A Letter for My Nephew Who Could Have Been Mike Brown

By David Dennis, Jr.

We’ve taught you to avoid certain parts of town, dangerous scenarios and situations where you’ll be in the middle of gang violence. I don’t feel like you’ll be one of those statistics.

But what you can’t avoid is a police officer gunning you down because of the color of your skin. There’s no way you can escape it. Police officers are everywhere and if one decides to murder you, there’s nothing you can do and I can’t even promise there will be justice. You can be walking from a night class and a cop can approach you to empty your pockets and wonder why you have a spray can. You can explain to him that it’s for your art class and when you go to show him your student ID, he shoots you. Once. Twice. Eight times. Fifteen times.

Then, after you die, your life will be combed through for any way to justify your murder. That funny picture you took with your hoodie on and a scowl when you were trying to pretend you were intimidating? That picture will be the one they use on every publication. If your twitter account has any curse words or silly high school comments, it’ll scroll across every broadcast in America. If anyone ever accused you of having a temper, they’ll be interviewed to explain how it was possible for you to attack a police officer, warranting your death. This will be your legacy. A Black boy who deserved to die because he lived. A teenager who America gets to peg as a “thug” who doesn’t get basic rights because he took a picture flipping the bird in ninth grade.

I know you’ve been raised to go about life differently than your white classmates. You’ve been taught to keep your hands out of your pockets when you’re at the drug store. Never to ask questions or speak too much when approached by a cop. Hoodies off at night no matter the weather. You can’t be a child or immature in public because any mistake you make is an indictment on your life and an excuse for someone to shoot you.

We’ve taught you to expect these things and had to teach you the reality of being a Black man in the face of a police force that doesn’t care if you live or die. But I didn’t think it’d get this bad. Vigilantes are running out of excuses and we’re running out of patience. Dr. King once said that “a riot is the language of the unheard,” and the more our voices are silent the worse this will get.

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