THE BLOG
09/30/2014 09:01 am ET Updated Nov 30, 2014

Summer Madness: A Eulogy for John Crawford

A moment:

A grand jury in Greene County declined on Wednesday to indict Sean Williams, the police officer who shot [John] Crawford, on charges of murder, reckless homicide or negligent homicide. After hearing from 18 witnesses and considering video and audio evidence, the jurors concluded on their third day in session that Williams acted reasonably in shooting Crawford dead at the store in Beavercreek, a suburb of Dayton.

An attorney for Crawford's family described their decision as "absolutely incomprehensible". The US department of justice quickly announced that it would review the case with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the possibility of federal criminal charges.

Mark Piepmeier, the special prosecutor for the case, told a press conference that Crawford was the victim of "a perfect storm of circumstances" and "didn't do anything wrong". However, enough of the grand jurors "decided that the police officers, and the police officer in particular that fired the shots, was justified in doing what he did".

Jon Swaine, "Ohio Walmart video reveals moments before officer killed John Crawford," The Guardian, September 24, 2014.

Thus ends the longest summer I can recall experiencing. A summer that saw the high-profile deaths of not one, not two, but nearly a dozen brothers, fathers, sisters, each slain by the same hands tasked by the government of the United States of America to protect them. Another summer that ends, as did the summer previous, and so many others before it, with a tale of justice withheld.

Wednesday's announcement of no indictment in the shooting death of John Crawford III, and the subsequent release of the video and audio detailing his last moments (WARNING: GRAPHIC), relay a sequence as old as any, one with which we have become all too familiar. A bang. A wail. And a silence, galling in its inhumanity, that carries further and echoes louder than the shouts of any protesters ever have. John Crawford did not deserve to die on that Wal-Mart tile, no more than Mike Brown deserved to die on that hot suburban street, or Marlene Pinnock deserved to be beaten to the point of incapacitation on that highway shoulder. Yet their stories, their fates, remain commonplace, to the point that even I -- a paragon of what Desus might refer to as "wokefulness" -- have rolled my eyes at headlines announcing yet another incidence of police brutality, and skimmed past for the next update on the playoff chances of my San Francisco Giants. In all honesty, it's all I can do to keep sane -- to keep from screaming inside, or outside, or flipping over a table, or drinking a half-bottle of Maker's Mark alone in the darkness, trying to drown the persistent fits of rage and frustration and impotence.

I've read countless pieces, many brilliant, outlining the lessons learned from Ferguson. About the need for greater accountability and oversight of law enforcement, particularly in instances where lethal force has been applied. About the need for more data on the frequency of police shootings, cameras on the badge and dashboard of every police officer in the country, sanctions on the gun-wielding rights of police officers and departments that -- like that of Mike Brown's killer -- have been censured for abuse in the past. But then I see cases like Marcus Jeter's, in which key video evidence was hidden from the defense AND prosecution for over a year, a year during which a man -- innocent of the multiple felonies he was charged with committing -- languished, while the villains who masterminded his arrest and imprisonment remained free. And I see cases like John Crawford's, where a man with a history of fraudulent claims can phone the operator with a claim of "BN/BG" and cry for assistance, resulting in an officer turning a corner and shooting Crawford dead on sight without warning, in a state where it is legal and well within Crawford's rights to carry a firearm, real or toy, and where there is audio and video timestamped to correspond with one another that detail the caller's deception, and still, the officer and the caller escape prosecution. And I lose faith in these proscribed solutions, because the American justice system has demonstrated time and again that evidence, and honesty, and following the goddamned process, will only take you so far, and, at the end, we will once again be left wanting, bereft. The American public, at large, will nod in silent assent. And I will remain broken.

And I begin to consider the other articles.

Those about raising Black children not to live, but to survive. About the fear and guilt, unique to Black parents, of bringing life into a hostile and unforgiving environment and knowing that those children might die violently, not because they've committed a crime, but solely because they possess melanin in the quantities that you've passed on to them. And I remember those articles admonishing Black girls and boys and women and men for daring to dance suggestively, or use the language of their longtime oppressors in any manner other than that for which they intended, or listen to music -- any music -- with a heavy low end, or wear their clothes a size too big, or a size too small, or give their children names like Messiah or Unique instead of good, Christian names like Strom or Rush or Track, as though the undertaking of any of these practices serves as evidence of a pathology, and somehow negates their humanity.

And the bile begins to rise, and the fury pounds like a drum in my chest, and my throat, and my ears, and my hands, until all I want is to march on foot from Washington, D.C., to St. Louis' North County, with a .357 in one hand and Baldwin in the other, and burn everything. But as much as I would love to, I can't. Mostly, it's because I know it's my self-loathing, self-destructive side goading me. I know that my Rage Tour wouldn't fix anything, and I've got responsibilities to attend to that weigh on me as much as any gnawing moral obligation. But I also know that I'd never make it to St. Louis, because, as John Crawford can attest, the Constitution's second amendment has never extended to the American Black; nor has its fifth, as the families of Mike Brown, Kendrec McDade, Eric Garner, and so many others know all too well; nor its fourteenth, though it was onstensibly enacted for our benefit. I'll never make it to St. Louis, because I, too, have a family, that loves me, and whom I see and speak with far too infrequently, and because they -- and the movement -- do not need to see another martyr laid low by an assassin with a blue shield.

Yet, we can no longer pretend that the American ideals of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are anything but bitter fruit in the mouths of a people who are deprived of the first two with impunity by the American justice system, and expected to chase the third with a broken leg and no crutch. No longer can I roll my eyes as reports of abuse after abuse roll in. No longer can I stand by, safe behind my computer screen, while my sisters and brothers put their bodies on the line in the fight for justice for our fallen comrades. No longer can I allow my family, brown and black and white, from this generation to the next, to live in a world where their brothers and sisters and parents and cousins could be the next murdered by a system unable or unwilling to mete out justice fairly and impartially. I will not let the next clap of gunfire, the next mourning parent, go unheard. I will do my part. I will stand, arms aloft, in a stance of rebellious surrender. I will put my money, my time, my heart, and my voice into ensuring that justice for John Crawford, justice for Mike Brown, justice for Ezell Ford and Kendrec McDade and Jonathan Ferrell and Rekia Boyd and Darrien Hunt and Chavis Carter and Aiyana Jones and Ramarley Graham and Victor White has not been withheld or denied, but merely deferred for a time. Because I must. Because it's all I can do. Because our lives -- white, black, brown, young, old, of every class and orientation and identification -- all matter. Because to do otherwise would be criminal.

Because we cannot wait until the next bang, the next wail. For that continued silence can -- and will -- consume us all.