October 7: I Watched a Man Die on Twitter…

I watched another man die on Twitter today. His name is Patrick Harmon. I don’t know much about him, except that he had a warrant and was trying to run away when the cops wanted to arrest him. I don’t know anything about how he lived but I know exactly how he died.

I know that he begged to be let go. I know he was scared. I know that he let them take his backpack and his bike before trying to make a run for it, on foot. I know that the cops, rather than chase him or corral him, shot him in the back. I haven’t seen the reports yet but I am sure the officers involved will tell us he had a weapon of some kind on him that he simply failed to pull out but would have if given the chance. I am sure that they will convince a sizeable chunk of America that since he ran away he deserved to be shot, deserved to die face down on the pavement. 

But what I also know, is that I am tired of watching human beings die on Twitter. I am tired of watching the last moments of human life replay on social media. The needless murder to human beings at the hands of state-sponsored thugs makes my stomach turn. 

Like gun control, there is no single thing that we can do that will eliminate the needless deaths of unarmed human beings at the hands of police officers. But, like gun control, doing nothing is not acceptable either. Perhaps we need to do better, and more frequent psych-evals of beat officers. Perhaps we need to implement a policy of demanding the officers live within a ten-mile radius of the communities they serve. Perhaps we need to put non-lethal rounds in those guns. Perhaps we need to train them to de-escalate rather than use force as their primary tool. 

Perhaps people should get so fed up of watching men and women die on Twitter that they leave politicians and police unions no option but to support massive and swift police reform. But I know that probably won’t happen anytime soon.

I am reminded that we are a country that still doesn’t know what to do with our history of violence against black and brown bodies. I am reminded that not so long ago children went with parents to watch the gleeful event of stringing up black and brown bodies from trees after (usually but not always) hours of torture and mutilation. I am reminded that newsmen and family photographers looked on as these bodies swayed in the wind and local heroes posed with the body found guilty of whatever crimes (real or imagined). More than FOUR THOUSAND dead bodies still bear witness to these crimes.

I am reminded that the baton of maintaining this tradition was passed on to law enforcement officers whose primary mission was to ENFORCE the “law” on black and brown bodies. NOT to protect. NOT to serve. NOT to uphold peace or justice. They were duty bound to enforce whatever prejudicial and oppressive law that was handed down. They were the fist at the end of the long arm of the law. 

I am reminded that for four generations we have sung a dirge for the lynched and the fallen. And now, we are singing it again. The Strange Fruit, no longer in the trees but trickling down my timeline, popping in my mentions, rotting and stinking on pavements all across the country. Piled up high in local jail cells where, like so many before them in so many decades before this, NOBODY SEEMS TO KNOW HOW OR WHY THEY DIED.

But those deaths, like these, are not accidents. They are not the natural result of bad people meeting with good people. They are systemic and systematic tools meant to make me and mine afraid. They remind us that, no matter what else you may think, the LAW is NOT HERE TO PROTECT YOUR BLACK ASS. They are here to hunt you, to cage you, to kill you, to make you disappear without rhyme or reason. They may fill out a report if you are the victim, but don’t expect too much. 

Even small children in the “right” neighborhoods know better than to linger on streets where police officers are present.

So, I watched another man die on Twitter, and I retweeted the video with his name as the hashtag, doubtful that it will catch on the way Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin did. Because now, we are all just a little too used to the carnage. 

Isn’t that something?

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