Black life is a very fleeting existence. I realized that when I was 19 years old. I read about James Byrd Jr. of Jasper, Texas, chained to a truck and dragged through the streets, being murdered by decapitation. That was the first time I became afraid. Growing up in the ghetto, you could get shot, robbed, or arrested just for being around, but this was different. Thinking about Byrd’s death left me defenseless. The threat of white supremacy seemed near and real. Reading about the struggles of Black people in school, and hearing stories from family about how foul white people have been felt normal and to be expected. This was one of the struggles of being Black – putting up with shit from white people and going on with our lives. The killing of James Byrd, however, revealed how savage and craven some white people could be. His death was one of the most impactful moments in my life. Thinking about it now, I can remember how distraught I was reading about the details of his death, fear pulsating through my body. Walking outside, looking around, and wondering “Will that happen to me?” I can safely say that is when I understood how hated we are.
In 2020, many young Black kids are coming face to face with that fact because of Breonna Taylor. A young Black woman who worked as an EMT in Louisville, Kentucky, Taylor was a victim of a no-knock raid in her apartment, which resulted in her dying from multiple gun shots by the police. Her death, along with the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd kicked off worldwide uprisings and protests against police terrorism, racism, and white apathy. The usual comments were generated from the Right, describing Taylor as a possible drug dealer (untrue), which is why the raid happened, while the Left turned her into a meme and a figure so liberals could chant “Say Her Name” while ignoring systemic racism and laws that created the no-knock warrant. While Breonna has been the subject of magazine covers, documentaries, and many write-ups, what is not being discussed is how helpless young Black people may feel when they read about Taylor being murdered. How the justice system moved at an extremely slow pace to only produce one police officer charged with three counts of “Wanton Endangerment in the First Degree.” No charges of homicide; just endangerment. Of the neighbor’s walls. This not only feels like a miscarriage of justice, but also defeat for every Black person in America, especially young Black girls who look like Breonna, who are the same age as Breonna, and who may find themselves in the same circumstance as Breonna.
At my age, I have realized that racism is permanent and the system of white supremacy is skewed in such a way that there will never be justice. There is no such thing as a fair trial or presumed innocence. When you are African-American, the benefit of the doubt will never be given to you. Taylor, an aspiring nurse who had dreams of getting married and being a mother has now been turned into another symbol of how the Judicial system was created to work. I feel for the young Black men and women coming behind me who are learning this. My heart cracks for them when they realize that their unlawful arrest, beating, conviction, and/or murder will never produce a rightful result. They will never get a fair shake, an honest look, an unbiased chance. My heart breaks for the African-American girl younger than Breonna Taylor realizing that there is no justice for Black people. That the Talk her Mother gave when she was 13 wasn’t her Mom scaring her, but giving her a glimpse of what awaits. My heart aches for the young Black girl when she finds out that America is a cruel person with a special hatred for anyone dark. That the young Black girl will have the same moment with Breonna Taylor’s life that I had with James Byrd. The young Black woman may truly feel her mortality for the first time and understand the ruthlessness of racism and white supremacy. She, her life, and the way she has lived it, will never again be the same. That is the true heartbreak.
Rest in Peace Breonna Taylor.