I think about how moments like this force everyone to contend with the dread and anxiety that haunt people of color every day.
Just this past weekend I was thinking about a terrifying horrific senseless shooting in America and then yesterday morning I woke up to news that one had happened overnight in Las Vegas. More guns. More senseless death. No end in sight.
On Sunday afternoon I spoke briefly at a local march for racial justice, convened in solidarity with the national march that happened on Saturday in Washington D.C. Every time I tried to write my short speech, two words came up. Before Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones and Trayvon Martin. Two words, one name, and a heinous attack in the night, not too unlike the ones we’ve been witnessing nonstop since yesterday morning.
On January 4, 2008, a 26-year-old black woman was in her apartment holding her 1-year-old baby in her arms. It was three days into the new year, just finishing up the holiday season. Later that same year the first black president, Barack Obama, was elected and seen as a symbol of racial progress.
And as this woman held her baby in her home in which six children under the age of 9 lived, a group of police officers broke in and began shooting into her house.
Her baby was shot in the shoulder. At least one bullet passed through him and went into his mother. Tarika was killed, likely bleeding to death in front of her children. The baby was rushed to the hospital, he would ultimately lose a finger.
A 1-year-old baby shot by the police.
Six children, their mother gone.
This is the scene that stays with me today, as I listen to strangers in Las Vegas tell stories of loss and horror, of bullets spraying in a place they thought was safe. I keep thinking of other moments of shattered safety in this country that are played down and ignored. I think about how moments like this force everyone to contend with the dread and anxiety that haunt people of color every day.
The city said that the police officer who killed Tarika Wilson, Joseph Chavalia, had acted appropriately. He was acquitted of all criminal charges. He’s still a police officer today.
I wonder if people mourning the shooting in Las Vegas can comprehend what it would mean—if they can imagine this mass killer not only surviving this shooting, but getting a union to defend him, a trial with no punishment, living out his life a free man, even compensated for the time he spent in jail and his guns returned to him. Could people live with this killer walking free, knowing that he may do it again?
But this is the very crisis that Black people find themselves in when we talk about the police, when we think of Sandra Bland or worry about our sons playing in a park. Since 2008, the year Tarika Wilson was killed, roughly 10,000 people have been killed by police. Some of them mothers and fathers killed in front of their own children. Sometimes a child killed in front of their own mother or father.
And this year alone, we have had over 270 mass shootings. What’s worse is that our police and our news media hesitate to call a wealthy white man a domestic terrorist – he’s a quiet man who enjoys country music or an “easygoing” guy who “just had enough.” We do not contend with what it means for so much carnage to be left in the wake of the people who hold a tremendous amount of power and privilege in our society. We scratch our heads and feign shock; we do not turn brutal, violent white men into a problem that needs to be solved.
I walked away from the TV screen yesterday when the president began delivering his response to the deadliest mass killing in recent American history. I already knew the script, could write the speech myself. It’s a litany familiar to most Black Americans—unity instead of solutions, prayers instead of remedy. There can be no justice in a killing field. But, if we tried, we could be something else. We can pass policies so that there is less grief, both for those we see and those we forget.
I know that we are a country that worships guns, whiteness, and masculinity like they were gods that protect us instead of demons that haunt us. We sacrifice our weak and vulnerable in this pursuit. More guns for citizens, more weapons for police, more carnage and loss all around. And families, like Tarika Wilson’s, end up irreparably hurt and devastated for generations.
I pray and grieve for the victims in the Las Vegas shooting, even as scenes of a bullet-riddled baby and his young mother run through my mind. It’s not all I can do, but it’s what I can manage right now as I hold my own infant son. I take a knee and pray for Tarika Wilson’s children. I pray for victims of senseless crimes everywhere. And I pray that something in this bloody, violent nation changes soon.
Khadijah White is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University. She is currently writing a book on the rise of the Tea Party brand in news.