Laquan McDonald And The Slow Death Of Black Joy

CNN screenshot
CNN screenshot

This is how it happens. This is how it fucks you up.

It's Tuesday. It's a little after 7pm EST. On most Tuesdays, at this time, I'm either walking my dog or feeding my dog before walking him. After walking the dog, I usually go to the gym. And then, after the gym, I pick my wife up from her pottery class that ends at 9pm. I hadn't planned on going to the gym today, though, because I played basketball for two hours yesterday, and I'm still sore. And I've learned — grudgingly — to listen to my body.


Instead, after walking my dog, I was going to sit on one of couches in the living room, watch college basketball, respond to some email I missed during the day, and read some of the newer additions to #ThanksgivingWithBlackFamilies. Which, all things considered, might have been my favorite Black Twitter-created hashtag yet. The tweets it generated were so hilarious, so accurate, so familiar, and so beautifully and unambiguously Black that it felt like home. Like I had a million-deep extended family, and we were all sitting at the same table and on the same couch, cracking and laughing at the same jokes while caught with the same itis.

But, I'm not doing any of that right now. Because I'm writing about Laquan McDonald. And I'm thinking about Laquan McDonald. And I'm thinking about watching the recently released video of Laquan McDonald's execution. And I'm thinking about why I just don't have the stomach to watch it tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or any night. And I'm thinking — convinced, actually — I'll never watch it. And I'm thinking if this makes me a hypocrite because, several months ago, when another Black person (Sam DuBose) was murdered by another police officer, and that video was released, I wrote that we had an obligation to watch it. And I'm thinking about what could have possibly been going through the head of Jason Van Dyke (the police officer who executed Laquan McDonald) while he fired enough shots to hit him 16 times. And I'm thinking about what Laquan McDonald could have possibly been thinking about in the last moments of his life. Was it fear? Did it happen too quickly for the fear to even register? Did he know he was going to die? Or perhaps did he draw his last breath still believing that he'd walk away from this eventually. Was he confused? Was he angry? Was he sad? Or was the pain too sudden and too overbearing for him to feel or recognize or sense anything else?

And this is how shit like this tears your joy away. How it rips it apart. How it lights and burns it. This is it. This is the invisible psychic cost of existing in America while Black. This is the toll we all pay. This is how it ruins your evening. Your work day tomorrow. Your Thanksgiving dinner, when someone brings it up. Your week. Your year. This is how it chips away at you. Punches you. Kicks you. Wounds you.

This is how it happens. This is how it fucks you up.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Being from Chicago, I've been eagerly awaiting this video. WHY? Because it actually gives me hope that there is some humanity left in law enforcement and that some (a few?) black law enforcement officers understand that they are there not just for decoration, but to remind their white co-workers to give us a fair shake. Don't get it twisted; the blue wall of silence quickly kicked in, but there were some black cracks in it. There were whispers, there were rumors, people who saw the vid could not be quiet and let the cover-up succeed. And it should disturb anyone black, white, yellow or friggin green. While some cops went into cover-up mode, including erasing surveillance video from a Burger King cross the street, someone chose not to go along and to break the wall. We would not be here if someone had not had the courage to tell someone, tell the press, get FOIA requests going.

But I'm also angry that no cops tried to render any aid to Laquan, completing the desecration and devaluation of his life. They saw he'd been shot 16 times and decided he was dead and beyond resuscitation—HE WASN'T, he died later inside an ambulance. Imagine if they put him in Tahoe and sped off to the hospital? He might've lived! But they went right into "investigation (cover-up) mode" where it was more important to attempt to justify the cop's actions than to save Laquan's life. Hell, Laquan lives, he could testify against the cop.

The only ounce of humanity Laquan was shown was when the killer cop's partner stopped him from loading ANOTHER CLIP to shoot Laquan some more. Laquan's murder was not premeditated—but the response was. A non-verbal, ESP type response that the police state apparatus automatically activates when these killings take place, as if they must protect the secret truth that police kill black (mostly) men out of animus, race-based fear, or a substantiated notion that black men require crushing force in order to keep the social order.

Last thing—This is what happened to Mike Brown. White cops emptying clips determined to kill black men if they think they've been given the legal justification to do so. Gotta wonder why they're so eager to find a reason to not just use their guns, not just to wound in an effort towards apprehension, but to drain the life out a "black threat."