I know you know me. I’m well aware of your presence. While we’ve been sparring for a while now, I realized we’ve never really communicated. I wanted to write to inform you the streets of Chicago has claimed the life of another African American man this week. Seeing how violence has claimed well over 300 in the last seven months which equates to about a 50% rise of murders in the city, I’d imagine you are wondering why this particular murder has occasioned this letter. Well you see this wasn’t just any violent death. This was the death of my cousin. A cousin who grew up in my house as a brother. A cousin who slept in my room and often my bed. Although time, circumstance, and a move to Chicago stole our ability to maintain a sense of great intimacy, he was still someone I loved.
His loss has thrust me into a the kind of nostalgia I typically resent. But it is providing a sense of comfort you’d never understand but I sometimes need. I remember climbing the apple tree in our backyard with him. While fear and a burgeoning common sense always told me to stop climbing when I ran out of thick branches on which to cling, this was not for my cousin/brother. He reached for thin branches. The heights were too seductive. The air far too rich to avoid. He reached for thin branches. He’d leap across the wide part of the creek bed behind the neighborhood park. I’d always step across on a path of generous stones. But my cousin/brother flung his black boy body, eviscerating space and sky. Only sometimes did he make it home dry.
It would be easy to blame Chicago itself. Long ago as preteens, my cousin/brother and I cut through alleys made by poorly erected housing projects to avoid gangs. This activity alone seems to show Chicago as a hotbed which bred ripe vines of violence. But Chicago is far too easy to blame. I could blame systemic racism that stacked brown and black bodies high in Cabrini-Green Housing and held educational opportunity at arms length. But I can’t. I really want to blame the Prison-industrial complex that engorges itself on men of color. An industry that grew as my cousin/brother grew up in it. But that’s too easy as well. Blaming guns, gun wielders and a litany of corrupt politicians all plated in skin lighter and darker than mine is way too easy too. To blame those things is to blame the symptom and not the insidious cause. I blame you estrangement.
I blame you Estrangement for his death. Because the very moment you showed up on the world stage you’ve cut a path that has meandered through arenas of war, genocide, mental illness, racism, sexism, co opted and misguided religious zeal, voracious greed, all played out on a individual and global scale, leading directly to his death. Estrangement, I blame you.
Let this letter serve not as a warning or as a threat but as a reminder. This is a reminder that your time has long since past. You are being dismantled on a policy and a personal level. There are countless generations joining together to obliterate your presence. Any time an, “I love you” is sincerely shared among us a little bit from your corners has been cut. Anytime justice for a child or some wetland has been secured a little of you is put to waste. In the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit your time is coming to a necessary end.
I write this letter to you Estrangement to remind you of your coming demise. And I address this letter to my own heart. Because this is where you so often reside.