Like American slave movies and award shows, people do not want to see the rehashing of George Floyd’s death in the Derek Chauvin trial. But, mainstream media must feast off of it once again.
Three years ago, I nodded to a group of young black men in their late teens and early 20s as I made a run to the beauty supply store off of 120th and Broadway. The guys were kicking it in their cars in a South Los Angeles cul de sac by my sisters’ home, playing some random hip hop and at peace.
The smell of potent cannabis scented the air. A regular aroma due to the state’s lenient laws on marijuana use, in our pocket of the concrete labyrinth, a joint is called a California cigarette. So I sniffed then smiled to myself, thinking about my youth in this neighborhood as I jumped in my car.
My trip was about 20 to 25 minutes. Maneuvering quickly through dips in the road to slow down speeding cars like mine, I had to be quick because my mother had a taco dinner waiting for me before I packed to head back to New Jersey on a red eye flight. Luckily, I knew these streets all too well, so I zoomed east to get some more synthetic hair at one of the many corner beauty shops servicing Blacks, but owned by Koreans. Though the packs of altered plastic fiber were overpriced, I grabbed six of them so my sister could finish braiding my coif.
But, before I made it back to Amara’s house, I had to get another taste of my Los Angeles. Rather than heading back on a 120th, I detoured to Gardena to get a lavender latte at a favorite Korean cafe in Gardena off of Western. It was my fourth home years before because I frequented it a lot when I wrote my dissertation.
When I finally made it back to my sister’s, the end of her block was impassable. Multiple cop cars and LA County Sheriffs surrounded the young men I’d greeted less than an hour before. I clenched up and readied myself for the unpredictable.
In the era of Black Lives Matter, the re-ignited code says that you watch the whole process of a police stop or search of Black and Brown people to ensure that those who are detained are not brutalized or killed. Sad, I know, but it is true. With a sigh and packs of fake light brown hair under one arm, and a to-go cup in my hand, I quietly walked towards the round up sipping my latte to hold back my growing trembling.
One officer, a black one, was grilling a couple of the young men sitting on the curb. I yelled to the kids, “You don’t have to tell them anything, but your name.”
“What the hell was I thinking?” I thought. I wasn’t sure if that was the correct advice on their Constitutional rights.
An officer almost got whiplash the way he turned then bee-lined to me. He asked who I was and if I knew the young men. Not listening to my own damn advice, I told him I was a professor, a journalist and used to work closely with LA County Sheriffs when I managed several county park pools.
I also said that these were some good guys from around the community who were just having some leisure time. I think I might’ve said I taught a few of them how to swim. When you go through trauma, sometimes you forget details.
The officer said that one of them had a warrant or something. I knew it was bogus, but I thanked him and told him that I would remain where I was.
Before I blurted out to the young men, I now recognize my actions. When I saw them sitting, powerless like roped cattle, I experienced a rapid flood of painful remembering. Before my eyes flashed multiple times in which I saw some form of police misconduct or brutality. Like when Fareed was being beaten in the back of his house by Los Angeles police officers. His screams pierced the walls in his cries for help.
Or the countless nights seeing Black and Latinx men sitting on curbs, handcuffed as the police ransacked their cars to find nothing. The detained slowly got up, grabbed their licenses looking pissed and dejected as they straightened their clothes then reorganized their cars. Sometimes, they had children, or parents, or significant others with them, standing on the sidelines pale with fear
The helplessness you feel. The rage bubbling from your soul when witnessing a regular act of racialized injustice. That is the urge that made me do something, anything in that moment. My yell was to let them know I was there. To remain calm, but encourage them that I served as support and an eyewitness if need be.
While watching, I could see some of the young men were bone-deep scared. I was so infuriated and nervous that I drank my latte in three of four gulps, but faked that I was still downing the beverage. My phone had run out of juice, but I acted like I was recording the whole ordeal.
In the midst of keeping an hawk’s eye on the police officers who went through the detainees’ cars, they continued to ask more questions. Defiantly, I repeated my advice. “You don’t have to tell them anything, but your name.”
At some point, I realized that women who lived in the apartment complex behind me had been standing on their back porches, some of them also filming the event. My internal sigh was deep because I don’t know what would have happened if it were just me, those young men and the cops.
About 10 minutes later, they let those guys go. But the most part I remember so vividly was one of the young men who I asked if he was okay. His response, “I need to call my mom.” He phoned her as he walked away from me. I can still hear the teen’s loud, painful sob as he talked to his mother who repeatedly offered words to soothe his disrupted peace.
. . . .
To this day, I never watched George Floyd’s murder by Minnesota office Derek Chauvin with onlooking accomplices Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao. Most people I’ve interviewed have not either. They cannot finish watching death.
In a recent “This is Us” episode, I heard the cry that everyone remarked on. It was Mr. Floyd’s cry to his mother right before he died. The plea and the pain reminds me of that young man on that day those kids were wrangled up. The youth turned out to be a kid in college, chilling with his friends from home. His breakdown was profound, but I understood. It was the first encounter with death at the hands of police. The cry of Mr. Floyd would be his last.
It baffles me how the scene of Mr. Floyd dying is on repeat. Once again, it circulates on the news with updates on the Derek Chauvin trial. But not just there. Mr. Floyd’s death has been featured on fictitious shows, talk shows, and even on reality TV. I’ve never witnessed such a phenomenon, to replay a murder as seemingly an act of justice on the very media channels that profit from it.
As people replay bits of the trial on social media, it re-triggers a place where the world sat in horror, disgust and frustration less than a year ago. Again, people are expressing profound agony and anger. Like me, I know they have memories of bones and blood in their current-day trauma. As we’re still recalibrating, many of us have yet to grieve, let alone, grieve for the hundreds of thousands who have died in the pandemic.
Yet and still, Mr. Floyd’s death is Black matter made for good TV.
When I started Ark Republic, one of the hard guidelines in our style guide is that we do not show dead bodies, or gross mistreatment with the exception of extreme cases. That is because in my research, nobody wants to see people who look like them get brutalized, maimed or killed. That also goes for Black people.
In my research on why Black people in the US watched Nigerian movies, several answers kept emerging. I interviewed my subjects between Trayvon Martin’s death and Michael Brown’s. Between their murders, many other names circulated in the online obituaries and GoFundMe pages. Over, and over, many of my study’s subjects said that they were exhausted by American media glorifying and broadcasting police murders on the news on one hand. In another way, they grew weary and frustrated by frequent representations of Black people, especially men, as social degenerates.
One interviewee said, “In Nollywood you don’t just have Black people as the criminals. You have judges, cops, lawyers and doctors, all played by Black people. That’s the world that I live in. Now the cops and judges might be corrupt or bad characters, but at least they are not criminals. I’m tired of seeing that all the time.”
Sadly, in this shift and what people are calling the “reimagining” it is evident that how they see us remains consistent: subjects at the disposal of capital gain. Right now, as independent talks shows and podcasts on different streaming devices clearly show that audiences want more and deserve more, mainstream media and its top editors still direct stations and stories attempting to repurpose tired, old practices of recycling racist views. Now, in many cases with a BIPOC face. To me, that will be their undoing in becoming a welcomed memory in a new world.
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