Updated: Jun 1, 2020
On Sunday, June 2nd of last year, I watched "When They See Us" on Netflix. I did so in its entirety not realizing how long it was, but somehow I knew that it was important and it was even more imperative for my son to see it with both of his parents. I wasn't prepared at all. None of us were.
To say that I feel for the little boy in all of those five men (and more...because there are plenty of them within our legal/judicial system) is an understatement times ten, a hundred, a thousand. I truly believe that once you go through trauma as a child, something in you breaks and gets stuck at that point in time. Although you grow so strong from another place within, you survive, but not without an intolerable amount of pain and mistrust.
Ava DuVernay did an impeccable job of portraying all the anguish and pain while blending five separate stories throughout this four part series. Every emotion through every properly thought out angle, crawled into my chest, belly and head.
Mainly because, I am a black mother to a teenage black boy who doesn't fully understand the enormity of what the world sees when they look at him...at Us. No matter how well mannered, smart, articulate, well dressed, fathered, mothered, schooled in books and the streets...it doesn't matter that he almost N E V E R stays out late... It doesn't matter how much love he carries in him for God, himself or others, no matter whether girls like him or if he has a solid group of friends, or teachers that care if he excels, doesn't matter that he gets good grades...it doesn't matter that he loves to dance and can sing so strong that it can make you cry, it doesn't matter that he's good at basketball and played on his high school team, that he loves science and math, nor that he loves ad libbing to trap music and hanging out at the rec center, it doesn't matter that he adores dogs, especially pitbulls or British Bull dogs, because they are his dad's favorite, doesn't matter that he gets a kick out of telling jokes and laughing the loudest, doesn't matter that he loves adventure and trips, but has to sleep in his bed almost every night...It also doesn't matter that he loves his mom and he thinks so highly of his dad, doesn't matter that he's best friends with every cousin that he has and that he regards his friends as brothers and sisters...that he's respectful...that he's loved...that he's helpful and kind (even with his teenage attitude) or that he's led by a tribe of extraordinary black men.
In the blink of an eye, what they see in him can make him question all that he was a lifetime before. As fast as I can say quick, the boy that I know and love can be hated by an entire nation for a very long time by the media, his peers, a judge, a jury and even actual criminals in prison all because he's brown. And that is only if he survives the cops. My son was astonished to know that, when they look at a boy who is growing up in his neighborhood of Harlem, they see "a turd", "an animal", a "little thug". That made him cry hard and angry tears at 15 years old.
I wondered why title it, When They See Us? So, I went in search of and I found the answer in many an interview with Ava DuVernay. When they see us (black people, specifically young black boys in this particular instance) what do they (white people, cops, lawyers, the media, the public...our own people) see? The answer made my heart ache. In the series it was disgusting to hear the lead detective and others even inmates refer to these children as animals when all evidence said otherwise. It resonated mostly when I watched as my son watched in disbelief. When it was all over, he said he kept placing himself and his close friends in position of Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray and Raymond Santana. That is what really scared him. That it was their same neighborhood at the very age they are now and could be every single one of them. Luckily, all aforementioned are all still alive.
Now, here we are on the heels of the anniversary of "When They See Us" and as a country we are still dealing with the deep rooted problems of racism and hate. During a pandemic, it's stinging in Spring. Just when tensions were cooling from the murder of Breonna Taylor (an EMT) by Louisville Metro police and then the blatant hunting and murder of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men, we land on the events of this week... First the scent of rain, with the Amy Cooper/Central Park incident and then the storm, the execution of George Floyd by four police officers. Three of whom, knelt on his body while he was handcuffed and laying faced down on the ground. One in particular, kneeling directly on his neck while looking directly into the camera, hands in pockets for approximately ten minutes. The incident was filmed by a seventeen year old black girl who will now be forever traumatized. Let's keep it 100, we are all traumatized yet again.
So, if by chance you are asking yourself, "Why are they protesting?" or "Oh my God, why are they looting?" The simple solutions to these "problems" are to arrest and prosecute every single officer for the crimes that they commit. For the same reason that you would arrest and prosecute an actual criminal. Especially, when you see them commit a crime. I'm sure this will slow if not stop the brutality and fatalities of black and brown people. The simple solution is consequence. Have some humanity. If you wouldn't trade lives with any black or brown person you know, there in lies the problem.
I'm praying for the protection of all the protesters out there. Peaceful and otherwise. I know that you are tired and angry. I know we can't just sit by and let this happen. Thank you to all the states who came together to show up and show out for Us. Like with every case before this, I too am hopeful for change.