When I dreamed of being a journalist way back at Longfellow Middle School in Detroit, Michigan, I never imagined that there would be days where I would simply want to throw the whole proverbial typewriter in the trash. Mr. Laramie was my Journalism teacher at Longfellow in the late 1970s. He didn’t have a journalism class per se; it was a journalism club. Mr. Laramie taught history. But his journalism club was fun and informative. Every week, one club member would be selected to read the morning announcements and news over the school PA system. Now there were requirements that had to be met in order to be selected. The individual would need to be a “strong writer” (Mr. Laramie’s favorite expression), have up-to-date information regarding current events, and more importantly, be reliable and factual. Current events in the ’70s classroom meant reading the newspaper every day and cutting out the articles that you read. At the end of the school week, you would have a total of ﬁve news clippings to turn in.
Now there was a way to get around this little assignment. Some students purchased news clippings from other students for 10 cents to a quarter and Mr. Laramie knew this, so in journalism club, he would ask for a brief synopsis of each article. Nine times out of ten, the student would not know what the meat and potatoes were about the article and for this scheme, would not be picked for the morning announcements gig. Needless to say, I never ran into that problem. I loved to read and both my parents and grandparents had subscriptions to The Detroit News and The Michigan Chronicle newspapers. My clippings usually centered around Mayor Coleman Young and the Detroit City Council or national news featuring President Jimmy Carter. Whenever Mr. Laramie would ask me what my ﬁve articles were about, well, let’s just say that I found myself in the news reporter seat quite regularly.
While I was selective in the type of news articles I read and cut out of the paper, there were certain truths that were a constant in the daily news, and in my neighborhood. The killings of young African American men and police brutality. When Young became mayor of Detroit in 1974, he vowed to clean up the predominantly White racist and deadly Detroit Police Department, which to his credit he did. However, police brutality did not necessarily end just because the ethnicity of the person behind the shield changed. I had personally witnessed incidents of brutality at school. Incidents of police manhandling and slamming a Black middle-school-aged male onto the cold concrete were not foreign to my eyes. As I made my way to Central High School in the early ’80s, the streets surrounding the massive school complex, Tuxedo, Elmhurst, and Linwood, were ripe for clashes between the elements and the police. The racial component had changed; there was something about that police uniform that warped the person wearing it.
Then came the moment when police brutality touched my life personally. My best friend and her mother decided to take care of some banking one afternoon on the Eastside of Detroit in the spring of 2002. They were practicing Muslims and both wore the hijab, which is a head covering, but Ruby’s mother wore a complete burka, which is all-black and covers the entire body with only an opening for the eyes. The bank clerk became alarmed and pushed the button for the police. When the police arrived, the pair were assaulted, thrown on the ground, struck in the back and head repeatedly and degraded by having their hijabs removed. Hours later after discovering that my best friend and her mother were not terrorists, they were released from custody. A lawsuit followed and they were awarded nearly a million dollars from the city.
None of the police ofﬁcers involved, all African American, were ﬁred. I guess you can see where I am going with this. Yes, there is a real problem of racist ofﬁcers going murderously wild across the country. We saw it with Rodney King on video in 1991, and again with George Floyd in 2020 on video. Then we must consider all the other incidents of brutality and death due to lethal force by police that were not captured on video but litigated in cities throughout the U.S. for billions of settlement dollars.
We the people and citizens of local municipalities are coming out of our pockets to compensate for the injuries, mental anguish, trauma and deaths caused by the police. But the truly unfortunate head-shaking thing is that our own skin folk would take on the same inhumane nature of their White counterparts behind the shield. The video of Tyre Nichols, which I only watched a snippet of, being savagely beaten by his own brethren, who supposedly pledged to dedicate their lives to protect and serve the Memphis community, is something other than heartbreaking. It is something unholy, otherworldly, and supernaturally evil, and at the same time an indictment of those in opposition to police reform. It pains and shocks me each time a Black man or Black woman is brutally beaten or killed at the hands of police. It hurts in general when anyone loses their life at the hands of another human for whatever the reason. It’s frustrating.
Yet here we are. Another loss of life. Another video. Another mother on television saying amidst her tears that she would not wish her pain on any other mother. Another newscaster crying. Another police chief reading a carefully drafted statement. Another protest. Another interview with Ben Crump. Another morning of me worrying and praying that my sons make it home alive. Another day of me wanting to throw my laptop out of the window. All I can do is remember my “why” and it began back in Mr. Laramie’s journalism club. So my laptop remains safe … this time.