Do you know his name?
He gasps that he cannot breathe.
He tells them his name, says he has ID but no gun, and pleads that his house is “right there.”
He sobs, and vomits, and apologizes: “I wasn’t trying to do that,” he says. “I just can’t breathe correctly.”
Do you know his name? Do you know his story?
I never knew his name or his story until June 24, 2020. My friend, a fellow Black writer and blogger posted an article about his story. And the picture on the article was of his last words and his face.
As I read his story, my eyes filled with tears. I was filled with and continue to be filled with such deep, unabashed sorrow. I fell into the hole of the internet and absorbed everything I could about the young man whose name I had never heard.
I came across a picture of him playing his violin to the cats and dogs at an animal shelter and it just broke me.
His smile is what captured me most. It was so full and honest.
And then I hear his last words again.
“I’m an introvert. I’m just different.”
And I fall apart all over again because I realized, I am looking at him as my son.
My autistic son, who is so often described as different, quirky, and interesting. He talks to himself as he plays alone. Builds elaborate and intricate designs with his building materials. Hums and sings to himself when he gets anxious.
Elijah is my son.
He is the child of every unique needs parent in the world. He is the child of every parent whose child is quiet and shy. He is the child of every parent who describes their child as “different.”
He is your son or daughter.
As the rest of the world finally learns more about his case and people begin to shout “Say his name,” I am haunted by yet another hashtag.
No one wants another hashtag.
He was so much more than a hashtag.
They were all so much more than hashtags.
My children are so much more than hashtags.
The news over the last few weeks has been filled with death, destruction, and anger. As more stories of brutality, systemic racism, and abuses are brought into the light. They are all bitterly familiar, in fact, their details have begun to echo each other.
You should be able to walk home, sleep in your bed, play in the park, jog in your neighborhood, look at real estate, have a BBQ, go to the store, drive to and from anywhere, wear a hoodie, and wear a mask without fear.
I am teaching my boys how to avoid being killed. I teach them how to comply. I teach them how to learn to live in a society that sees them as dangerous.
But I can’t teach them, and what I wish I could take away, is that there will come a day when they will stop being “different” and suddenly become dangerous.
Because of the color of their skin.