Only a few days after my encounter with the police, two patrolmen tackled Alton Sterling onto a car, then pinned him down on the ground and shot him in the chest while he was selling CDs in front of a convenience store, seventy-five miles up the road in Baton Rouge. A day after that, Philando Castile was shot in the passenger seat of his car during a police traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, as his girlfriend recorded the aftermath via Facebook Live.Then, the day after Castile was killed, five policemen were shot dead by a sniper in Dallas. It felt as if the world was subsumed by cascades of unceasing despair. I mourned for the family and friends of Sterling and Castille. I felt deep sympathy for the families of the policemen who died. I also felt a real fear that, as a result of what took place in Dallas, law enforcement would become more deeply entrenched in their biases against black men, leading to the possibility of even more violence.The stream of names of those who have been killed at the hands of the police feels endless and I become overwhelmed when I consider all the names we do not know—all of those who lost their lives and had no camera there to capture it, nothing to corroborate police reports that named them as threats. Closed cases. I watch the collective mourning transpire across my social-media feeds. I watch as people declare that they cannot get out of bed, cannot bear to go to work, cannot function as a human being is meant to function. This sense of anxiety is something I have become unsettlingly accustomed to. The familiar knot in my stomach. The tightness in my chest. But becoming accustomed to something does not mean that it does not take a toll. Systemic racism always takes a toll, whether it be by bullet or by blood clot.
Clint Smith