This is an excerpt from JUSTIFIABLE a novel that tells the story of Bree Collins, a black seventeen-year-old girl whose world is ripped apart when her father is shot and killed by police. At the same time it follows the experiences of Madison Carter, the daughter of the white officer responsible. Before, the girls had little in common, but now both have to navigate a new world created by circumstances they had no control over.
School’s out for Thanksgiving. We haven’t talked a lot about it, but I am assuming this year will be different. I don’t see any way it could be the same. A thought pops into my head that I try to shove out. Dad could be in jail by Thanksgiving.
To try and distract myself from the boredom I pick up my phone and text Emma.
“Hey, what are you doing? I’m bored.”
I see the little text bubbles letting me know she’s replying within seconds.
“Girl. Turn on the TV. Now”
My mind immediately goes to my dad. I have no idea where he is right now, but it’s not at home. He tries to make himself scarce when his parents are around. Could the grand jury have come back already? Was my dad already found guilty, and hauled away to prison?
I crane my neck around the corner to watch mom and grandma, who are still sipping coffee, chatting like normal. No, it can’t be that. It has to be something different. Still, I feel my stomach flip when I grab the remote and turn on the TV. It’s already set to the news station, of course, but I flip over to the news channel I know Emma’s family watches.
“Shocking video has emerged of a protest in St. Augustine Florida, where violence erupted.” The blonde anchorwoman is split screen with a shaky video taken on a cell phone showing a large crowd at night, where a group of protesters chants, tubes connecting their arms. As the video loops you see a few fights break out, and a police officer spraying the protesters with pepper spray. I wince, not wanting to imagine how much it hurts.
“Even more shocking,” the anchorwoman continues, “is who was in attendance at this protest. Among the protesters was both the daughter, and widow of Rashad Collins, the lawyer whose death has sparked national outrage.” I almost drop the remote when the screen zooms in on a blurry screencap of Bree’s face, grimacing from the pepper spray. There’s a few more photos, these apparently taken by someone with a high definition camera, that show Bree’s mom pouring a white substance into the protesters eyes.
My phone dings on the table and I nearly jump off the couch. I’d forgotten all about Emma.
“Did you see? Crazy right?? Hopefully this will make your dad look better. Since they’re obviously all criminals.”
Before I can respond both mom and grandma come into the living room, and they see the TV before I can turn it off. Both of them gasp and sit down on the couch, on either sides of me.
When I look over at mom I see that she’s actually smiling. She sees me staring.
“What?” she asks.
“I just…why are you smiling?”
She shakes her head and looks at me like I just asked the world’s dumbest question. “Because this will make your father look better.”
“How? And it’s not like the grand jury can see this. Or at least, they’re not supposed to.”
Grandma Carter grabs the remote and turns up the volume. “Would you look at those animals.”
“Stop it!” I jump up from the couch, surprising everyone, including myself.
“What has gotten into you?” Mom asks, her eyes wide.
“You, you can’t call people animals. It’s wrong. And she lost her father, do you realize that? A classmate of mine lost her father.”
Grandma Carter stands up from the couch. It takes her a couple tries, but she does it all on her own. She moves to wear I’m standing, taking the few steps to close the distance. When she’s far too close for my comfort she reaches out and grabs my wrist.
“Listen to me child. That is my son those animals are attacking, and trying to ruin. You best remember who your kin are, and where you come from. Because it sure as hell isn’t where they come from. And I will not allow you to disrespect your father in my presence.”
For a second I think she might slap me, but she doesn’t. She just turns away, and hobbles back to the kitchen table where she sits, her back to me. When I turn to mom, I don’t know what I’m hoping for. Support, understanding, a hug, maybe just a look that lets me know she doesn’t think I deserve the dressing down I just got. But instead I see her head down, a look of disappointment covering her face. She doesn’t make eye contact with me, but instead walks back to the kitchen to sit with Grandma Carter.
It’s the most alone I’ve felt, since the shooting happened.
Right there, I decide to do the thing I’ve known I’ve needed to, but feared too much to try. I decide to talk to Bree.