My dad has received death threats since I was 13 years old.
They never get less scary. I know what happens to activists who speak too loudly. I know what happened to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, none of whom made it to the age of 40. All three civil rights leaders were murdered.
I had, and still do have, every reason to believe my father could fall victim to this same fate. I used to think it would be some gun wielding disgruntled white supremacist. Now, I fear it will be at the hands of police officers, who are merely disgruntled gun wielding white suprmecaists with badges that can be used to justify their actions.
Every time we pass a cop on the street, my body tenses up.
Do they recognize him?
Did they know we’d be here?
Is this when it happens?
I often feel crazy, like I’m making a big deal out of nothing, that there’s no way a cop would actually harm my father in the middle of the street in front of his entire family.
Then I read stories like that of Jacob Blake, who police shot in the back seven times in front of his children.
I remember that Medgar Evers was gunned down by white supremacists on the front lawn of his house, and died in the arms of his wife and kids.
I remember that Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer while sitting in his car, and that his girlfriend live streamed the entire thing to Facebook, while her 4-year-old daughter tried to comfort her mother by saying, “It’s okay. I’m right here with you.”
I think of Erica Garner, who my dad had grown close with. The daughter of Eric Garner, she witnessed the way in which her father’s life was immortalized by his death, by his pleas of “I can’t breathe.” Forced into the role of an activist, she saw no justice for her father and died of a heart attack at 27. She died of heartbreak, of anguish.
I hear these stories and remember just how rational my fears are. I wonder, and worry, about the children forced to witness these tragedies and how they are able to move forward. I wonder if they feel the fear as I do, if they carry it on their shoulders, in their chests, at the back of their minds, or if they carry on without it.
I wonder if it ever goes away.
I always said that if my dad made it to 40, he’d be okay. Nothing bad could happen to him then. That was the rule of assassinated activists. Martin and Malcolm and Medgar didn’t make it to the age of 40, so as long as my dad did, nothing could happen to him. I know it’s stupid. I know it holds no validity and the danger of death is just as prevalent at 40 as it is at 39, but it helps me sleep.
My dad turned 40 last year and even though the fear remains, so does he. He fights everyday as if protected by an invisible army. He is brave for me and my four siblings, some of whom are so young they do not know a world before my father became who he is now.
He is brave for us, so we are brave for him.