Living in Terror

Well, he tried.

A friend of ours erupted in a fusillade of angry, frightened tweets Tuesday night. While everyone else we follow was tweeting the usual — sports and politics — our friend was writing things like this:

“I’m so fucked up about all these brothers getting murdered right now, I don’t even know what to do with myself.”


“Seriously, at what point can I reasonably say the police are constant threat to my life? If not now, when? How many more men have to die?”


“What the fuck am I supposed to tell my son?”

Our friend lives in DC, works as a government contractor. Most days he’s griping about the bosses, or public transit, or school lunches, like any other middle-class American. But unlike most middle-class Americans, our friend is Black.

And he’s living in terror. Because he’s just one traffic stop away from being the next hashtag.

We’ve heard much about “terrorism” the past fifteen years, but few of us have been touched by it. Despite our relative safety — compared to the rest of the world — our government has transformed itself into a security state. The barest hint of a plot puts law enforcement on notice, and where none exists, they’ll make one up anyway. The War on Terror may no longer go by that name, but we’re still fighting it.

Yet when it comes to actual Americans terrorized by their own governments, we look the other way. Or we blame the victims. Or we condemn polite attempts to bring it to our attention.

And the terrorism goes on, month after month. We’re reaching the point where we need a memorial wall to keep track of the fallen.

When we were growing up, there was a shooting on a college campus. War protesters faced the National Guard. The National Guard fired. Four protesters died.

The shock of the event — our government firing on its own citizens — swamped the national consciousness. The college’s name remains the event’s label to this day. Neil Young wrote a very popular song about it.

One shooting was all it took.

Of course, the victims were white.

We don’t have a solution to the shootings today. The problem runs deep in our nation, back to the original sin of our founding document, and throughout our history into living memory — we were born in the final years of the Jim Crow era. Maybe some day we can bury it all in our past, and future generations will wonder what the fuss was about, the way we can’t make sense of “Irish Need Not Apply” signs.

But that day has yet to arrive, despite the obliviousness of people who have no clue how their fellow citizens continue to be terrorized.

We have no solution to the problem. But the obliviousness is ridiculously easy to address. All it takes is people with large audiences to bring the problem to attention, so it can’t be ignored.

Like politicians. Or the news media. Or entertainers.

Or even football players.


I think that it’s very hard, maybe impossible, for a white person to get it, the crap that blacks have to go theough every day. Back in Russia, my Jewish grandparents were treated like subhumans but bubbe and zayde up and left. So you’re a black guy in 2016, got 7 kids, waiting in your car to pick up your kid from school. A cop approaches — black cop, to make it crazier — where are you going to go?

My son wrote this on FB. He said it can be shared publicly.

I came to a realization today.

Lately, I’ve been most at ease in the aftermath of the slayings of unarmed black men. Don’t get me wrong–there’s no bright side here. Nothing to celebrate. There’s no silver lining when people are continually denied their right to due process.

But at least there’s noise in the wake. At least there’s fury. At least there’s warmth in the world burning down around me. At least there are people who make it known that injustice will not be tolerated and compartmentalized and filed away with the other uncomfortable mundanities of American life.

At least for a few weeks. At least until the outrage fades and the drones return to work like nothing happened.

That’s when the existential dread begins to peek over the bulwark that Direct Action provides. That’s when I wonder what would happen if my name were the next one picked from the lottery.

Would my death award me a place in the growing pantheon of black martyrs? Would my name be forged into a broadsword, taken up by those who knew me and used to avenge injustice? Or would I end as just another dead thug? Another nigger left to bleed out into the asphalt.

There’s no solace in remembering that it hasn’t happened yet, that it’s not me, that it might never be. It might as well.

@JNOV: Dayum, where’d that kid learn how to write?

@nojo: I almost emailed it to you when he put it up the other day. And me. And books he’s read. And me.

ETA: Okay, maybe not me, but we started some hardcore writing about shitty shit.

@JNOV: I certainly didn’t have those chops at that age. And I was, like, a professional reporter.

@nojo: And now he’s 27. You’ve “known” him since he was 19.

@nojo: Are you going to live blog the debate?

@JNOV: Open thread loaded for noon Monday, to give everyone a chance to discover that it’s there. I won’t be liveblogging as such, but I’ll drop in if I have something more substantial than Twitter snark.

You have a pretty smart kid, JNov.

I don’t know what I would have done knowing I have a bullseye on my head whenever I’m in public just for the simple fact I exist.

@ManchuCandidate: <3 He's not a bad human being, either. I totally lucked out.

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