Being an 18-Year-Old Black Man a Year After Mike Brown

FILE - In this undated photo provided by the Brown family is Michael Brown, the black 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a w
FILE - In this undated photo provided by the Brown family is Michael Brown, the black 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a white police officer in August — a death that stirred weeks of violent unrest in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Brown Family, Ferguson)

I made my way down the gravel road out of the cemetery as I had done plenty of times before but to the left of me I saw something that I hadn't seen in all the times I had gone to visit my mom at the cemetery since February; a police car. The cop car had just pulled up and was parked facing my way. It was a hot day and I had been running without my shirt on, I put my shirt on, crossed the street, took my phone out of my pocket and when I was far enough I turned around to make sure the police car wasn't following me. Never before had I ever felt such a wave of anxiety hit me like that due to being in the presence of the police. Long gone are the childlike days when I viewed the police as heroes or the pre-teen days when it seemed like it was the cool thing to flip a policeman off with our middle fingers if they were driving behind us. Those days are gone. I didn't do anything wrong, I didn't commit a crime, I was just minding my own business and going to visit my mom. But the notion that I could mind my own business and not be persecuted in the streets from a policeman was stripped away from me on August 9th 2014 when Mike Brown was unlawfully gunned down by the police.

I was 17 when Mike Brown was killed but now I'm 18; the same age as he was and never have I ever been more aware of the racism going on in this country. I'm aware of what can happen to me; in the blink of an eye my name can follow a hashtag and have supporters drumming up support for real justice to take place in my honor. It's a scary thing to know that people view you as the enemy and have such hatred for you just because of your skin color and can get away with killing you just because of systematic oppression and racism. Once you realize that, your view of the world changes. When Mike Brown was killed I was immediately scared for my brother. He's the same build as Mike and all I could think of was someone trying to kill him. Whenever we would go to stores I would always try to shush my brother if he was being loud because I didn't want to draw a scene and cause problems. A year later I'm scared for myself. Now I don't think that just because I'm 3 years younger, taller and skinnier that I have no chance of being gunned down. That's not a reality that lays in my future. My previous naive reality isn't the reality anymore. They're not gonna look at me and say "Hey just because you don't sag your pants you're a good black" and then go and kill my brother because he sags his pants. It's not going to happen. The articles of clothing that we wear don't define us to them and that's something that took time to realize and understand.

When I hit 8th grade I felt this conflict between myself and my white classmates due to what I would wear and how I talked. There was this constant "You talk so white", "You're the whitest black kid I know". I would sit and try to ask myself and figure out what did that mean. Their comments turned into "Oh I can say the N word Malcolm doesn't care, he's the whitest black kid I know." But the reality was I did care and I did voice my opinion on them saying the N word but that wasn't listened to. You top that conflict with the internal struggle I dealt with of feeling like I was less of a beauty or a person for being a darkskinned black person rather than a lightskinned black person and that can manifest into self hate. For a year after that I started to sag my pants and dress a little bit differently. It lasted for a year because my mom and dad weren't putting up with that and because I realized that dressing like that wasn't me. It wasn't who I was. And then Trayvon Martin happened. And a conversation started to take place about black men wearing hoodies. I lived and still live in a neighborhood where we are the only black family living in it. If I was walking through the neighborhood in the rain with a hoodie I didn't think they would gun me down. I didn't think that was a reality for anyone. But fast forward a couple year later and the cloth of innocence has been violently ripped from my face and I'm just dangerously trying to exist without my existence being threatened in my own home, my neighborhood, my city, my state and the country my parents decided to call their new home 20 some years ago. It's the struggle of a lifetime that we are having to endure. Nothing is safe anymore.

I see Sandra Bland and I see my 22 year old sister. It's such a twisted reality that it took that happening to really let it sink in that my sister too could be gunned down as well. It took that for me to know and feel the same fear I feel for my brother for my sister as well. Her taillight needs to be fixed and that's all it takes for a policeman to pull her over and a routine stop turning wrong. She's never been in contact with the police so I'm not sure how she would react. But her reaction doesn't even matter because no matter how you treat the police or how much you know your rights it's not going to change anything. And that's something that I fear when I get my car. I have to hope that my music isn't too loud that it bothers someone at a gas station or I have to hope that a routine stop is just a routine stop that I can be able to leave and not end up in a jail cell. It's all this fear and baggage that comes with the new responsibilities of being an adult. Not just being an adult but a black man entering adulthood. I live in a smallish town of 48 thousand in Iowa and everyone is always saying "oh that will never happen to us we live in a good small town". But the town isn't the problem it's the people in the town and the systems that are put in place to let people get away with abusing their power and using their power as a tool to explore their own personal racism. That's really what it comes down to, it's not the victims.

As time goes on I'm more and more increasingly aware of my own digital imprint operating under the moniker "fijiwatergod" and what that can mean for me. Just being a teen on social media has ramifications beyond my existence. They can take my tweets and say that I was someone who "had no respect for the law" as a reason to justify what could happen to me. They can take my old tweets from when I was a 11th grader seriously battling depression and say that I killed myself. They can take my pictures of me throwing up the peace sign and say that I was a thug and throwing up a gang sign. They can find marijuana in my system from months prior and say that I was a druggie who was out of his mind and instigated the altercation with the police. Will the media label me as a thug and not an angel and try to humanize my killer? Will the media launch a smear campaign against me? Will it take my own killing to get my white friends to use the Black Lives Matter hashtag instead of the All Lives Matter hashtag? Will my dad be forced to go on TV and say he forgives them? Will there be marches in my honor? Will the mayor of my town encourage peace before the verdict announcing that the policeman will get off unlawfully killing me is read? Will the cop camera and body camera be on or will that not even matter due to the systems put in place that hold police at an unfair advantage? Will I be the topic of an incredulous Don Lemon panel with Marc Lamont Hill being the voice of reason? Will they find a twisted way to bring my mom's recent death into this and vilify me? These are the questions and thoughts that plague me as an 18 year old black man.

What will they do?