I don’t know how to start this letter. It feels sacrilegious, disrespectful. Like I’m writing with the hand that pulled the trigger that ended your life.
But this isn’t about me. This is about you.
I’m writing to you because writing to the rest of the world seems futile. Anything I can say about violence or racism has already been said; how police brutality targets black kids, how we’ve followed this narrative before, how, in situations of oppression, there is no neutrality, only active resistance and complacency. My theories about the world are not novel nor revolutionary.
But as the press swarms your hometown of Balch Springs, Texas, and people become increasingly polarized– those who somehow defend your murderer vs. those who condemn him –I wonder who’s left to hold you.
You; a loving son, a cherished classmate, the “Jordan” that existed before you became the champion of a movement you never intended to lead.
The headlines say you’re an athlete, a good student with no criminal record. One CNN article said you came from “a two parent household.”
I’m sorry that your character comes into question just because of your race. I’m sorry that a journalist for a major news outlet felt the need to explicitly clarify that you came from a “good” home, because the opposite is assumed for people of color.
I’m sorry you didn’t get to see your 16th birthday.
I want to ask you what you wanted to be when you grow up. If you’d pursue football, or maybe something more academic. Maybe you’d be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a business owner. With fair certainty I can say most black kids wouldn’t answer this question with, “I want to be a hashtag when I grow up.”
I’m sorry you didn’t get to grow up.
Born and raised in a mostly white, upper-middle class neighborhood, I’ve never seen police brutality’s ugly face, especially not in the way that you did.
I want you to know I recognize all the privileges I have, how my skin color makes me a non-threat, rips the target off my back, how I never tense with fear when a cop car rolls past.
I also recognize what a privilege it is to hear the lawnmower outside and take a warm shower and do all the other things they stole from you when they pulled a gun on a car of innocent children.
One day, sometime soon, the streets will flood with people chanting your name. It will be so loud, it will drown out everything– everything except the gunshots. And protesters will fill every open space except one. There will always be a place for you in the world left vacant and empty.
I am outraged at the man who took your life as if it was his for the taking. So many of us are filled with sadness and hate, which may be justified, but is hate nonetheless. If someone killed my son or brother or friend, I’d be hateful, too.
But no sensationalized headline nor loaded gun could ever take away your humanity. You existed. Trayvon Martin existed. Altan Sterling, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, each and every one of you existed before you became vessels for political discourse.
I don’t know what it’s like to be demonized for my race. All I know is I am an insider looking out. As a white young person I benefit from this system just as much as your murderer does.
So I will keep learning, fighting, speaking and writing. I will amplify the voices of black activists and raise them up as a racial ally. I will call you my friend.
And above all, I will do what you did. I will have the audacity to exist.
But, Jordan, I wish we didn’t have to protest and fight, and I wish I wasn’t writing this letter.
Then again, this isn’t about me. This is about you.