I forgot to delete.

Rewind. It was a hot Monday afternoon. I went down to Virginia Beach to meet with a Grammy Award-winning music producer about possible collaborations. In addition to my work as an educator, I am also a musician with seven albums to go along with my seven books. I love making music and so I was looking forward to this meeting. The session was fabulous and since I live in Washington, DC, I wanted to leave as soon as our meeting finished so I could avoid as much traffic as possible on this three hour drive to get home in time to tuck my kids in to bed and tell them one of my legendary freestyle bedtime stories. I filled up on gas and hit the road and though my tank was full, the air in my lungs was punctured when a police officer appeared on the right rear side of my vehicle. I told myself what I always tell myself as a coping mechanism when police are near me: “It’s all good O. They’re not gonna pull you over. Just relax man and stop being so paranoid. You’ve done nothing wrong and you have nothing to worry about.” I repeated it a second time as he pulled behind me. I said it a third time as his sirens illuminated, and a fourth time when I was pulled over.

As the officer went into his routine before he emerged from his vehicle, I went through my black routine. This could be a routine for all races, I don’t know. I just know that in “the hood”, learning what to do when we encounter the police is probably a more comfortable conversation for parents to have with their children than the birds & the bees. Sing along if you know the song:

1. Windows down
2. Pull out license and registration
3. Place all items on the dashboard
4. Hands on the steering wheel
5. SMILE!!!

Recent events of encounters gone tragically wrong with the police have led many in my community to add another verse to the song:

6. Pull out your phone (always keep it charging in the car for situations like this)
7. Send a message to someone to let him or her know that you are recording so that if your phone is retrieved after you’re killed and there is no video there, something shady happened to it
8. Repeat step #5

Why was it necessary for me to record my interaction with the police? The answer is simple: I can’t trust American society to paint a balanced picture of who I was in case the officer kills me. If I was a violent individual who shot and killed the officer, the media would be ripe with stories of the heroics of the officer…and that’s how it should be. I look at anyone who goes into law enforcement as a hero first and foremost. If however, I was the one killed and the story happened to make the news, I have learned that some in the media would attempt to cover what objectively happened while most will pontificate over why I deserved to be killed. Someone will tell viewers to just look at my size and how the officer should have been afraid. I’m 5’10” and weigh less than 190 pounds. Someone else will find out that I took some martial arts classes at some point and remind them that the officer had to defend himself (as if the officer would have known that). Someone else would find out that I’m also a rapper and blame hip-hop without actually listening to my own curse-free motivational lyrics such as “Only you have your dreams they were given to you/to bring it out to the world don’t let them die with you.” Someone else will post a picture of me with my locks and turn me into some weed-smoking addict who was aggressive though I’ve never smoked a day in my life. Someone else will blame the absence of black fathers for my death, without researching the fact that I was raised by both my parents who have 9 academic degrees including 2 PhDs from Harvard. It must be my dad’s fault I was shot because (say it with me now) “72% of black families don’t have a father in the home” (though the CDC reports that black men actually spend more time with their children than other groups).

Am I being paranoid here? I don’t know. What I do know is that Trayvon Martin was criminalized and murdered while walking in his own neighborhood and some in the media posted photos of someone twice his age and tattooed (rapper, The Game) to help justify why he posed a threat to the man who chased him down and shot him. What if he turned on his video camera instead of talking on the phone before he encountered George Zimmerman? What if Danroy Henry had his own dashcam when a police officer jumped on to his car and fired incessantly into his vehicle? What if Sean Bell or his friends had hit record the night they left his bachelor party? What if? Well, the fact is that in the eyes of mainstream America, it would not have made much of a difference. We have video of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Ezekiel Ford, Walter Scott, and others being killed unnecessarily by police and they are still blamed for their own murders. If Eric Garner was not overweight he would have survived right? If 12-year old Tamir Rice never had a toy gun he would not have been shot less than three seconds upon arrival of the police right? If John Crawford didn’t pick up a gun that was not real in a Walmart he would still be here right? If Walter Scott did not run from the police (or owe child support) he would not have been shot at 8 times in the back right? And even though Sandra Bland was not killed in the dashcam video in Texas, if she would have just kept her mouth shut she would still be alive right? I have learned my lesson. Read more

