Updated: Jul 16, 2021
I live in Santa Monica, California. I’ve been watching. I’ve been listening. To the news. To the world. To the protests. To the state of our nation.
A couple of weeks ago, the businesses on our street were looted. I watched from our alley way. I watched the glass shattering. The paint spraying. The climbing of buildings. I watched the inequality that led up to this very moment. The pain. The frustration. Everything that is systematically broken coming to yet another boiling point. And I watched.
In the distance, we could hear the protesters peacefully chanting. “Hands up, don’t shoot.” I saw the signs. “Black Lives Matter.” “White silence = violence.” One read, “Admit your ignorance.” I’m watching. I’m listening.
On March 1, 2008, my black brother in law went missing after going to South L.A. to play dominoes with some friends. We had a unique relationship because we didn’t get along. We fought just like brother and sister. We didn’t see the world the same. We didn’t make the same choices. But, we also had a lot in common. Neither of us were brought up by our birth parents. We both spent some time in the underground, even on the streets. We both had been knuckleheads at some point in our life. Him, more so than me. But we always saw each other. We always were connected in a way that few are.
So, on the first day he was missing, I assumed he was doing something he shouldn’t be. On the second day, I hoped he was doing something he shouldn’t be. On the third day, I was scared. It was on that day that my sister got a call from the coroner telling her my brother in law was dead. "He had gotten shot in a robbery in South Los Angeles." In shock, we asked more questions. But the coroner wouldn’t give us any more information. We called the police. We called the sheriff. Just to leave message after message. No one would return our call. We called every hospital. But received no answers. The coroner finally stopped answering his phone.
Something wasn’t right.
Not knowing what to do, we contacted the NAACP to ask them for guidance. They gave us the names of two well known black attorneys. The next day, we were in one of their offices. By this time, a police officer had called my sister back and informed her that my brother in law was actually shot in an officer involved shooting on 57th and Crenshaw Blvd. But the officer wouldn’t give us anymore information. They weren’t releasing the body. And there was no other explanation.
This didn’t make sense. None of this made sense. Were they covering something up?
So, I’m sitting at this lawyer’s desk while my sister sits next to me. She’s absent. Spaced out. Grieving. Biting her fingernails incessantly as this lawyer stared deeply at me from across the mahogany desk. Reading me. Testing me. Completely aware I was out of my league, I intensely stared back. Refusing to look away. I needed him to see past my white exterior and hear our story. We needed him. I needed him to see how desperate, how serious I was. I needed him to get the answers we couldn’t. All while the only sound echoing through the room is the POP of my sister’s nails vibrating on my last anxiety fringed nerve. The stare down seemed to last forever until he finally spoke, “You’ll need $35 thousand dollars.”
I didn’t have that, nor did my sister. So, I asked what else we could do. He replied, “Hit the streets. Talk to people. Get evidence. Get witnesses. Then, call me back.”
At that point, I knew the meeting was over. I helped my sister out of her seat. We walked out of his office. Into the hall where I kept thinking, “How can no one be giving us answers?”" How can they keep the body?" “How is this ok?”
It was at that moment. That horrifying moment, I realized the truth. I realized my ignorance.
I had never seen that we had lived different lives. Different worlds while living in the same city. But we were and the difference was huge. I was now the white sister who saw it. They weren’t trying to cover something up. To them, he was just another dead black man on the streets of L.A. To them, just another day. To me, my world was upside down. My confusion was my privilege. A privilege he never had. A privilege he deserved. A privilege every being deserves. As a basic human right. Because it matters.
So, the elevator opened. My sister and I got on. As the elevator doors closed behind us, she asked, “Now what?”
I said, “We hit the streets.”
In the corner of my eye, I saw her finger finally leave her mouth as she looked at me. She asked, “You’re going to go to 57th and Crenshaw?”
I said, “Yes.”
She said, “When?”
I said, “Now… You don’t have to come.”
Because I didn’t know what I was going to hear. I didn’t know what I was going to see. What I was going to find out. I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I didn’t want her to go through that.
So, the elevator doors came open. I reached out to hold the doors for her to come out and behind me I heard her say, “I’m coming with you.”
I turned around and looked at her. For the first time that day, she was present. She was there. She was with me. And I said, “Ok.”
Because it mattered. Because all black lives do.
I'm watching. I won’t be silent. I’ll admit my ignorance. I’m listening.