Dear Alton,

I’m not sure what it is about you. Maybe it’s because your smile reminds me of the first guy that ever asked me to dance at 4-H camp back in the day, or because your shy eyes remind me of the dude I used to tutor in math back in school…Maybe it’s because it happened in my back yard or maybe it’s because you’ve spent the last 6 years doing what I’ve been trying to do myself, peddling CDs.

I don’t know what it is but you are familiar to me and I’m sad about what happened to you. There have been so many lost since you were taken, and I’m mad at myself for not doing a better job of saying all the names. I’ve been avoiding that exercise because I’ve been afraid it would induce a hopelessness in me that I can’t afford to indulge. There’s a new name on everyone’s tongues, and with it has come a potentially cleansing fury, but only time will show us if the fury will beget lasting transformation.

With all that said, I want to tell you that I to am angry. I admit it. I don’t say that often, because I’ve been waiting for that feeling to point me towards some meaningful, constructive action. I don’t want to get swept up in the fray of the angry mob, but it’s truly baffling to imagine what can be done when the protectors of the people behave as terrorists.

I must ask, is every black person in a public space who is stopped by police and who asks what they’ve done wrong expected to be treated as Alice’s Sofia in the marketplace? Are they trying to make sure we understand that our liberty is as tenuous as that? How is it that even now, our lives are on the line in every interaction? How are any of us supposed to continue in this fashion? Everyone in the community is terrorized by these bloody acts. Do you not see that?!

If I had the ear of one who intended to kill me or my brother or my cousin or my friend on the street for no other reason than for disregarding our humanity I would say things like:

“We are squeezed. Do you get that? We are all squeezed. You, me, our families, all of us. We have no jobs, we have no money, we only have our hustles and our illusions of personal sovereignty. We have our feeble attempts at dignity, we have our days to endure, some of us have hope.

In the context of this squeeze, birthing it, feeding it, nurturing it even, we have our legacy of dismissal, of betrayal, of rampant degradation. The end result is that we, the black and brown people I know, have been trained not to look you in the eye, so you, the terrorists performing these acts, have been trained to panic as we organically begin to lift our gaze.

Please, please, please learn to meet our eyes. You will find kindness there. Awkwardness, patience. Fear. You will also find pride, joy, and laughter. You will find us lost and found with triumph and struggles guided by old wisdom. And yes, you will likely find a tired, broken perplexed heart, for who can truly reconcile the expendable nature of life that belongs to the assumed pariah.

Understand me when I say we don’t see what you see. When we meet ourselves in the mirror, and brush our golden grills, we see another day and hope for another dollar. We see the heat of our grind ahead of us, which we will endure by way of talking trash with someone familiar, and vindicate it in the embrace that might await us…from a loved one……or a child……when we return safely home.

Forgive us when we sometimes forget to fear you. Even though we have a well protected constitutional right to bear arms, I do not see us pointing these armaments at you. It is our natural awareness of our identity outside of our fear of you that seems to get us killed, but I promise you, the black and brown people I know have no interest in killing you with the humanity in our eyes. Mos-times, we just wanna sell our CDs.”

Alton, I am angry. I don’t know why I feel like I know you, and I don’t know why I’m choosing to tell whoever is reading this that I will miss you. I don’t know how it’s gonna turn around, but one day soon, these lynchings will cease. I am so sorry this happened to you. I am so sorry it happened to the people in your community. Maybe by sharing this, someone skillful and wise will tell me what I can do.

-me, lil’e, the cd woman

P.S. Here’s one of the songs that came through when you were taken. I hope your wings find wind with it.