As one sits through the half hour bulletin and watches the TV screen renew itself with images of Death raking in a bumper harvest across the terrain – ISIS militants upgrading savagery with the playful slitting of throats of people who worship differently in Iraq and Syria ; the symbiotic war of attrition between Israel and Palestine costing cease fires, bomb shells and innocence of children; Boko Haram, the implacable terror retailers of our own neck of the woods filling the divine cup of blood champagne as self ordained butlers of an insatiably thirsty God; and Ebola, the hemorrhagic plague that emerged from hibernating under the darkly shades of the Congo forest to top the global chart of killer diseases , widening ripples of mourning beyond borders of nations, you feel shackled to the role of a witness to the apocalypse. The cosmic clock reads this is a time to die.
On a personal level, the Grim Reaper brought the sickle close two weeks ago. She lived on Cartwright, my street. Her residence was a shout away. One minute of short strides past some tall pines brought me to her doorstep. We were neighbors. And she was a pleasant neighbor you could love as yourself.
Even so, death came close on a far weightier count. Dumebi and I shared a constructive closeness that transcended spatial proximity. We nurtured the nearness of hearts. She was a one human being who warehoused too much good in a frame of clay. The dominant part of her gave the impression she had achieved a quantum leap into the divine. Yet her presence struck the balance between charming simplicity and disarming humility. Her presence rebuked your vanity and offered the comfort of redemption.
And out of the blue, the news of her journey pruned on the famished road broke. My mind became the sober ruminant, regurgitating the encounters with the tame energy that proved capable of diminishing the most daunting challenge, the fertile mind her measured response to your every question revealed, the tender heart that maintained a steady rhythm within her. My imagination balked from willed summon to create the reported scene for my head’s belief. I felt the shock of a live wire.
Slothful money hunters had erected a barricade on the highway to snatch trinkets from wayfarers, the tale says. As mad as desperate, they pulled the trigger. They sent lead pellets. And my friend was the bull’s eye.
As I tried to process the loss of Dumebi over the days, I experienced, in small degrees, a subliminal metamorphosis of soul. I felt my feeler become softer and more vulnerable. I grew progressively perceptive to the imposed bereavement other humans have to struggle to interpret, accept and endure in our days. The proverb was true before now. The remains of the stranger on the bier met the eye as some log of wood. But I have lost Dumebi and the loss of others now impoverishes me.
So my thoughts fly to another death and the death of another on a far flung continent…
Michael was a son to parents who appreciated him as Heaven’s gift to their home. He was young and he carried all the dreams an eighteen year young could demand of the future in the United States. He had graduated from high school and was billed to resume college on August 11.
Michael had friends with whom he pursued company and happiness. They walked into a convenience store in the neighborhood on Saturday, August 9. On their way out, a white policeman trained his gun at him and fired. Michael was unarmed. He was surrendering, his hands in the air.
An autopsy commissioned by the family found that the white policeman was a generous shooter. He shot Michael, at least, half a dozen times. The overwhelmingly white police force concealed the identity of their man until the cameras of the global media huddled together to bestow some shame on them.
The police have, so far, refused to release the state autopsy report or any information about their investigation of what happened during the shooting. They have only managed to release a video footage that suggested Michael had stolen from the store. Many believe it was contrived to provide a distraction.
Michael’s friends swear the police lied. His parents say the police have proceeded to assassinate the character of the assassinated. Accounts of the incident told by Michael’s companions, eyewitnesses and the local police separate like light passed through a prism.
Fragments of truth still lie on that ghastly scene, waiting to be gathered. But I can go out on a limb. And it seems apparent that if you could strip Michael’s murder of the foil of conjectures, one singular unvarnished truth is sure to come into bold relief.
Michael Brown was black.
His shooting adds to a grotesquely familiar culture of white police predation. His bullet-ridden black body increases the tally. Once more , we confront the urgency of deconstructing the excuses that crystallized, in the white policeman’s mind, the valuation (or more precisely, the devaluation) of the black as the expendable citizen. Why does the white policeman with a primed gun automatically yield to a controlling hunter instinct when a black boy comes in view? The six shots, twice in the head and four times in the right arm, confirm a determination to foreclose any chance of survival. Perhaps, the melanin pigment stirs insanity in the mind of an otherwise refined law enforcement officer to murder. Or, there is a hidden essence under the skin of a black boy that taunts a white policeman.
The town of Ferguson has seen the concerted anger of residents. The black community is demanding justice for the spilled blood. Michael’s kith and kin know this death is not only about the fallen. They know his shooting re-echoes the fatality that dogs the steps of the average unarmed black boy walking down the street. They know crying for the dead and not crying against his killer would be tantamount to acquiescing to the normality of the white policeman’s license to perpetuate the pattern of black predation.
Recent episodes of colour coded predator killings and the environment in which it has flourished tarnishes the vaunted civilization of an America that put Barack Obama in the Oval Office and retained the selfsame black man to lead the world’s greatest country for a second term. The United States have explored the space and probed the secrets of other planets. She has shared her inventions and life saving medicines with other lands. But the advancement that would prove her true character is in exposing racism and meting out justice when a Cain kills another colour.
Like in the past, the US court system may choreograph a trial true to type. The white policeman will face a white jury. A well oiled campaign may rise to kick start the business of converting us to the narrative that says Michael’s murderer was the authentic victim. And the ruling will free him of culpability.
Michael Brown will cross to the other side of time with the bullet wounds that drained him of lifeblood and breath. And I imagine Martin Luther King Jr. and other a score of other black boys wasted by colour hate will shudder when they see it hasn’t ended yet.
Closer home, we often witness and mourn murders like Michael Brown’s.
Shootings happen here for a reaon other than prejudice of skin colour. In our country, a policeman feels entitled to extort a naira note of a certain colour.
We often read in the dailies of the policeman at the checkpoint who answers the refusal of an audacious road user to drop twenty naira with a fatal gunshot .The victim bleeds into eternity. The family blames the foolhardiness of the deceased, accepts the tragedy as an act of God and digs a grave. The policeman resumes his armed extortion after a week at another checkpoint. And he is more likely to return more invidious, apt to threaten he would shoot you and nothing will happen.
In Ferguson, Missouri, the residents are asking questions and demanding answers. They are affirming the humanity of the dead and stimulating the conscience of the nation. They are drawing a line in the sand. The law of inertia also applies in societal dynamics.
We must take a leaf from the ferment of Ferguson. We must shirk the paradigm of fatalism that excuses and absolves the trigger happy Nigerian policeman when he wastes a soul in the middle of the road. The no-show of the green of twenty naira does not have to precipitate the gush of red blood. And if or when a demented policeman turns the gun on a law abiding citizen, a sense of collective bereavement should provoke us to strip the murderer of his badge and judge him by the law he broke.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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