Fitting the Description
The tragedy of Ahmaud Arbery comes as no surprise to those of us who have fit the description before. To be Black is to fit the description of many things that you are not. Criminal. Uneducated. Burglar. Thief. Murderer. But not, victim. No. That might be too far. What many people don’t know about me is that I’ve fit the description before. I must say, first, that the description is bullshit. This so-called description is usually “A BM (Black Male), age 7–87, 80–380 pounds, somewhere between 4 and 7 feet tall, Black Hair, Brown eyes”. So for one — you can find a BM with those descriptors within every eye that spies a Black man walking (or running) down the street. In my case, and many others, the BM is actually the only descriptor needed to pursue a “suspect”.
At 16, I had never had a legal run-in in my life. My people didn’t raise me to get into things and I’m a relatively reserved person. This particular morning, my closest friend and I were attending a court hearing for a friend. The story doesn’t matter. No, he didn’t. As we stood in the hallway, two officers approached us and said “Hey, come here for a second”. Me, knowing what I knew about cops, especially White ones in Eastern North Carolina, and being in a county that I didn’t live in, looked at my friend and we turned away in hopes that they weren’t talking to us. Again the cop said “Come here for a second, we just want to ask ya’ll a couple questions”. Mind you, BOTH of us lived 20 or so miles outside of this county— but we complied. Because, even if you’re innocent, you’re supposed to comply. As we walked into some kind of room for intake, one by one, they asked our names and lined both of us up against this blue backdrop and took profile shots of us. *Snap* “Okay, turn to the left”. *Snap* “Okay, look straight at me and hold this sign”. *Snap*. We were in high school. Next, they walked us into a room with a little TV and showed us footage of what I recall as two grown ass men running into a store to rob it. I was 4'11 in high school and didn’t have the mental nor technical capacity to rob anybodys store. They asked us questions about where we were that day, where we lived, and if it looked like us. Mind you, both of these men had on masks and had guns. Where would we even get guns at 16? My grandma didn’t play those kinds of games. I looked at them and so did my friend and said…. “No. We don’t even live here. We’re in high school. That doesn’t look anything like us.” Except that they were BMs. They asked a few more questions that I can’t remember, but I do remember thinking, I had never held a gun and this man knew we were not even men enough to possibly be these men. Shortly after, another officer came in and said we could leave. When we walked out of the little room, our friends’ family had already left, clueless to our whereabouts, so we got in my car, and drove ourselves back to where we lived. The story never left my lips.
At this point(my mom still doesn’t even know) I’ve basically wiped all of the deep details, including the White officers faces/names, of a moment that could have changed our lives forever, out of my mind. Now, I wonder, what if THEY would have decided that we were the people on the tape? What if they just needed someone that fit the description? Even if we didn’t, they could of decided that we did. We didn’t learn about the Central Park 5. Other instances come to mind of having my car searched for “smells of marijuana” that I did not smoke, being pulled over by officers that could have taken me for more of a threat than I actually am, and these feeling still sit within my chest as I write this. The reality is, White fear is payment enough for a Black life. All it takes is their anxiety or their suspicion. Or, a suspect.
Suspect — (definition): a person thought to be guilty of a crime or offense.
Thought to be. All it takes is a thought and a jury of believers, regardless of real proof, to be guilty. How many more Black lives will be taken because of White thoughts? How might I, as unthreatening as I attempt to be, ease their anxiety if their anxiety is rooted in an ideology of ignorance? As a Black man, I have found it more helpful to not ask questions. It translates to my educational struggles. It translates to my pain to ask for help. It translates to procrastination. It translates to questioning God—almost. It translates to insecurity disguised as humility. To think for and within myself. To answer my own questions in my mind, as my anxiety rises in response to their anxiety. To live this eternal life of second-guessing and double life of finding out who I really am in the world, while being who I am does not matter to those who have the protections of the physical realm of this world — that should drive anyone mad. And also, madness is dangerous. My mental health could also cost me my life. See Sean Reed.
But there are black men who have survived the terror of being wrongly suspected. There are black men who know what it feels like to be avoided like we are beasts, or to be “literally hunted” like we are beasts, to use the words of LeBron James. There are black men who know what it feels like to fear the fear. — Ibram Kendi, Ahmaud Arbery Could Have Been Me