I haven’t written anything like this in a while. Not because state sanctioned violence against black and brown bodies magically ceased, but because my spirit grew so weary with every hashtagged corpse memorialized on social media and criminalized in the news that I had to take a mental health break.
5 years ago after Trayvon Martin was killed by neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman igniting the #blacklivesmatter movement, President Barack Obama held a press conference where he famously lamented that, “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.” It was a defining moment in the Obama presidency. The nation’s first black President who, up until then, steered as far away from the topic of race in America as he possibly could – gave a deeply personal, unscripted account of his experience of discrimination as a black man in the United States and for the first time during his tenure, black America felt like our president was black, not just in skin but in lived experience.
5 years later and I’ve lost count of the number of black boys, not men, whose lives have been senselessly cut short without legal recourse for their killers – police included. The latest victim is Jordan Edwards, a 15 year old boy enjoying a night out with his brother and friends near Dallas. They were reportedly leaving a house party that had gotten out of hand when a bright light and multiple gunshots pierced their vehicle, striking and killing passenger Jordan Edwards in the head.
That light, and those gunshots came from Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver responding to the scene, who shot his rifle into a moving car full of young boys that posed no threat to him, resulting in the death of a teenager and the arrest of his brother who were exactly where they were supposed to be – doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.
Officer Oliver has since been terminated, but that no longer is enough. The damage has already been done. Jordan, the youngest of 333 people shot and killed by police in 2017, isn’t coming back. It’s time to terminate the culture of shoot first and ask questions later before someone else’s son – my unborn son even – finds himself on the wrong end of justice. Because if I had a son he’d look like Jordan.
In fact, Jordan Edwards was me when I was 15.
I am Jordan Edwards.
I was a straight A student who stayed out of trouble and was loved by my peers. You could usually find me wearing a fresh polo shirt with a brush in my pocket to keep my hair nice and wavy. And yes, I loved to go to parties to dance and kid with my friends because that’s what kids do. Sometimes we ended up at places where things got out of hand, much like the house party that Jordan and friends attended. And like Jordan and his friends we never stuck around in those situations to see how they might end, except we were allowed to leave and live.
And because I survived – because I was allowed to live – I got the opportunity to be my high school class president in one breath, and advisor to the President of the United States in another. I was able to go to college on a full scholarship and then study science and medicine at a top 20 research institution, and I’ve lived long enough to be named top 40 under 40 in my field. Because I survived I got a chance to live abroad for a year and travel the world many more years over.
And so I was given the opportunity to thrive. But even if I hadn’t done any of those things – even if Jordan didn’t grow up to do any of those things – I grew up. I got that chance.
He did not.
Jordan will not know what it feels like to grow into his voice and his body as a man. He will not know what it feels like to be in love and to be heartbroken. He will never experience the birth of his first child. He will never be able to share the wisdom that comes with aging with a mentee. He will never.
You see, the tragedy is not that a “good” kid’s life was cut short. The tragedy is not that a straight-laced straight-A student athlete is dead. The tragedy isn’t even that a kid who had done everything right was killed by police for doing nothing wrong.
The tragedy is that a 15 year old boy – son, brother, friend – is dead. Full stop.
Had Jordan been a poor student with disciplinary problems he still did not deserve to die.
Had he done everything wrong in life up until that moment, he still did not deserve to die.
Had he gone on to be America’s Most Wanted, he still did not deserve to die.
Had the vehicle he was riding in actually been “aggressively” backing down the road in the direction of police officers as was first reported, Jordan still did not deserve to be gunned down like big game being hunted in the wild.
He deserved to be allowed to live and make mistakes, and learn from them just as I’ve been allowed to do. Jordan deserved to be whatever amount of future success or failure he was destined for just as I’ve been allowed to be.
Jordan deserved to be me. He deserved to just be. And that opportunity along with many others has been taken away from him.
Today I am Jordan Edwards, but right now I wish Jordan Edwards was me.
#iAmJordan #JordanEdwards #JusticeforJordan #blacklivesmatter #UBtheCURE