Black Futures Matter by Quajay Donnell

Growing up, I don’t recall sitting down with my mother and stepfather talking about the birds and the bees, but I do remember the other talk. The one about how to respond and act when dealing with the police. That talk is one of survival if you find yourself face-to-face with the law. I remember it vividly.

A parent’s worry is great. A Black parent’s worry is greater. I’m 42 years old, and I live over 300 miles away from my mother, but I know she still worries. After the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in May 2020, that worry manifested itself in sending her two adult sons dash cameras just in case we needed to record an encounter with the law or someone else.

When I called and asked her why, she responded with, “because people are crazy.” She had watched, like many of us, the video of George with the knee of an officer, who had sworn to serve and protect, on his neck as he gasped for air, and repeating over and over that he couldn’t breathe. I think what hit her most was George calling out to his mother. In that plea, she heard her sons. Two grown men with families of our own. Two grown sons that she had raised with good intentions, but she knew deep in her heart that no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t keep us completely safe in a country that often times weaponizes the color of our skin. So, she went online, ordered and shipped us those cameras, and thinking at least there would be evidence if anything unfortunate were to occur.

That hurt.

The two incidents of police brutality that hit especially close to home for me were Tamir Rice and Elijah McClain.

Quajay Donnell
Black Futures Matter

As a Black father, I also carry that weight, and have had the same conversation with my own children – “be respectful, be polite and don’t give them any reason to misinterpret anything you are doing. I need you to get home safely.”

My worry grew stronger, especially over the last few years, as they grew older and would be out in the world by themselves more often. The anxiety heightened as I saw more and more situations involving those who are Black and Brown resulting in death after a brush with the police, an overzealous neighborhood watchman, someone who didn’t like the music they were playing, or what often times appeared to be just being Black in America.

The two incidents of police brutality that hit especially close to home for me were Tamir Rice and Elijah McClain.

Tamir, 12 at the time, was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park and shot within seconds of the police arriving. Never given a chance. The responding officers becoming the judge, jury and executioner.

That hurt.

When I learned about Elijah McClain’s death, it immediately made me think of my 12-year-old son, my youngest – the carefree, curious, happy and warm kiddo who adores fries, the alphabet and just being a kid. He’s also on the autism spectrum.

Elijah was walking home from a convenience store in Aurora, Colorado, when someone called 911 because he looked ‘sketchy.’ The police put him in a chokehold, rendering him unconscious. Paramedics arrived on the scene and injected him with a strong sedative that sent him into cardiac arrest. He would die a few days later in the hospital after being declared brain dead and removed from life support.

To read and hear that Elijah’s last words included “I’m just different” were especially hard for the father of an autistic child who is different. We do our best to help him navigate the world and prepare him for the future but, unfortunately, we know that we can’t always be there for him and that gives me a great deal of anxiety. I can only hope that a police officer, or someone with power, would interact with him with good intentions and kindness.

It haunts me to think of my son being as afraid as 23-year-old Elijah must have been while dealing with police officers who didn’t seem trained to handle someone who was different, someone who was worried about their personal space and boundaries — both of which are sensory triggers. It breaks my heart that you could hear him pleading with those officers by telling them how harmless he was. “I don’t even kill flies,” he said in the body cam audio, but for them it was just business as usual.

That hurt.

Every day I say to my son, be a good person. I just pray that people are also good to him.

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Comments (3)

  1. Martha

    Thank you Quayjay for this candid and heartbreaking telling of how it is. It is very truthful, infuriating and moving.

  2. Michelle Pugh

    Thank you Quajay. That is very moving. I have quite a few friends and relatives, with sons, Black and Brown, and a few with differences. This is enlightening for me to understand better and be able to support my friends in this devastating change of life. It’s sad this even has to be said. Thank you.

    • Sherrie Wilson

      Thank you Quajay! What a powerful message for all Mothers, Fathers, Sons, and Daughters of color. This is a very important matter that should be addressed on all levels of our Government. For we know that this has not stopped even from our ancestors it continues. I pray that by the time my Granboys are of age. Our judicial system has done an overhaul on Black Justice. Thank you so much for this. May God keep his protection around us ALL.