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Black Lives Matter

White supremacy kills, no matter who pulls the trigger

Watching shootings on video does damage to the soul

I want to watch the video of Terence Crutcher being killed by Tulsa, Oklahoma, police, because I want to see something that would explain why police killed him.

Like maybe the 40-year-old black man moved too quickly or too slowly after his car broke down Friday and a white officer came upon him and his car. Maybe Crutcher’s body took some form so aggressive that even police in a helicopter above could tell that the father of four was a “bad dude,” as they were recorded saying on an on-board camera.

Even after the years-long processional of hash-tagged lives, the brutal end of which are often captured on video, part of me watches the videos in search of something to make it all make sense.

Even as woke as I want to believe I am, part of me couldn’t help but absorb the white supremacy that pollutes America, the mistaken assumption that police only kill us when they absolutely have to. So I have to fight the instinct to see for myself, to try to make the senseless make sense.

Something in me wants to click play and then conclude: Oh, well, I see why white officers had to gun down a 12-year-old boy in a Cleveland park, or choke the life out of a black man on a Staten Island sidewalk, or shoot a black driver in Minnesota in front of his girlfriend and her child, or kill a black Baton Rouge, Louisiana, man on suspicion that he had a gun – in an open-carry state, or fire fatal shots at a black South Carolina motorist as he ran away. Those videos – of the slayings of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and Walter Scott – I watched.

But the video of Crutcher, I can’t bear to see. This time, I’m not going to watch. I’m not going to find what I’m looking for – because it just isn’t there. Searching for what I can’t find makes me emotionally spent and physically ill. This repeated exposure to trauma is killing me.

After I’m dead, or maybe as I’m dying, researchers will be able to calculate exactly how much longer I would have lived had I not borne witness to so much state-sanctioned slaughter.

With every second of video that documents a black life stolen, my soul fades. My stomach turns and my body aches as if I have the flu.

As of Wednesday, according to The Guardian’s database, law enforcement officers have killed 790 people this year. Nine were black women and 185 were black men. This number includes Keith Lamont Scott, shot and killed Tuesday by Charlotte, North Carolina, police. No video of his death has been released.

The cheapness of black life is in America’s DNA. The roots of white supremacy started in slavery and continue today in the prison industrial complex, the war on drugs, poverty wages, the school-to-prison pipeline and yes, police brutality.

No matter how nonthreatening African-Americans try to be – even assuming a physical position of deference to protest police brutality, as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has done by taking a knee during the pregame playing of the national anthem – we are assumed to be a threat. (For his activism, Kaepernick has been threatened with death.)

While we can lose our life for something as insignificant as selling loose cigarettes, police manage to apprehend armed terrorists without incident. White supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers in a Charleston, South Carolina, church last summer, even got lunch from officers before he was booked into jail.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, who is believed responsible for two nonfatal weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey, was wounded but not killed in the gun battle that erupted when police apprehended him.

Robert Lewis Dear, who police say last year shot up a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three, fired at officers, but lived to face murder charges.

But these men are not black. They do not labor in a country that shows us that our lives are worth nothing and mean nothing.

White supremacy kills. Quickly or slowly, it is always fatal.


Wendi C. Thomas is a 2016 Harvard Nieman fellow, a senior writing fellow for the Center for Community Change and a freelance journalist. In April, she launched MLK50, an online storytelling project about economic inequality in Memphis. She hopes Dr. King would be proud. On Twitter: @wendi_c_thomas