I went to bed with a half-written post on the Philando Castile shooting, opting not to include the Alton Sterling shooting because Adrastos had already covered it. Within five minutes of my head hitting the pillow, I got update after update from various news sources that multiple police officers had been shot and killed in Dallas during a peaceful protest.
More died during the night. What’s worse, is more and more and more of us will die in the days to come as our country reaches a spasmic crescendo of anger, fear and violence.
We argue these days about who owns the “lives matter” movement. “Black Lives Matter” started after the George Zimmerman acquittal and became a rallying call and social media zeitgeist during 2014, as it seemed we couldn’t go more than a few days without a cop killing and unarmed black man.
Others co-opted the concept with “All Lives Matter,” trying to show equality but actually just perpetuating the tone-deafness that is majority privilege. Police picked it up as “Blue Lives Matter,” in the wake of several murders of police officers.
And on and on it went.
Sadly, no. They don’t.
We are going through “lives” like a third-grader with a cold goes through Kleenex.
We don’t have enough time to fixate on one random shooting before another one occurs. Can anybody name the last black guy shot by a cop prior to Alton Sterling?
A few names stick out over time: Eric Gardner. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown.
Other than that it’s “Wait, why does that name sound familiar?”
How I know life has changed in this regard is because I still remember the name Ernest Lacy. When I was growing up in Milwaukee, his name was everywhere after police arrested him while on the lookout for a rape suspect. He died in a police van shortly after that.
Everyone who was in Milwaukee during that era knew that name. It was the symbol of racial inequality and police brutality. Year after year, his name came up, as protests took place and people filed lawsuits.
It’s been 35 years and I still know his name.
But the last black guy a cop killed before Sterling? Nope.
If “All Lives Mattered,” I’d be able to recall the name and age of every single kid killed in Newtown. I’d have a memory of each of their school pictures burned into my head forever.
When I was a night cops guy, I got sent out to cover a lot of death and mayhem.
Dead kids were always the worst. I still remember the name and age of every dead kid I covered. In some cases, I can see my article in the paper as it was laid out in the print edition.
I can recite them and recall them and when I do, I feel the same gut-wrenching feeling I felt all those years ago as a 22-year-old reporter.
I can’t remember the Newtown names. Or the Jonesboro names. Or even those at Northern Arizona, Northern Illinois or Virginia Tech.
The names I remember are those of the shooters. Maybe. About half the time.
Life is such a wonderfully abstract concept. It’s clinical and yet it’s metaphorical all at the same time. You can clinically live a long time and yet have “no life.” You can “live life to the fullest,” even if you die far too young. Life sits in front of “liberty” and “property” and “the pursuit of happiness” in some of our most basic and treasured documents, even though this recent spate of shootings tells us that those words aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
I hate thinking like this, as fatalism isn’t my bailiwick. I’d like to think that whenever I die, I will have mattered at some point to someone or something. I’d like to think that some people somewhere will hold a memory of me in a way that shows what I did had some value and that whatever ended my life, be it old age or something much more severe, will give rise to thoughts of who I was and what I did.
And yet, what I see every day just reinforces the idea that no lives truly matter, but to a few people who know those who are gone and a spate of people who see the loss as emblematic of a larger concern.
Do me and all the rest of us a favor.
Find a way to prove me wrong, each and every day.
Find a life that matters. Then two. Then three.
Maybe if we can interlink those circles of “important” lives, we can “Six Degrees of Separation” this chaos into a better version of all of us.
And maybe then life will matter.