Op-Ed

‘It’s just too much.’ Like Atatiana Jefferson, I’m a black woman and I just want to live.

The murder of Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, TX— it’s just too much. Atatiana was playing video games with her 8-year old nephew in her own home on Oct. 12. Atatiana was 28 years old and killed by a police officer’s bullet through her closed window. The reason she was standing at her window was because she went to investigate the noises the police officer was making while prowling around in her yard.

The officer who killed Atatiana was supposed to be conducting a “wellness check.” Police were there to check on Atatiana’s well-being. By the end, Atatiana’s well-being and the emotional well-being of her 8-year-old nephew amounted to nothing. Atatiana is dead. Her 8-year-old nephew is now a witness. And all across this country, black women just like me are in excruciating pain. I do not know Atatiana but it is for her that I ache.

It is the same intense ache I still carry for Sandra Bland. It is the ache for Michael Brown and the ache for Trayvon Martin, and Botham Jean, and 400 years of names I do not know, but carry in my DNA. Every centimeter of my 5’4 ½ black female body aches. Underneath the ache is fatigue. Underneath the fatigue is pain. Even deeper is my burning contempt. I can feel the eruption of the fear of my own vulnerability. Who will be next? Will it be me? Will my loved ones be forced to see it? In the end, what will become of all of us? How much more blood does it take before America sees and reckons with itself?

I recently started walking before sunrise along with other women in pursuit of the health and wellness of black women. For about two weeks, we have been walking together in darkness. One of the safety precautions, whether in darkness or daylight, is to wave and smile as we are walking. Sure, we are lovely and friendly ladies, but we do this to try and ensure neighbors and passers-by that we are non-threatening. We do it to try and lessen the perception that a group of black women walking is something that should be feared, and lead to police intervention or even worse, bloodshed. We walk to defend our bodies against life threatening illnesses. And as we walk, we are also very well aware we are taking life threatening risks, because we cannot defend our bodies against racism and unconscious bias and gunfire. So, we smile and we wave.

Atatiana Jefferson did not get the opportunity to flash her big beautiful smile or to tell the officers “checking” on her that she didn’t need their assistance. She didn’t get the chance to tell them she and her nephew and her home were OK. She and her blackness were perceived a threat and in a matter of seconds, she was gone. This really is too much and I am exhausted. I am out of ideas. I don’t know what to do to keep myself from getting killed. I am so tired of trying to anticipate and defend against irrational fear. Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in concession. I don’t know how to smile any bigger. I can’t wave any harder. I can’t have enough educational degrees. I can’t walk or speak any differently. I can’t be anyone or anything else to lessen any threat I am perceived to be.

The truth is the reason I can’t figure it out is because the threat has never been about anything other than the color of the skin in which I am housed. I can’t defend my blackness. The game is rigged. I can, however, say to those who find black and brown skin to be life-threatening: It is time to do your work. It’s your turn. Heal yourself. Heal yourself so that I can sit and eat ice cream on my couch, look out my window, walk on my street, drive my car, call the police when I am in need, play a video game with my nephew, and just breathe. Better yet do your work and heal so I can simply live. I just want to live.

Western Kentucky native, LeTonia Jones is a social justice entrepreneur and writer in search of deeper truths about love and what is required to live fully human and be at peace.

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