Rating: 5 Stars
I don't even know where to start. I have the sense, however, to recognize that nothing I say about this book, with all its accolades and honors, can even come close to expressing how amazing and beautiful and heartbreaking it is. We may only be twenty days into the new year, but it is easily my #1 book of 2019.
I read this one in a matter of a few hours and cried more than a few times. The end though, the list of names, and so many more not listed that we don't even know about, it's too much. Philando Castile's name especially, always gets me. I never thought that could happen in my city, my state. And I cried because I am a teacher in a school that is predominantly African-American, my room is part of the Behavior Skills Program where many of our students are African-American (and usually boys, though we have had a handful of girls as well) that my paraprofessionals and I can only protect for so long. Once they leave 5th grade and go on to 6th, in a different school - sometimes blocks away, sometimes miles - we can't keep them safe anymore.
When these cases of unarmed black men started receiving so much media attentions after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, we talked to our class multiple times about being in a situation where they might be stopped by an officer. Given that the majority of our kiddos are diagnosed with a behavior disorder/emotional disturbance, sometimes accompanied by a whole slew of acronyms like ADHD, ODD, OHI, ASD, SLD and on and on and on, these conversations are critical. One of my paraprofessionals grew up surrounded by gangs on the South Side of Chicago, and was very blunt about everything she saw and did growing up. Because of her life experience, the kids listened to her especially, and we told them so many of the same things, sometimes nearly word for word, that Starr was told by her father in the book. We all but begged them - no quick movements, always show your hands, shut your mouth and only talk when they ask you questions, yes ma'am/yes sir/no ma'am/no sir, do what you're told, don't talk back, don't argue, don't give them a reason.
Then Philando Castile was murdered, and we didn't know what to tell them anymore.
Despite my tiny naive hope that I coddled for about 2.5 seconds, I knew this one could not have a happy ending, because that is not the reality that men and women of color face when in potentially life-threatening encounters with the police. Please do not mistake my words, there are hundreds of thousands of good officers who do their jobs commendably and want to see this cycle end as much as anyone else. But there are also an unknown number of officers who have no business wearing a badge at all, carrying a firearm when they are not mentally and/or emotionally fit to do so.
I was angry of course, when the decision was announced, and as I went on the journey that night with Starr, Seven, DeVante, and Chris, I wanted to be there. I wanted to be right there with them, with Starr, lobbing the gas canisters right back at the officers who were throwing them in the first place. It wasn't fair that there was no justice served in the book, it ISN'T fair that justice is rarely served in real life. There is a war being waged right now, primarily against men of color. Police brutality continues to be a fact of life and it should not be. My paras and I shouldn't have to beg our kids to just be quiet and sit still if they're ever stopped. But we do, because art and life imitate one another, sometimes in the most horrific and heartbreaking of ways. This is why we protest, and this is why we kneel.
None of the words I used earlier, amazing...beautiful...heartbreaking...even come close to doing this book justice. There's nothing else I can say that has not already been said, but I can echo the sentiment of countless others and say it is a must-read. I can not recommend it highly enough.