On the Funeral of Walter Scott

Every mother experiences that startling moment: the rush of wonder, the bone-deep love when she looks her baby in the face for the first time. It comes, most often, after a long labor, then a sharp catch and drop and suddenly, a baby on the chest, his eyes on squinching open at the world, his voice raised in a first wail.

AFP Photo, Jim Watson

AFP Photo, Jim Watson

Anthony Hill’s mother had that moment. She looked her baby in the face for the first time, felt that surge of love and hope and amazement. She marveled at his finger and toenails; she compared him to this or that relative. She remarked on how much or how little hair he had plastered to his tiny head. She leaned down and smelled that intoxicating scent of newborn. She knew, in her bones, Anthony was hers.

On March 9, Anthony Hill was shot while wandering, naked, around his apartment complex. His hands were either at his sides or raised; he didn’t stop when the (white) officer told him to, and so took two shots to chest. The headlines blared “Naked Black Man Shot By Police” and painted him as a dangerous menace. Hill was obviously unarmed. But he became a punchline at best, a threatening hoodlum at worst.

Hill was a vet diagnosed with PTSD, and, relatives report, bipolar disorder. A girlfriend says he had been off his meds for about ten days, and family argues the VA should have been monitoring his case more thoroughly.

Anthony Hill is now one more black man shot dead by police officers, one more unarmed man killed instead of subdued.

But he’s more than that.

Anthony’s mother woke with him at night. She held him in the dark, willed him back to sleep, bone-deep with exhaustion herself. Every mother knows that dark night, the three-thirty wake-up, rocking a baby in the warm black quiet. Anthony’s mother knew that rocking. Perhaps while she rocked, she spun out futures for her boy: long lives, big dreams. Grandchildren at the knee.

She didn’t dream of him seeing children killed in Afghanistan. She didn’t see that leading to a diagnosis of PTSD.

Walter Scott’s family saw his first toddling steps, the steps every child takes.  He cruised, first, then walked on soft baby feet, then ran, arms up and bent at the elbows, toddler-style. This family never imagined he would be shot running away from a police officer.

As a child, Eric Garner probably practiced holding his breath. Every kid tries to see how long he can go without breathing, how long he can stand the clutch at the chest, the deep-down rush to inhale. His parents never imagined he would be killed laying on his stomach, held down by police as he gasped, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”

Michael Brown’s mother watched him get on the school bus. She didn’t see his life splattered on a St. Louis pavement.

We accept police brutality because we accept that these children are not our children. America closes her eyes to the truth:  that black mothers are her mothers; that black men are her fathers and brothers and uncles and cousins and sons. We see a naked man shot by the police. We see a body baking in the sun. We do not see the faces of our children.

And until we see our own babies, the violence will continue.