What was it like in Giovanni’s room?
Were there posters of pop culture idols on the walls, the sonic presence of sounds blazing through your cell phone full of trap music playlists, arrays of tiny jewelry and colorful accessories scattered about? Was there enough warmth to offset the cold of the world in which you lived, Giovanni Melton? What kind of spaces did you create for yourself when no space was made for you outside of your room and within the world?
We lost you.
We owed you more than what was given to you. We owe so much more to youth like you who are told they do not belong and are not worthy of living—youth who, in some cases, are killed because they are free.
In the images of you that have been circulating throughout social media, we see a bright, charismatic teen playfully engaging with a phone camera. You appear as a young person delivering selfies that capture your youth, vitality, and spark. But your light was dimmed by the man who helped to create you.
When your father gunned you down, he ended more than your life. He silenced the burgeoning freedom of a Black gay child. He, like the father figures of Gabriel Fernandez and Britney Cosby, decided that death was a better fate than a life characterized by truth.
You, however, deserved more than abuse and abandonment. You deserved more than a life of survival in which you had to fend for yourself in an empty apartment. In the midst of such violence, how long were you dying before you were killed?
The law does not protect us. The law does not protect the young. We have accepted the inevitability of Black youth, like you, encountering violence. Many children are asked to shrink and mute, but the world especially views Black children as needing to be cut down or tamed. How are we failing to create a world—a world where you might be still alive—in which Black children can experience safety, tenderness, and freedom rather than conditioning them with violence they will be met with in the world?
In the midst of such violence, how long were you dying before you were killed?
Know this, Giovanni: Black people are not more violent or homophobic with our children than others. But anti-Blackness, that deeply ingrained and material disdain for Black people and Black life that infects the world and shapes us, creates unique circumstances for violence against Black children to be encouraged and seen as a necessary rite of passage. Some of us believe, and attempt to, raise perfect and controlled Black children rather than perfectly free children. You were cut down by a man who resented a freedom that defied his limited imagination.
I’m thinking of the many times I’ve witnessed people express a sense of dread over the possibility of having a gay child. I reflect on men like Kevin Hart who many people still support even after he “joked” about not wanting a gay child. I’m thinking about Kim Burrell’s violent rant calling for the deaths of LGBT people and how many “believers” defended her. And now I am writing this letter because you are no longer here—because your father believed, like Burrell, that death is the payment for truth.
No longer can we tolerate the violence of language or that which is practiced with our hands. No longer can we turn away from the responsibility of condemning such violence, and, therefore, our complicity in it. No longer can we allow respectability, fear, religion, or any combination of those things to stunt children like you. No longer can we allow our youth to die.
I know you, Giovanni, as I know parts of myself. In light of your death, I’m forced to think of the ways the world has not wanted to see me live. I can remember the many times I was reminded how effeminate I acted. I recall the moments I had to blot out or hide the softest parts of myself, the best parts of myself. I, too, was a Black LGBTQ youth in need of refuge, but I often encountered violence in the places I trusted most. I justed wanted to be…
You were so free, Giovanni. You were freer than I was at 14 years old. You were stronger than I am. I’m sorry that we were not strong enough to keep you alive. Until we do more to tackle the hatred and violence that breaks the bodies and spirits of LGBTQ youth, we are all fingering the same triggers used to end your life.
Giovanni, your daddy wasn’t the only one who killed you.
And you didn’t deserve to die. You should be alive.
George Arnett is a writer and composer based in Los Angeles, Calif.