Stand Up, Don’t Shoot

I used to hate my little brother. The day I came into the hospital to see him after my mom gave birth felt more like mourning than celebration—I had years of being the only one, the sole source of attention in my tiny family, the epicenter of love, the “baby,” only for it to be taken away from me one cold November evening. He was always, always crying. He was always, always screaming. Destruction and noise had come like a plague into my once quiet home, and I was endlessly furious about it.

“He’s not going anywhere,” my mother told me. (Several times.)

It took years for me to overcome my bitterness to realize that my brother is not my enemy: he is my partner in crime, my cheerleader, the noise that takes me out of my quiet mind and brings me back to the present. He’ll play music and dance and prod at me until I’m in a better mood. He is my best friend. No one laughs harder at my corny, dry sense of humor than he does, or tells me that I’m great and doing amazing things despite never witnessing (or reading) any of it. My brother, in all his tall, lanky glory, is hilarious, open, and brutally honest. I could not imagine having anyone else as my younger brother. 

He is relentlessly positive, and pushes himself to be the best he can be at whatever he attempts to do—he just joined the Honor Society at his high school, despite absolutely despising reading. His blind optimism inspires me to pour positivity into everything I do…usually.

He’s an absolute menace (and King of the Photobooth).

But there is one thing I cannot be positive about.

My brother frequents the park, the pizzeria, walks around the neighborhood with his friends.

Sometimes at night. 

The police frequent those places too. We have cops on our block every day. Sirens go off at random hours, and every time they do, my heart stops.

My brother doesn’t understand my fear, or why I cry when trying to explain to him why he should not go out on Halloween. He attributes my fears to my general anxiety, which is partly true. It’s hard knowing that any moment I could lose my best friend to someone else’s carelessness, or unaddressed racism. Someone else’s fear. 

My brother is fifteen. So was Anton McCray.

My brother loves to wear hoodies. So did Trayvon Martin

My brother loves to go to the park. So did Tamir Rice.

There are so many mothers who are grieving their lost sons still, families who are still feeling the loss of the children within them. Every day I am scared to be one of those families, one of those sisters standing before a swath of media outlets and swallowing my grief to move people to action. The violence of death is something that keeps me up at night, or drives me to worry when (rarely) there’s nothing for me to worry about. It’s hard, checking the news every day to see a new story, or a new face who lost their life too soon from a bullet.

Like most things that cause my particular brand of anxiety, police brutality is completely out of my control. The brutal nature of the police force stems from institutional racism, a beast bigger than myself. For some, it pays to be violent, as is the case for most police officers who are offered paid leave in the wake of these horrid encounters.

The best I can do, the best any of us can do, is to bring attention to the consistent patterns so they no longer repeat themselves. To vote in judges and policymakers that understand our fears and do their best to fix them.

For we are small, but we are mighty. And if this fear for other’s lives pains you, you deserve to do something about it. Too much blood has been shed not to.

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