In my 30-something years of life as a black man in America, I’ve come to live with certain expectations.
Justice isn’t one of them. Not under a legal system that has historically been weaponized against people who look like me. People who look like me have been wrongfully incarcerated since the days of Jim Crow and before.
From the execution of 14-year-old George Stinney in 1944, to the Emmett Till murder, to George Zimmerman walking free after killing Trayvon Martin, to the Central Park Five, to the countless black men who have lost decades in prison until DNA evidence exonerated them, my faith is justifiably low in “the system.”
Thus, when former Uber driver Michael Hancock the 2nd (no relation to Denver’s mayor) was cleared on charges of first-degree murder on Thursday, I had to double check my ears to see if I heard the news correctly. The jury realized that his claim of self-defense was indeed true. They understood that his fear was real, and his actions were necessary, even if these actions were taken by … a black man.
This specific black man also happens to be a personal friend of mine. I know Michael. His family are good, humble, Christian folks that I’ve grown to know and love over the past decade. I say this to acknowledge my proximity to this case, and the silent anguish I’ve lived with for the past 16 months. Could I indeed be on the verge of losing yet another close friend to the justice system? On Thursday, the answer was, resoundingly, “No!”
To think, all people could talk about a week ago was the death of Botham Jean at the hands of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger.
My community watched her get sentenced to less time in jail than some of our cousins and brothers are serving for the mere possession of marijuana. We watched as the brother of Botham Jean hugged and forgave her, and the judge in that case embraced her.
Our reaction was that of a people left in the cold yet again in a country we’ve fought and died for since Crispus Attucks took the first bullet from the British in the American Revolutionary War. Our nerves were frazzled, our trauma, re-ignited.
The wisest among the black community scarcely reacted because they know how “the script” plays out. Some of us were even mocked online for being naive enough to be outraged at yet another miscarriage of justice.
When news of Michael’s exoneration hit my Facebook timeline, this, too, was all anyone could talk about, it seemed. I looked at Stephanie Hancock, Michael’s mother’s timeline. Well wishes and praises to God blanketed her feed. His father, Michael Sr., has been putting on one of the bravest faces I’ve ever seen in the face of such drama.
I began to think of all the everyday people in this world, and in this country that are thrust into the international spotlight by tragedy. I thought of how any of us could be next in this sadly public merry-go-round of the most public humiliation we can imagine. What would I do if this were my family? It darn near is.
My joy at Michael’s freedom was also interrupted by thoughts of the now-deceased Hyun Soo Kim, and the people who loved him. As brightly as the sun was shining on, I imagine them feeling left cold and in the cold by the system. I imagine the fervor with which they will now pursue their wrongful death lawsuit against Uber, and the possible recurring doubts that it will be successful. I imagine the fortitude it will take to carry on.
But moreover, my heart was stricken with the compassion of knowing the pain of feeling like the nightmare was far from over. The indescribable grief at losing a loved one, and the feeling of losing what appeared to be your only chance at justice.
What this Korean-American family is experiencing now has sadly been a mainstay in the African-American experience since even before we were unshackled from the boats that brought us here.
What I’ve also noticed is that the Hancock family has expressed this same compassion for the Kim family’s loss. Stephanie Hancock’s Facebook live streams for the past 16 months have been a beacon of hope not only for Christians, but for humanity … especially her own next-of kin.
Their faith in God comes with an open-hearted knowing that we are all inextricably tied together. They never lost their humanity while rooting for the freedom of their son. The Hancocks understand that the Kim family has lost something irreplaceable and precious, as well. They know how the cruelty of fate has tied the two families together forever, whether they like it or not.
As this chapter of the Hancock case draws to a close, I reflect on the gamble that all human beings take when they walk out the front door. All of us are passengers to the unknown, our mortality hanging over us every moment of our fragile lives. All of us are wounded in possibly combustible ways, often due to no fault of our own.
Any random shift of circumstance can ignite a flammable chain of events to forever alter our destinies. This is all the more reason to simply be good to one another. To understand that what’s at stake for all of us in this brief walk on the planet, and maybe, just maybe, be the miracle we need … for someone else.
Theo Wilson is a poet, speaker, activist and CNN contributor. Learn more about him at TheoWilson.net.
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