Dear President Obama:
I’m not a journalist who really believes in these open letters. I think they’re pretty cheesy. But since I can’t exactly call you and tell you how I feel, I had to use this forum instead. Mr. President, I’m asking you to come home. I saw photos of you on Martha’s Vineyard yesterday, looking quite handsome in your golfing gear, and laughing on the course as though you didn’t have a care in the world.
I believe in vacations and recharging and a man in your position certainly deserves it more than anyone else. This can’t have been an easy year, what with Iraq, Gaza, Malaysia Airlines, the Ebola virus and the killings in Chicago (really, let’s face it, in any urban city) all seemingly blowing up at the same time. I don’t begrudge you your R&R.
But something is going on in Ferguson, Missouri that requires your attention. As you know, 18-year-old Mike Brown was killed by police this past weekend. He follows in the wake of several murders of Black men by white ones in the last few years. This tragic roll call includes Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner and now Michael Brown. His mother, Lesley McSpadden, when interviewed soon after she found out, remarked how hard she had to work to get her son through high school because of the widespread belief that Black men have that their lives are cheap and disposable.
She said it more inelegantly, but she was certainly correct. That is the conclusion that the families of Martin, Davis, Garner and now, Brown have come to after seeing their loved one gunned down or asphyxiated by police. It is the same conclusion that Sean Bell’s family came to, when he was murdered by police, and the conclusion that the families of the Central Park Five came to when they were arrested and convicted as teenagers for a rape they did not commit. Though New York City has now made them millionaires, it took 25 years for justice to be done. How many millions does it take to get back lost time?
It is the sad conclusion of many a Black mother, wife or auntie that when we send our children, our husbands our nephews off to school or work, we have no way of knowing whether an innocuous encounter with law enforcement might result in their death. And if and when they are killed, we know their lives will be scrutinized for any misstep so that a narrative can be constructed that their murder was their own fault.
Though I didn’t want to give my Obama-hating friends any more ammunition, I was struck by the juxtaposition of those images of you golfing with the photos and videos out of Ferguson. It made me think of George Bush flying over Hurricane Katrina. It made me think that these spontaneous protests, a sign that Black people have become tired of murderous police officers, rampant racism, and constant harassment for doing simple things like walking while Black, were not something you take seriously.