today in black history

April 22, 2024

Brilliant jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus was born on this date in 1922.

Dear Brother Micah

POSTED: July 10, 2016, 7:00 am

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Dear Brother Micah:

I write you knowing that you will never read this note but feeling the need to express to you my heartache and pain over the tragedy that befell you, your victims, their families and your loved ones. My faith allows me the space to believe that in death you have been forgiven by the Almighty for your acts, and that in the spirit of forgiveness the anger you felt toward the police has been replaced by a peacefulness shared by the men whose lives you took.

While there are those in this nation who want to demonize you; to diminish you in death as you felt in life – let me assure you that many of us empathize with you. Your anger was the generational suffering and pain from the daily indignities hoisted upon Black people in America. Our hurt is inherited and there is no balm that can ease the hurt or close the wound. You likely felt it when walking in a store and feeling all eyes upon you or when a purse was clutched tight as you walked by. Something tells me you had your own encounter with the police and felt what Black men do in those moments – diminished, frustrated, angry and resentful. It could have been the tone, the glare or the body language meant to convey your nothingness. You paid the ultimate price of being Black in America.

It has not been lost upon me that you served in our nation’s military. There is something poignant about a Black veteran not being able to cope with the burden of blackness. We have fought in every war this country has waged, served with distinction and returned with less rights than those on whose behalf we fought. My father was a World War II veteran and my great-great grandfather a Civil War veteran but in the country they served, they were never seen as the equal of a white person or given the respect their service to this nation demanded. It is troubling that the lethal training you received to exact violence on people whose names you would never know was turned inward toward people whose names you never knew, but who represented a privilege you never felt you had.

No doubt there was a rage burning inside you. Your family claims that this behavior was not you. I have no reason not to believe them. What I suspect is that you experienced a slow burn. Like many Black men you watched the parade of brothers and sisters struck down by the police, the multiple times in which shootings were justified, the trials that ended with police walking free and grieving families left to sort out their grief. It gets to be too much. I know. Seeing Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killed, their bloodied and lifeless bodies the collateral damage of a nation’s suspicion and hatred was likely sensory overload for you. It provoked in you the same rage our military programmed in you to exact upon the enemy. Only this time the enemy was wearing a police uniform and you did not differentiate with deadly and tragic precision.

“Each day we lose a little bit of our humanity”

You were not alone in your anger. Every day Black people have to put on a mask to survive. We wear it on the job, in the classroom, when we walk into a store, on the street, in the presence of police and in daily interactions with white people. We scream silent screams, and steal away moments to exhale when we feel suffocated by the heavy air of oppression. We weep in our secret closets and pray so hard until we are drenched with despair. Some of us absorb the hate like the body blows delivered by an opponent in the boxing ring. We make it to the last round every day but the damage done, often not visible, is deep inside. Each day we lose a little bit of our humanity. It manifests in illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression and suicide. We unleash our rage upon each other because we feel powerless to strike down the structures of white supremacy. On Thursday night you took the only power that you thought you had and turned that rage outward.

Some will never understand what could drive a person to do what you did. Some will never try to understand and will use your death to further divide, to further stigmatize, to continue to plant the seeds of hate that has blossomed with poisonous perfection. They need look no further than American history. It is the yearning to be free, to be treated with dignity as a human that has driven many to commit seeming irrational acts with calm and a clear conscience. Certainly Nat Turner, John Brown and Gabriel Prosser know from where your decision came. You will be labeled a madman and a murderer when in life you were simply a Black man trying to understand why your life had so little meaning in a country you served.

I grieve for you, for your family. I also grieve for those police officers you killed and the families they will never return to. You are all victims of a country that accepted hate as a condition for nationhood, and then bequeathed that hate to generations that subscribe to the inferiority of Black people. For all the energy that racism requires to create man-made distinctions, death is the great equalizer and you and your victims are now on an equal plane. How sad that you never felt you experienced that equality in life.

May you find peace without condition in the presence of our Lord.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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