Police line tape crime scene

Source: Scott Olson/ Getty / Getty

Despite a decline in the amount of media coverage of police violence in recent months (but not a decline in the actual violence, be clear), the fatal police shooting of Jordan Edwards is getting quite a bit of media attention.

The details surrounding the events which took the 15-year-old’s life aren’t entirely unique—he was unarmed, he was not suspected of any crime and the officer involved apparently lied about the motivation for firing in his direction. However, Edwards’ youth, good looks and stellar reputation make him the rare Black victim of police violence considered worthy of broad public concern.

There is currently an active police investigation, but what we know is that a group of teenagers were attempting to leave a party when then-Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver fired a rifle into their vehicle, striking and killing Jordan. (I suppose I should describe him as the honor student he was—a beautiful child—but it really should not matter if he had straight A’s or was a high school dropout.)

A police officer fired a rifle into a car full of kids.

Oliver was fired three days later. According to the Dallas Morning Newshe had extensive weapons training and is an Army veteran who served at least one tour of duty in Iraq. Also, he was one of the eight out of ten white officers patrolling a suburb where four out of five residents are not white.

Jordan’s family released a heartbreaking statement, revealing the fact his siblings watched him die.

“Not only have Jordan’s brothers lost their best friend; they witnessed firsthand his violent, senseless, murder. Their young lives will forever be altered. No one, let alone young children, should witness such horrific, unexplainable, violence.”

They have also asked for time to grieve privately: “While our family attempts to cope with our loss, we ask that at this time the community please refrain from protests and marches in Jordan’s and our family’s name, as we prepare for his funeral,” the family’s statement reads.

As devastating as the statement is, the requisite call for peace is absolutely gut-wrenching:

“We do not support nor do we condone any violence or threats made against the Balch Springs Police Department or any other law enforcement agencies. We do not support nor do we condone any violence or threats made against the Balch Springs Police Department or any other law enforcement agencies.”

Those words, the disclaimer that Black people are so often indirectly (or directly) pressured to make—an appeal for justice, but the right kind of justice—enrage me whenever I hear them. They always do. I’m incensed. Not at the family—never at the family, to be sure—but at this pervasive notion that Black people must always be ready to offer ‘appropriate’ grace to violent perpetrators who harm us.

No one is going to physically go after Roy Oliver, the man who fired a rifle into a car full of kids that he took an oath to protect. Trust me.

No one is going to physically go after Roy Oliver, the man who fired a rifle into a car full of kids that he took an oath to protect. Trust me.

I have yet to find an instance of retributive violence directed toward a law enforcement officer who was directly involved in the death of an unarmed Black person. Yes, there was seemingly an increase in on-duty cop killings last year, but it’s pretty clear the white men who were responsible for the majority of them weren’t Black Lives Matter sympathizers. Yet, Black people are consistently told that protesting police violence puts all law enforcement officers in danger, to the point that even grieving families feel obligated to offer words to protect the wearers of the shield who literally robbed them of their beloved.

As I write, the words to Kendrick Lamar’s “XXX” are looping in my mind; on the track, he gets a call from a friend who has just lost a child to violence and wants the peaceful Lamar to provide some words of comfort. K.Dot admits that he’s unable to do that: “If somebody kill my son, that mean somebody gettin’ killed.”

I cannot fathom any other response to the death of my child, my sibling, my parent, or my man other than that, and I wonder if actual victims of police violence ever get the space to sit with feelings of pure rage. Do they get to be that human? That righteously indignant? Or are they immediately forced to get to the business of calling for justice in a way that might prevent their loved one from being cast as someone who needed to be put down like a dog in the first place? Or not.

Excuse me if this sounds aggressive, but Roy Oliver fired a rifle into a car full of kids, killing one of them. Let’s be clear.

To be human is to feel, and those of us who have been told by this country that we aren’t real humans have spent too much time suppressing our feelings.

Over the past five or so years, I’ve met with several relatives of Black people who were killed by extrajudicial violence (meaning: security guards, vigilantes who patrol their neighborhood with guns and deputize themselves as agents charged with keeping the niggas out, AKA toy cops). Held some of them as they cried, talked about the moment they got the call and what they miss most about their beloved. I’ve seen rage, but never heard a single family talk about retribution, even when we were in intimate, “off-the-record” settings.

I’ve never had the courage to ask them the questions that always come to mind first: Have you considered getting back at the people responsible? Do you think you could have had them…killed? 

To be fair, I doubt any of them would have felt comfortable admitting as much, even if they had thought of the possibilities. It’s also worth acknowledging that many of our people subscribe to Christianity, a religion that requires at least an attempt at forgiveness, even if for the officer(s) who killed their child, partner, friend.

But from the outside of the center of grief that these actual victims occupy, all I can think of is revenge. Again, Kendrick: It be murder in the street, it be bodies by the hour.”

This isn’t a call for us to hit the streets on the hunt for killer cops. And I say this not because I care about their safety—or your overreaction to my statement. I do not, and I hope each and every murderous officer who has escaped imprisonment gets his just due. But what I do want is for all of us to stop being complicit in making victims’ families feel like they have to be the voices of reason, the moral victors articulate enough to be believed, those who are worthy of receiving collective sympathy, or super humans capable of unfeeling in the face of senseless murder.

I am not willing to let go of my rage. I refuse to trade my anger to assuage the guilt of wrongdoers who don’t seem to feel guilty at all. To be human is to feel, and those of us who have been told by this country that we aren’t real humans have spent too much time being ‘graceful’ despite our raw pain. While I hope to live long enough to see an end to the violence that leads to stories like this, in the meantime, I want to see families allowed to fully articulate grief—even rage—without having to do PR for the agents that took so much from them.

No apologies for that, never.

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