I felt numb.
When I heard the news. Just the dull, sharp, familiar pain. It was the same feeling I had several days before with the murder of John Crawford, III, another African American man, a son and brother shot by police for “wielding a toy gun” in a Wal-Mart in Ohio[A 1] . Nor did I cry three days later, when Ezell Ford was fatally shot across the country in Los Angeles, CA. Ford, shot while, according to witnesses, he was lying face down on the ground, complying with police. I cried at none of these instances. Ached. But, I didn’t cry. My mind and body too numb, the pain/the ache too familiar. Too settled in my bones.
Perhaps a week or so after Michael Brown was murdered, I finally cried.
The pain, it seemed, hit closer to "home." Then, I found out that, the day after Michael Brown was murdered, a man only only identified as “John Doe,” was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where he lay, unconscious, after being assaulted in Duboce Triangle, steps away from his home. His picture was posted in the paper and he was later identified as Bryan Higgins, or as many in his radical faerie community knew him, Feather. Feather was a husband and like Brown, a son. Unlike Brown, he was gay, white and in his thirties. He had moved—like many of us—to San Francisco from the Midwest, married and made a home for himself in his community, in the city/the area that so many of us queers—at one point or another—call home.
Several days after he was identified by a neighbor and after those who could say goodbye did, his husband and family released him from life support. His murderer, the motive has yet been found.
Finally, I cried.
I cried for days it seemed. A deep, deep cry. More than I cried for Brown, Crawford or Ford—which was none—and more than when I heard about Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson—two Black lesbians, a couple raising Jackson’s son, who were murdered, several months earlier while on a short, weekend vacation in Galveston, TX, close to where they lived. I couldn’t cry then. Couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe.
But, I cried for Bryan Higgins. I cried for Feather.
Maybe I was crying the tears that couldn’t come when Michael Brown—who grew up and lived in a neighborhood that I spent my summers in as a teenager, a fellow Missourian, running the same streets he did as a young, Black girl. Maybe I cried for him and others as I cried for Feather, who I currently share streets, neighborhoods, “community” with. Both Brown and Higgins were someone’s sons. Both of their lives were worthy of tears, were valuable. Both of their deaths were ruthless and cold—left on streets that they knew as home.
As a queer, black woman, I connect with them both.
So, what was it about Feather’s death? The death of a young, white gay man that allowed me to feel the pain, the fear and terror of living in what I consider increasingly dangerous times? Queer times, as it were. Queer in the sense that both Blackness and queerness are highly visible, sometimes-fetishized identities in the public sphere. Ones that have been accepted, celebrated and loved in different ways, but also, clearly reviled.
These questions remind me of Audre Lorde who, in her poem “a litany for survival”--whose words I used for the title of this talk—reminds us that:
“when we are loved we are afraid love will vanish, when we are alone we are afraid love will never return and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent, we are still afraid. So, it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.”
So, I speak today, in an attempt to examine the linkages, the intersections of violence enacted on Black bodies and queer bodies—often, those are the same bodies--but also thinking and speaking about the intersections around community and organizing; around a shared experience of violence and violation. Physical violence, murder in the specificity of the examples of Brown and Higgins (Cosby, Jackson, Crawford, and Ford), but also the physical and social death of everyday life. The physical and social death of community. Particularly, in this time of celebration, visibility, and safety.
[A 1]Just an update, a Grand Jury just found that the police officers were not at fault, this despite protests and a video, also released yesterday that showed Crawford clearly holding a toy gun and, still shot in the back