“Why did the police shoot that man?”
“Because they were trying to stop him from getting away.”
“The police always shoot bad guys when they run away?”
“The police are never supposed to shoot anybody just because they run away, not even bad guys.”
“So why did they do that?”
“I don’t know babe. The police are like anyone else. Sometimes they do things they aren’t supposed to.”
* * *
As my son zipped off to the living room, my internal debate as to whether news-watching should continue as part of our start-of-the-day routine began to stir. Almost every morning, I find myself explaining things like why people fight each other; why someone took property from an elderly person; why the police shot someone; or why someone killed innocent children in a school. Whenever I find myself on the brink of eliminating the news from our mornings, I decide not to. This is the world in which we live, and he will one day have to navigate it without me. So rather than shielding him, I explain that there are people who hurt others for reasons we will never understand; and that while he has friends who are white and their difference in color does not seem to matter, there are people for whom color is the sole reason they hate and hurt others. I tell him that there are good cops like his older cousin and our friend Mr. Tommy, but also bad ones whose badges and guns are surrogates for their hate and fear. I break to him that these days, we aren’t always be able to tell the good guys from the bad.
* * *
On this Thursday evening when we walk into the house, his grandmother is transfixed by a story on the news. As he jumps into her lap, I zero in on the handsome smiling face of a 15 year-old boy whose image fills the screen. HIs name is Lisandro Guzman Feliz. He’s dead. His weeping older sister tells the reporter that Junior (as he was affectionately called) got along with everyone. She couldn’t imagine who would ever want to hurt him. Because of its graphic nature, portions of the surveillance video that captured the killing were blurred out. Additional details of how Feliz was dragged by his hood out of a bodega and repeatedly stabbed and hacked at by six knife and machete wielding men drove me straight to Google.
What I saw rocked me.
Feliz, eyes wide with terror, twisted and grabbed at the store’s door jamb while being dragged out like the day’s garbage ready for pick up. Once outside, a gang descended upon him. One hacked at his body with a machete as if clearing brush. Another, with a black t-shirt tied around the lower portion of his face, plunged a knife into Feliz’ body with a speed and precision that suggested experience. Another man then ran up and stuck his knife into Feliz’ already wounded body. After the ruthless onslaught, they scooped Feliz to his feet as one of them took a final swipe at his neck before shoving him back into the store.
I shut my laptop shaken by the savagery of the ambush. I understand that evil exists in the world, but it’s another thing to see it at work—snuffing the life out of a beautiful teenage boy who had everything to live for and not a single reason to die.
* * *
As much as the murder of Lisandro Guzman Feliz is about the predatory gang violence that plagues communities of color; and how poverty, lack of exposure, and limited opportunities breed hopelessness and sometimes indifference to human life, it is just as much about us and who we want to be individually and collectively. Do we wish to act courageously and do all that we can to protect our children even when doing so places us in the shadows of death? Or do we yield to fear by sending a blood-spewing child to make his way alone to a nearby hospital as he breathes his last breath? Do we submit to obsessive voyeurism and the insatiable need for ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ as we reach for our phone to record a mortally wounded kid desperately signaling for help? Or in his quickly waning moments of life, do we reach for our phones to call the police or, even better, abandon them and rush to his side? Do we silently acquiesce to the glorification of misogyny, violence, and ‘no snitching’ codes of the street when its most distorted version results in the warehousing of black and brown bodies in jailhouses and graveyards? Or do we say enough and mean it.
Let’s not scream and hashtag ‘Justice for Junior,’ but allow the fire in our bellies to be extinguished with the passage of time. His life was taken for no reason, but his death can be the reason—that we take a harder look at ourselves, call more upon our courage, and hearken greater humanity. To do anything otherwise is to keep the line that separates the good from the bad blurred until it eventually disappears.