I watched in horror as the police shooting of Vonderrit Myers unfolded in St. Louis on October 8th, less than two months after the murder of Michael Brown. The Twitter feed had me in tears as I heard the story of another Black child shot by the police. The initial details: he was shot sixteen times by an off-duty police officer who wasn’t in uniform or in a marked car. He was holding a sandwich, and was stopped for a “pedestrian check,” which St. Louis PD has yet to define.
Watching protestors push police out of their neighborhood made my chest tighten, because I know too well that your average person won’t even try to understand the fear and rage causing people to scream. The average person sees an archetype of the “angry black man” that they’ve been unconsciously and consciously spoon fed their entire life. I panicked because most people don’t try to understand, and those protestors weren’t playing nice, but who would when another child just lost their life?
I am a white woman, and I can’t say what it is like to live a life of constant fear of police. I felt sadness. I cried. I ranted about the injustice, but the truth is that I can’t understand the pain of the Myers family. I can’t say what it feels like to have the weight of generations of police brutality on your shoulders. I can say that we are asking the wrong questions when another one of these shootings occurs. We know that our judicial system dehumanizes and locks up Black men (and now women) at inordinate rates to white folks. We know that this system is flawed.
The racists were out trolling the #shawshooting and #16times hashtags with their questions about Vonderrick and his assumed criminal past. They wanted to know why he was out so late, but I propose a different set of questions we should ask every time this happens (some very basic questions that might change the entire trajectory of the conversation):
Does the police officer have a history of excessive force?
Was the police officer in a marked vehicle?
Was the police officer in uniform?
Was the reason used to approach the person illegal?
Does the police department have any type of accountability to an independent organization in police-involved shootings?
Does the composition of the police force, judicial system, and legislature in the area represent the diversity in the community we are dealing with?
The details are still emerging with this case, and I hope with all of my heart that some type of justice is served (it’s difficult to call anything justice when a boy is dead). I hope at the very least that we can start having some meaningful public dialogue about why this is happening all over again every time we turn on the TV.
*This post initially used the name Vonderrick instead of VonDerrit.