Baltimore Is Not Ferguson; Freddie Gray Is Not Michael Brown
It is not difficult to witness what’s happening in Baltimore, Maryland right now and immediately think of Ferguson, Missouri. Or New York City. Or Cleveland, Ohio. Or Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Or perhaps even Los Angeles in 1992. The parallels are obvious; heartbreakingly, evisceratingly, surreally obvious. So obvious are these similarities that it does not take much effort to congeal each of these circumstances. Because much of what is happening in Baltimore right now just happened in Milwaukee. And much of what happened in Milwaukee just happened in Ferguson.
So instead of devising new solutions, crafting new prayers, feeling new sorrows, tempering new rage, and cultivating new ways to process this all and do something other than stare at your TV screen in shock, just repeating what you’ve already done — word for word; feeling for feeling — feels natural. Practical, even. It would be prudent to just write the exact same piece you did eight months ago, with “Baltimore” in place of “Staten Island.” Wise to give the same speech you did two years ago, but with “Maryland” substituted for “Florida.” Reasonable to cry the exact same tears you did for Rekia Boyd’s family, but Freddie Gray’s instead.
And it would be the worst thing you can do.
Because Freddie Gray wasn’t Eric Garner. And Eric Garner wasn’t Rekia Boyd. And Rekia Boyd wasn’t John Crawford III. And John Crawford III wasn’t Michael Brown. And Michael Brown wasn’t Eric Harris. And Eric Harris wasn’t Walter Scott. And Walter Scott wasn’t Laquan McDonald. And Laquan McDonald wasn’t Lavall Hall. And Lavall Hall wasn’t Jason Harrison. And Jason Harrison wasn’t Brandon Jones. And Brandon Jones wasn’t Ernest Satterwhite. And Ernest Satterwhite wasn’t Anthony Hall. And Anthony Hill wasn’t Tony Robinson. And Tony Robinson wasn’t Tamir Rice. And Tamir Rice wasn’t Tanisha Anderson. And Tanisha Anderson wasn’t James Howard Allen. And James Howard Allen wasn’t Akai Gurley. And Akai Gurley wasn’t Ezell Ford. And Ezell Ford wasn’t Rumain Brisbon. And Rumain Brisbon wasn’t Darrien Hunt. And Darrien Hunt wasn’t VonDerritt Myers Jr. And VonDerritt Myers Jr wasn’t Aiyana Stanley-Jones. And Aiyana Stanley-Jones wasn’t Luis Rodriguez. And Luis Rodriguez wasn’t Ramarley Graham. And Ramarley Graham wasn’t Jonathan Ferrell. And Jonathan Ferrell wasn’t Jack Lamar Roberson. And Jack Lamar Roberson wasn’t Kimani Gray. And Kimani Gray wasn’t Anna Brown. And Anna Brown wasn’t Oscar Grant. And Oscar Grant wasn’t Trayvon Martin.
Each of these people were people. Loving, reckless, optimistic, sincere, manipulative, sensitive, funny, lazy, talented, weak, introverted, ambitious and every other uniquely human quality existing in each of us. They did not exist to become a narrative. Or perhaps a lede to a story. Or maybe even a policy change. They existed to exist. Not to not exist. Not to be written with a dry erase marker and erased with a closed fist when a new name, a new cause, appears. Perhaps we made them into means, but they existed as ends.
Because Darrien Hunt — who was shot four times in the back — had just turned 22. He was into anime cosplay. His mother’s name is Susan. Rekia Boyd, also 22 when shot in the back of the head by Chicago detective Dante Servin, had eight brothers and seven sisters and was known for being “light-hearted.” Ernest Satterwhite, the 68-year-old great-grandfather shot to death after a slow-speed chase as he parked in his own driveway, was a former mechanic. 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson, who battled schizophrenia before dying facedown while an officer’s knee was in her back, graduated from East High School in Cleveland.
These are minor details of these people’s lives. But minor doesn’t mean insignificant. They are part of the collection of characteristics and traits distinguishing us from each other. Our humanity exists in this minutiae. And this is what we — the people currently feeling anything about what’s happening in Baltimore — need to remember. And if remembering doesn’t work, make notes to remind ourselves to remind ourselves. Freddie Gray and Michael Brown may have died under similar circumstances. And the images and videos and stories coming out of Baltimore this week might be similar to those that came out of Ferguson last summer. But Freddie Gray is not Michael Brown. He was a human being who lived and loved and died uniquely, and this uniqueness must extend to how we mourn and remember and write about and pray for and march for him.
So cry new tears. Write new words. Craft new prayers. Attend new marches. Channel new anger. Feel it all again. Every bit of it. All the empathy, all the sorrow, all the rage. Don’t fight it. Let it permeate you. Embrace its engulf. Because Freddie Gray deserves it. Baltimore deserves it. You deserve it. Do not allow them to desensitize you to the uniqueness and preciousness of our lives, to the beauty of being alive, and do not permit them to rob you of the agony of them being snatched away.
And when it happens again — and it will happen again — when another police-involved killing of an unarmed person of color turns a city upside down, do it all again.