I am LIVING, not marching for Trayvon Martin

 

             I have a great deal of respect for everyone across the country who is marching to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. Like many, I do believe that Zimmerman should have been found guilty of something. Deep in my heart, however, I knew that a “Not guilty” verdict was going to most likely be the decision. For days, I spent time thinking about my own mortality. I was reminded once again that, should something as tragic as this befall me, half the country will be in support of getting “justice” for me and half the country will seek to paint me as a criminal based on my past writings, emails, films, and songs. After a few days, however, I decided that I am not going to worry about this. I have decided that the best way to honor Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Emmett Till, Danroy Henry, Amadou Diallo, Jordan Davis, and countless others is to live and live to the best of my ability and be an example for others.

            At the end of the day, marching is not going to do much to challenge our justice system. Those who do not want to watch will just change the channel or stay in their air-conditioned homes on a hot summer day. How do I know this? I know this by the fact that there are no rallies for George Zimmerman taking place across the country. Those who support the verdict and even proclaim Zimmerman to be a hero will focus on legislative efforts to make sure that Stand Your Grand laws stay on the books. They will focus on midterm elections and the 2016 elections to make sure they are putting the politicians in place who will support them. At the end of the day, the rallies will end and America will go back to business as usual, but there is a way that this time can be different.

            Rather than march for Trayvon, let’s live for him. What does that mean? It means increasing our efforts to save our youth across the country who are victims and perpetrators of violence. As someone who has been a community activist all of my life, I know that there are Americans of all races and faiths working in inner city neighborhoods to halt the violence that persists in our communities. Unfortunately, our efforts will never make it to the mainstream media because mass black-on-black crime is expected. With all due respect, we have to step it up. We have to do more to show our youth that we care about them but will we?

            While many who will march for Trayvon are people dedicated to their families and communities, I know for a fact that there are some protesters who will go home and beat their own children like they don’t know them just for looking at them the wrong way. Some protesters will go home and call their own children the most vile names imaginable. Many more will go home and let their children continue to listen to music and watch movies that degrade people who look just like them. This is not living for Trayvon.

            If we want to live for Trayvon, we have to increase our efforts in showing the world, starting with our own community, that we care for our youth. In addition to boycotts, we need to organize BUYcotts to buy and fund artists, music and movies that showcase us in a more positive spotlight. Juror B37 was able to refer to Zimmerman as “George” and Trayvon and Rachel Jeantel as “they” because she has only been informed about black people by the images that have placed before her by mass media. If you did not live in a black community, what would your view of the black community be based on watching TV?

            Living for Trayvon means demanding more of us. While not perfect, I see the Jewish, Latino, and Asian communities demanding respect in this nation by building their own institutions and participating more in the political and business process of America. Many of us in the black community are still letting our votes be taken for granted by democrats, pimping ourselves out on YouTube for record deals and “exposure”, and showing by the way we let our young black boys walk outside of their homes half naked that we don’t care about them. I reiterate: living for Trayvon means demanding more from us. It means rappers realizing that their lyrics celebrating violence may be entertainment for some, but it’s the only form of education on black people for others. If we demand more from us, the country will be forced to change its impression of who we are.

And please notice that I am saying “We” and not “You” because I am as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Whenever I see young brothers and sisters repping themselves incorrectly on the streets or in the schools where I speak as a youth speaker, I am guilty as charged. My pledge to Trayvon and so many others we have lost is to do my best to not let them down. I will continue to promote peace in my lyrics, and be a role model wherever I go. I’ll work to smile more at the young brothers I see in the streets. When I slip up in this mission (as we all do at some point), hopefully my community will not let me fall but rather help pick me back up. Justice for Trayvon starts with me, not fighting to have the justice system pick the verdict I would I have preferred. Let’s join together and build ourselves up after the rallies on the shoulders of all who have died unjustly. That’s the least we can do.