On July 17th, the parents of Darrius Stewart, a 19 year old Memphis resident just 2 months away from attending the University of Memphis as he followed his dreams of becoming a doctor, received a phone call saying that Darrius had passed away in the hospital from a bullet wound.
Almost immediately, stories were published and shared globally about their son, describing an altercation with police that left him dead. They explain how he attacked the officers from the back of their police car, unarmed but kicking and grabbing one officer’s handcuffs (note: Stewart was mistaken by the police for a man with multiple warrants from out of state. Stewart himself has never been arrested, although he had been stopped before regarding the same warrants). They write about how the officer was strictly defending himself, and how it was a relief that the officer wasn’t killed in the altercation.
And all the while, the Stewarts were just trying to wrap their heads around the fact that they will never be able to call their son, “Doctor Stewart.” They will never be able to see him start medical school. They will never be able to see him again after his funeral this week.
Think of one of the people in your life whom you deeply love and care about. Your mother, father, a sibling, a close friend— anyone you love wholeheartedly.
You get a phone call from the hospital. You don’t know whether it’s a doctor, a nurse, or a secretary— but it doesn’t matter, because they’ve just told you that this person you’re thinking of has been shot and killed.
What do you feel?
Devastated. Angry. Overwhelmed. Confused. Lost. Sad. Hurt. Broken. Hopeless.
The list would never stop.
If Darrius Stewart was your son, you would want answers. You’d demand a better explanation than, “He reached for his waistband,” “The officer feared for his life,” or “They thought he had a gun.”
When you live in a society where the police kill well over 1000 people a year on average— a number that is steeply increasing year after year— it’s far too easy to grow disillusioned. Seeing “Police kill unarmed black man in [insert state name here]” has become part of our routine.
We see the headlines and we hear the numbers, but we don’t see the hundreds of individual lives being shattered by these avoidable incidents. We don’t see the families of the hundreds of victims trying to put their lives back together when there’s an obvious missing piece.
And we don’t see the possibility of things being any different. We don’t see the fact that this doesn’t have to be the norm anymore.
A society that thrives off of its discriminatory & oppressive socioeconomic system proliferated by police brutality & violence is our reality but it does not have to be our future. Serving and protecting does not have to equate to the justification of the murder of innocent people.
I want you to understand that it is okay and sometimes necessary to question authority.
PLEASE hear my heart in this. I’m not encouraging anarchy. I’m not telling you to go, “F*** the police” and stop respecting your nation’s laws and authority figures.
What I am asking is for you to care. Understand that it is not just okay but absolutely VITAL that we question the system and reveal its flaws if we have any hope of moving forward from here.
The tipping point for a drastic and revolutionary change in policing in North America is upon us, and it needs people— everyday people like you and I— to talk about it. To be the driving force behind it. To acknowledge it and support it and harness its momentum and do everything in our power to prevent it from getting swept under the rug the same way the hundreds and hundreds of deaths of innocent people do every year.
Stay woke. Change is coming, but it needs our help. Do something. Fuel the talk about it. Do anything, just please do not ignore it. It needs you. The hundreds of innocent people who are going to be killed in the coming years by our deeply flawed legal & criminal justice systems need you and they need you now.
Don’t settle. Don’t try to tell me that if your son was killed by the police, you wouldn’t demand more of an answer than, “It was self defence.” Don’t try and tell me you wouldn’t want to prevent anyone else from experiencing the completely avoidable loss of a loved one.
Be real. Be demanding. Be fiercely unapologetic. Be the change.