‘I’m going to die’

Why one black Sacramento man fears for his life

It was 2:14 a.m. and I was restless, flipping through YouTube, when I came across a video titled “Police Admit To Killing Innocent Black Man.”

My heart sank and my blood slowly ran cold: the headline alone was unsettling, but I already knew what to expect. In the video, posted to the The Young Turks channel, an American political commentary web series, the hosts discussed how Los Angeles police had “accidentally killed” a black man while pursuing a carjacking suspect in late July. During the incident, police had identified the man as “a second suspect,” and then shot him dead. Later, it would be revealed that he had nothing to do with the crime.

As the video ended, a sadness poured into me, and I found myself contemplating my own life and how quickly it could end by “accident.” The man who was killed, that could have been me.

In 2015, The Guardian newspaper launched The Counted, a tally of people killed by police in the United States. In 2016 alone, The Guardian reports police have killed at least 203 black people to date. That number continues to steadily rise.

And any one of those people could be me. My life is always at risk, and that’s because I’m black.

That’s frustrating. No, that’s depressing, debilitating, terrifying. Black lives have been deemed inferior, insignificant. And regardless of the innumerable protests and essays and tweets, more innocent blacks have found themselves in front of the muzzle of an officer’s gun.

As a black man, I’ve become accustomed to it, numb to it; when another killing occurs, my first reaction is, “Great, another one.” These murders have become so commonplace I expect to read more of the same headline: “Another Black Person Has Been Killed by Police For The 50,000th Time. By Accident.”

I should not be “used to” the headlines; it should not be an expectation. Yet, it is, and that fact is crippling.

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Richard Risher Jr., Devon Martes and, more recently, William Bowers. Hell, although he is still alive, even Charles Kinsey, a behavior therapist in North Miami who was lying on the ground with his arms visible, was still shot by police.

You’re telling me that, as a black man, even if I follow the law there’s still no refuge? Too often, police quickly resort to violence instead of using nonlethal means of disarming, and these frequent killings of blacks have me on edge. Not too long ago, a cop pulled me over for speeding; the first thought that came to mind, “I’m going to die.”

I read the headlines, I read the names and the only thing I can think about is how I could end up as one of them. Whether I follow the law or not, I could become one of them.

Worse, I could end up as one of those you haven’t heard of. I have dreams, aspirations, goals I want to achieve; the last thing I would want is to die by “accident.”

I have never feared for my life more than I do now.