My heart is still pounding. Actually more now than when it happened. It’s been two hours. My hands are shaky and I can’t believe what I witnessed.
To be clear–I don’t have the details.
Here’s what I saw: Three adult, middle aged white men. Big men.
They stopped their cars in the middle of the road in Ashland on a busy street, jumped out and started chasing at top speeds a young, black male wearing a backpack. When I say young, I mean a kid. It turns out a child of 15.
The kid ran past me, so did the men. Yelling at the top of my voice I kept saying, “Stop! Why are you chasing him?” They did not turn, they did not acknowledge my existence. Instead they continued chasing.
Finally, the men stopped when the kid jumped a tall, chain link fence. They kept yelling. They had backups coming from the other direction to trap the young man.
I decided to stand directly next to one of the men who had now stopped. He was yelling in the direction of the young man. I kept standing closer and closer. Finally, the man told the kid to come there and he kept yelling, “Why were in my driveway? Why did you run?” The young man kept saying, “I was afraid I was going to get shot.” Still, he moved closer to the man. He is a kid. He is used to minding adults still, whether they are right or wrong.
These guys acted like that made no sense to them and kept telling the kid never to run. I could take no more.
I told the young man they were giving him bad advice. I told the men, who were not listening at all, that if they were chasing me I would also run. Finally I made my way to the young man by scaling a hill and going over the fence to him. We linked arms. I told him to stay with me no matter what. I said, “Do not let go of me for any reason. I don’t care what happened here but I am walking you out. Remember, stay connected to me.”
The guys brought their voices down. They told the kid they’d call the police if they saw him again. The young man and I said nothing and we walked away. Once we got past these guys the kid kept saying he was sorry. “I’m sorry I was in his driveway. I’m sorry I ran. I’m sorry I am so scared. I am so afraid of getting shot.”
This is the life of one 15 year old black teen in Oregon, a primarily white populated place. One kid. Think of this story and multiply it over and over. A day in the life of a high school kid who has to worry that if he goes into someone’s driveway he will be chased and killed.
Can you imagine? Me either.
But what I could imagine is Trayvon Martin. It’s all I could see as these men chased a skinny, clearly very young kid running for his life. And, I could not stand it. I could not bare the adrenaline, I could not stand the look of his shaky hands, his frightened face. I could not stand the scratches on his arms cut up from jumping a fence nor the school backpack on his shoulders, a sign of youth, of school, of childhood robbed from him. I could not stand how the young man and I were together as outsiders in this world of dominance. And, rightly or wrongly, I had the feeling if there ever was a moment where taking a beating was worth it, this was it.
I have a friend who often says “This is not a hill worth dying on” about various arguments. But something has to be that hill. For me, in that moment, it felt like the right hill.
Now, it did not turn to that. The situation de-escalated rather quickly and no one got a beating on that day and no one was shot. But as I held the kid once we got far enough away and I felt his quickly beating heart, the fragility of his young body, the quick breaths as he said over and over, “I am so afraid someone will shoot me,” I realized this is not a good place for children anymore. I realized it may have never been a good place for young, black children-especially boys.
So, what do I do with all that ignorance and violence and hurt and fear which showed itself so clearly?
I am still uncertain but I feel emboldened by the exhaustion of the status quo which makes a kid run for his life from grown men who should know better. I do not give a damn that he was “in their driveway.” Honestly, I don’t care a bit if he took some tool or said a mean thing to the men or their families. You do not chase a child as an angry mob. You most certainly do not have the stupidity as a gang of white men to chase a black child.
The fact is, it is terrifying for good reason if you’re black in this country. The white gangs’ failure to get it, if that’s even true, does not interest me.
What the hell has come of people? How do they not understand the color dynamic and the number of young, black men who die in this country and have died in the past? I don’t want one more person to tell me it’s not about race or social status or poverty.
That’s a lie.
It absolutely is about those things. The kid had no defense and no power in that situation. Neither did I. Our only possibility was in unity. Our only shot was in the willingness to go down together.
Let me be clear again–this is not a story about me in the situation. This is a story about one kid who worries all the time about being shot because he is black. This story is about a gang of adult men who thought their property mattered more than the terror of this child. And it is about race. I do not think they would have come after a white kid. I don’t think a white kid would have run away thinking he would be shot. Nothing in the dynamic would be the same. I don’t think they would have de-escalated by any words spoken by me. They didn’t care. They only stopped because they figured out there would be a witness.
No one should have to live with the fear this child has every day. Yet he does.