It's Time For Real Talk About Hopelessness

Photo: Crutcher Family/Parks & Crump, LLC/ AP Photo.
Terence Crutcher with his twin sister Tiffany. Crutcher, an unarmed Black man was killed by a white Oklahoma officer on September 16.
It happened again. This week, two Black men went from living, breathing human beings to hashtags. And yet, despite all I hear about hashtag activism, I'm troubled by how few people I see actually mentioning these men by name at all. Where are all the hashtags?

Terence Crutcher used to be a father, a brother, and a community college student. His life mattered. But on Friday night in Tulsa, OK, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by police. He didn't have a weapon. He appeared to be complying with commands. And now he's gone.

Video of the shooting was released on Monday night — I refused to watch because at a certain point watching these last moments of a Black person's life is voyeuristic and not vindicating. That video reportedly showed Crutcher with his hands up in the air before he was shot. This video is what immortalizes Crutcher's transformation from a man to a hashtag, now shared in rage, sadness, and solidarity on social media.

Here's the truth: Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott are just the latest Black men to have their lives and legacies reduced to hashtags.

Keith Lamont Scott used to be a father of seven and a husband. According to his family, Scott lived with a disability. But on Tuesday night in Charlotte, NC, police said the 43-year-old man sitting in his car "posed an imminent deadly threat." He was shot and killed by police. His family claims that he was not holding a weapon, but rather a book.

His death sparked protests in the city. And he, too, has become a hashtag shared in rage, sadness, and solidarity.

But here's the truth: Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott are only the latest Black men to have their lives and legacies reduced to hashtags. As such, this isn't the first time media outlets have shared the brutal video of these people's last moments on Earth. This isn't the first time I've been angry or upset. And worse yet is the resignation I feel knowing that it won't be the last time this happens.
Photo: Mike Simons/ Tulsa World/ AP Photos.
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, left, comforts Tiffany Crutcher, twin sister of Terence Crutcher, who was shot and killed by Tulsa police Friday night.
But perhaps you've noticed, too, the relative social media silence surrounding Crutcher and Scott's deaths. Maybe they've been drowned out by the latest blows in this hate-filled presidential campaign; or maybe the very conscious uncoupling of Brangelina has just trumped all else. But when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed, my entire feed was filled with gruesome imagery — each man's death playing out in a horrifying loop before my eyes. But this time seems different.

Some, myself included, have decided to refrain from posting any videos. Mostly because it's jarring, it's awful, and it's unnecessary to see Black people dying again and again. It can even cause PTSD. If statistics and statements from sobbing children, parents, and widows cannot convince you that we have a problem in this country, what can? Why do you need to see the violence to believe it exists, and in fact, pervades our society?

But for others, I suspect the silence on social media comes from a different, more troubling place: hopelessness. I know it all too well. I feel it every time I see stories like these.

First comes the anger. Because it keeps happening. How many times do we need to lay out comprehensive plans for reform in police departments? How many times do we need to discuss that the police officers' reactions show racial bias? How many times do we have to show the disproportionate number of people of color being killed by police each year? Apparently, again and again and again.

We live in a country that criticizes men like Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem, but doesn't bat an eyelash when there's an obvious epidemic of systemic violence.

Next comes the fear. Because Keith Lamont Scott could be my uncle or cousin. Terence Crutcher could be my father. That could be my dad experiencing car trouble on the side of the road. My dad is a large man, standing over 6 feet tall.

Maybe someone will look at my father and think, "That dude looks bad" just like the officers assumed in Tulsa. Maybe they'll let their bias turn a friendly man into something inhuman, something dangerous, something that can only be extinguished with brutal force.

Then comes the helplessness. This thought crosses my mind after I've read the 100th tweet written by men and women of color who are filled to the brim with emotions: What can I do? What is there left to say? Is there anything we can really do? What other conclusion is there when you see the persistent killing of people of color for generations in the nation of your birth? What else is there to think other than, I might not be safe in my own home or neighborhood?

It's easier to pretend it's not happening. Easier to skip posting something about it on Facebook this time around. Why? Because it buries the pain.

We live in a country that criticizes men like Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem, but doesn't bat an eyelash when there's an obvious epidemic of systemic violence. And that makes me feel hopeless.

It always ends in the same place: hopelessness. Eventually, I find myself in tears, alone in my bedroom, unable to vocalize just what I'm feeling to anyone. Unable to say it, in part, because saying it all out loud just makes it more real, more painful.

It's easier to pretend it's not happening. Easier to skip posting something about it on Facebook this time around. Easier to talk about Brangelina or whatever celebrity news is happening that day. Why? Because it buries the pain.

But pain and hopelessness are not good excuses for inaction when people are dying.

So, let me ask this of my friends, family, and colleagues: Please, don't ignore Terence Crutcher's death. Or Keith Lamont Scott's. Or the next. Or the next. Make every single human life count.

It hurts so badly it makes you yearn for numbness — trust me, I know. I yearn for it constantly, hoping that by going through day-to-day motions it becomes less real. But that's not an option when people are dying. Not when we have so much progress to push for. Not when we're still longing for justice.

So instead, I'm asking you to suffer. Get angry. Sob. Yell. Whatever it is you need to do. Share that article, tweet about the facts, have that uncomfortable conversation with a friend or relative.

My father always says that doing the right thing is hard, if you let it be. The right thing is to protest. The right thing is to speak out. The right thing is to force everyone around you to say his — or her — name. The right thing to do is to go through it every single time — through every single stage — even though it hurts.

Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott became hashtags this week. Use them.

Ally Hickson is an associate editor at Refinery29. The views expressed here are her own.

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