“The Talk” Is Not Enough

Mar 24, 2024 10:44:00 AM / by Angela P. Dodson


Content warning: murder, racism, suicide

Another Black man, some mother’s son, some woman’s husband, somebody’s brother, some child’s father, will die.

His killer will be a police officer, a security guard, or just a person who thought he looked “suspicious”—maybe a neighbor who thought he was “up to no good” and shot him minutes into their encounter. He will be crumpled on the ground, left unattended and unassisted, before his excruciating death.

Again, we will see videos from a body camera, from a witness with a cell phone, or a surveillance camera at the corner. Maybe his family will get to see the footage first, and then it will be all over the news, twenty-four seven, and go viral on social media. Some of us will watch it over and over. Some of us will avoid watching it at all costs. We cannot “unsee” it.

Reporters from around the country will assemble in his city. Editorial writers, columnists, bloggers, and news anchors will ruminate and pontificate about the incident.

The media will also drag out photographs of the victim wearing a hoodie, tattoos, or gold chains, perhaps flashing gang signs. Maybe they will dig up a booking photo instead of showing his portrait in the graduation cap and gown he wore just weeks before or the tuxedo that matched his prom date’s dress.

The news reports will never fail to mention the misdemeanor, a school suspension, or a drug charge on his record, and some commentator will say, “He was no angel (or substitute ‘choir boy’ or ‘altar boy’).” The talking heads will rarely say he mentored young men, delivered meals to senior citizens, and took care of his mother, as George Perry Floyd Jr. had, or played his violin for animals at the shelter as Elijah Jovan McClain did.

Someone will write a hashtag—#HandsUpDontShoot, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, or #ICANTBREATHEAGAIN—and the postings about the killing will be the talk of “Black Twitter.”

If it is egregious enough and horrifying enough, in a day or two, the civil rights attorney Ben Crump will fly in to advocate for the family, be the spokesman, and lay out the facts eloquently.

We will see the funeral livestreamed on national television and Facebook. The Reverend Al Sharpton will deliver a searing eulogy and analyze the facts brilliantly as a host on MSNBC. Other mothers of sons who were killed by the police or a vigilante will gather for the service and cry together, as they cried for Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tyre Nichols, and others.

We have our own rituals now. The script is all too familiar. Maybe protestors will take to the streets, thousands of them, Black and White, around the world.

Eventually, someone might get fired, probably not. Someone may be charged. Most likely the jury will not convict.

Lawmakers will talk about police reform and gun controls. Mostly, they will offer only “thoughts and prayers.”


Tragically, Black boys, maybe twelve or younger, and Black men will continue to die in this way—for how long, who knows? Meanwhile, we will mourn them.

Before they die, they will suffer a million injustices, “paper cuts” as they are constantly “patrolled” and surveilled by mere citizens, stopped and frisked, or detained and possibly beaten by police after a routine or trumped-up traffic charge or encounter on the street, in the subway, or on their own property.

Justice for such killings has been elusive. As Vox.com news reported: “Regardless of the race of the victim, convictions in cases of police killings are incredibly rare. Of all the police killings documented in that seven-year period (from 2013 to 2019), Mapping Police Violence data found that only 1 percent of the cases led to a conviction. Our analysis of the data found that roughly 2.6 percent of the cases led to charges.”

Most victims are young, ages 20 to 40, a Washington Post database found, but Black men of all ages are at risk, as the killings of Eric Garner (accused of selling loose cigarettes and held in an illegal chokehold) on Staten Island, and Walter Scott (shot in the back while fleeing after a traffic stop for a faulty taillight) in South Carolina show. Garner was 41. Scott was 50. George Floyd (suspected of using a counterfeit bill and pinned under an officer’s knee in Minneapolis, Minnesota) was 46.

While attention has focused on young men, mostly urban, mostly of modest means, Black men of all classes and in all settings are surveilled and often arrested—as evidenced by the gunpoint inquisition of New York Times columnist Charles Blow’s son as he departed a Yale University library in 2015, or the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the high-profile scholar and PBS documentary host, accused of mouthing off to an officer at his home near Harvard University, where he teaches, in 2009, after a neighbor apparently mistook him for a burglar.

Later in an interview with The Root.com, July 21, 2009, Gates noted that the officer had asked him to step outside onto the porch. “The way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’”


If a man of Gates’s standing, who should be widely recognizable to his neighbors and to the police after numerous television appearances seen by millions, has to fear the police in his own home, clearly something is wrong.

In We Refuse to Be Silent, we as writers and as women, mostly Black, examine many incidences in which African American men and boys, and sometimes Black women, have fallen victim to the very people who should be protecting them.

Much of what has been written about cases like Trayvon Martin’s, Michael Brown’s, or George Floyd’s has been put forth by men. That is partly a reflection of the fact that men hold dominant roles in media and of the fact that the few Black men in journalism, as likely victims themselves, do feel compelled to speak, and rightly so. That often leaves out of the equation the perspective of women who have been robbed of menfolk or have witnessed these atrocities.

While Black women are sometimes victims, those cases are rarer—notwithstanding the death of Breonna Taylor, a twenty-six-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, woman shot inside her apartment March 13, 2020, in a “no-knock” raid meant for someone else, or of Sandra Bland, whose death by hanging in a Texas jail on July 13, 2015, three days after her arrest during a traffic stop, was ruled a suicide.

As writers, we grapple with the implications of these modern-day lynchings for Black men and the impact for us as women. We also explore viable solutions. We talk about how we feel about it—watching the everydayness of it, the psychological trauma and wounds inflicted on the men who are our sons, brothers, husbands, cousins, uncles, co-workers, students, clients, and so on. We cannot remain silent; we must speak for them, for those who cannot, and even for those who can, to show our support and our love. We must answer when they call for us.


This is an excerpt from We Refuse to Be Silent, introduction.

Topics: Excerpt

Angela P. Dodson

Written by Angela P. Dodson

Angela P. Dodson holds an MA in journalism and public affairs from American University and is a former senior editor for the New York Times and a former executive editor of Black Issues Book Review. She has written and edited for outlets like Essence, Heart & Soul, the Washington Star, and the Louisville Courier-Journal. She is the author of Remember the Ladies: Celebrating Those Who Fought for Freedom at the Ballot Box and the founder of Editors on Call, LLC. She lives in Trenton, New Jersey.

Searching for more inspiration? Join our community on social media!