The sound of the harmonium hums in the background. Listening intently to my mentors voice through a guided meditation. “Crack.” She suddenly says. “I want you to think of crack.” As the harmonium continues.
The word taking me off guard. The word "cracking" me up. I try to refocus. Concentrate.
"Crack." She says again.
Again, I giggle. Refocus. Breathe. Crack your shell. I tell myself. Go under the surface. To where you have been broken. Deep into the crack. Into the fracture. As the harmonium plays I think "Crack."
Realizing the word has not always being harmonious in my life. In fact, it has represented the opposite. Chaos and pain.
My brother in law's drug of choice was crack. The one he was probably driving to get when he drove recklessly and hit a tree on Crenshaw Blvd in South LA. Demolishing his truck.
The drug he might have been chasing when after the crash the police came and demanded he get out of the vehicle.
The drug he could have been chasing when he got knocked out on the impact. When he was left unable to answer. Unable to react. His bald head immobile as the police kept telling him through the blow horn to exit . As more and more officers showed up. Treating him as a threat instead of someone in possible medical need. The drug he was possibly chasing before the situation quickly kept escalating. Becoming a “barricade” situation. As he sat there... unconscious. As an unconscious, bald, immobile, black man on Crenshaw Blvd in South LA behind the broken wheel of a totaled truck.
A bipolar recovering addict. Suffering on his latest state appointed medication that no one followed up on. That no one took the interest. Not feeling he had anyone to talk to.
We believe he was going on a bender. Or was trying to. His way of self medicating. Doing what he knows has worked, even if temporarily, in the past. His way of getting his brain, his mind, to stop. Numbing the mental torture he must have existed through.
But what we possibly believe, in his chase to anesthetize the pain, he crashed. And awoke to several police cars now behind his vehicle.
When he finally exited the vehicle, stunned and shaking off shock of the collision, confused and in disbelief. Surprised at the scene displayed in front to him. The flashing red and blue lights reflecting off of him. The fact it was now night when he crashed in the light of day. Looking at the line of officers standing united behind his car.
He slowly put his hands out to the side. Not up, just to the side. His pale palms open out to the officers.
“Freeze!” One voice called out into the dark street. Under the light of the moon and search light of the helicopter now overhead.
I watched my brother in law as he frantically searched the scene. Trying to make sense of it all. Feeling the fear resonating off him. His eyes darting back and forth. His brain trying to distinguish what was all unfolding in front of him. His head probably still pounding from the collision.
“Freeze!” A voice echoed once again.
I watched. Hoping he would freeze. Hoping he would fall to his knees. Hoping he would surrender. Not knowing what it feels like to be a black man. On Crenshaw Blvd. After a car wreck. In need of medical attention. Aware you probably won’t get any. Surrounded by police. Conscious you are first viewed as a threat. First considered guilty before proving innocence.
I watched. Hoping. As he froze. Stiff. For a moment.
“Freeze!” The voice repeats in a more commanding tone. My eyes fixated on my brother in law. A split second decision. Please. Just collapse. Hoping he would fall to his knees. A waver of consciousness. Just drop, I thought.
I watched my brother in law slowly take one step back.
Freeze!” The voice expanded out into the chaos.
I saw another step. A panic surged through my veins. My heart stopped beating. My blood chilled as he back peddled. Step after step.
Before he turned as if in slow motion to run away. My stomach dropped as I hear the sound of gunfire. One bullet shot out into the night sky. Echoing through the street. Haunting in my ears.
I watched my brother in law buckle. Knowing it hit him. Again, hoping he would stop. But worried this only ignited his fears. I watched as he swiveled and ran faster and faster away from the police and into the darkness. I heard the gun fire continue behind him. Shot after shot as he ran into the blackness and away from the reflection of the red and blue lights. Out of my sight line. Into the unknown. As the gunfire continued...
Many rounds were fired at him that night. Into an open street. Where pedestrians walked by and cars drove. We were told eleven bullets hit him. He was pronounced dead soon after.
His life, his death, this experience, cracking the foundation of our white reality while exposing the truth of his black one. Revealing the different worlds from which we both came. The different struggles, the different resources, the different ways we are treated. The different reactions we received.
Yes, we assume he was chasing crack that night. To numb the demons of his reality. But even that is not known for sure.
Knowing I have demons of my own, of different sorts, but acknowledging there are things in life I have never had to fear. Realities, risks, I have never faced based solely on the color of my skin.
He possibly crashed chasing crack. He died because he was black. On a black street. In a black neighborhood. His fear, his reality, his death, cracked my perception. Educated me. Showed me a truth. Cracking the foundation on which I stood.
So, crack has not always been a harmonious word in my world. The irony as she speaks it against the backdrop of a harmonium. But I hope it will be. One day. Who I was cracked that night. Letting something new rise from those fractures. Something to spread. Something that was and is broken. Something I can now be one more voice advocating for. Even if my voice itself cracks along the way. Even if I trip as I learn more. As I listen. As I learn to understand that I will never understand. Through these cracks a truth has surfaced. One I will never unsee. One that now has to be spoken about. One that has to be... cracked.