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Letter To Shem Walker, Deceased

July 31, 2009

Dear Mr. Walker,

I know we never knew each other while you were living, but you’ve been on my mind a lot this week.  Your death at the hands of a trigger-ready undercover cop — who stayed put on your front porch even when you asked him to move — is tragic.  And it is an extreme example of the same overreach of the law that put Professor Gates in handcuffs and mugshots.  And Sean Bell, like you, in a coffin.  No one can prove beyond a doubt that Blackness had anything to do with it.  And yet we all know…

These prejudices, now measurable through tools like Implicit Association Tests, don’t start out explosive and deadly.  They germinate and spread silently, almost unnoticed.  Until another patch of poisonous weeds forces its way through the topsoil and bares itself in daylight.

I remember a germ of this idea.  One instance.  It was in college, and a friend of mine — white, Jewish — sat on the edge of the bed, trembling, her hands poised for storytelling.  A male student had approached her while she was studying, she said, and despite her efforts to resume her work, and then get up and walk away from him, he wouldn’t leave her alone.  Wouldn’t accept her lack of interest.  Kept flirting aggressively.  And she started to feel uneasy, then trapped, then terrified.

I’ve been there.  Many women have.  And I wanted to comfort my friend, to tell her I sympathized.  The problem, though, was that in recounting the events, she kept referring to the man as “this big Black guy.” As in, “I had this big Black guy towering over me…”

My friend wasn’t being intentionally malicious, but the implications of her words are clear.  She feared this man more because he was Black.  She automatically, and I might say unconsciously, interpreted Black maleness as a particularly dangerous threat to her safety.

Perhaps some of the same unconsciousness overcame the policeman who killed you.

Or maybe, like the infamous “Floyd” in The Fugees’s The Score, he “gets a hard-on from just shootin’ n***as.”

I didn’t object or question my friend about what she said — that day, or ever.  If the same situation arises again, though, I’ll say something.  Your life and needless death reminds me how this unconsciousness, left unchecked, spreads so quickly.  Not only costing lives, but corroding the hearts and minds of millions.  I don’t want people like my friend to remain unconscious in this way.  I love her.  And I know she can be better, more open, less afraid.  Just like Officer Crowley can be better.

Despite the circumstances and against the odds, I hope you passed peacefully, Mr. Walker.  I hope that when you saw that death’s arrival was inevitable, you accepted it, and allowed it to fill you with love and light, not anger or animosity.  As another victim of a brutal murder once said, full of compassion even throughout his killing, “They know not what they do.”

Thank you for spreading love and light to me.  You will be missed, certainly, and also, you will matter.

Sincerely,

Katie Loncke

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