We knew he’d be tall because his knees were too big for his legs. Ever since he was little, they were at least three times the size of his knees. We figured that he’d take after my dad’s uncles.
In college, I was really excited when he asked to come visit me. Seven years my junior, it took us too long to get close. We fought mercilessly before then. Here was a breakthrough. Here was a request to participate in my life.
My roommate thought it was cool that my 12 year-old brother was coming. She promised to help watch him if he needed anything while I was away—in case he didn’t wake up in time to go with me. The week before I’d been excited. Now, I was panicking.
He was tall for his age, too tall. Everyone had always thought he was older. I was worried for my tall, black brother at my elitist, white school.
I was worried that the Campos would pick him up while I was away, like they did with some of my college friends—peers and fellow students—who happened to be my complexion.
I was worried that they’d assault him.
Take me to another place
Take me to another land
Make me forget all that hurts me
Let me understand your plan
They took him in the middle of the night, kidnapped him from his great-uncle’s home at gunpoint. He was barely waking. He had come down from Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi. They said that he whistled at a white woman in a grocery store.
Three days later, they came for him.
They gouged his eye out, tied his body with barbed wire, and tied it to a 70 pound cotton gin before they threw him in the river. He might have died just from the injuries alone, but they wanted to be sure. They chose to shoot the bloody, beaten boy in the head, just for good measure. Three days later his body was found in the Tallahatchie River. He was only 14.
His mother decided on an open casket so that the world could see what they had done. The defendants were acquitted by the all-white jury.
If they hadn’t come, he might be 78 years old today. This January 2017, Caroline Bryant Donham (his white woman) recanted.
It was the summer of 2014 in Cleveland, Indiana. He was twelve years old when they shot and killed him on the playground. He was shot to death on-camera while playing with his toy gun. None of the officers involved were charged. They claimed they were responding to a 911 call about an active shooter. He was 12 years old.
But I am still thirsty.
Strangers look at me differently since I have locs. They look at my brother differently, too. Sometimes they treat him differently. In the beginning I thought I was imagining it, but then we started to compare stories.
A few months ago V and I were on the train downtown when an older couple engaged us. They argued that sickle cell was a horrible disease and that women who knew their child would be affected should be legally mandated to abort. No mother would want that for her child, right?
I listened with concern and agitation. (1) Fearful of a legislation that would mandate abortion as a preventative measure at all. (2) Fearful of a legislation that would condemn certain conditions as unlivable for certain people. (3) Curious at the choice of sickle cell in particular, one that statistically affects more black Americans.
I’m supposed to believe that this is one isolated instance of injustice (More on that later).
Not a pattern of white-on-black terrorism.
Not state-sanctioned genocide.
Climb the trees my forefathers hung from
Ask those trees for all their wisdom
They tell me my ears are so young
Now I see the importance of history
And he was there to quench my thirst
But I am still thirsty