There have been many events that have occurred throughout the 20th Century. Many that has happened before my lifetime, of course, and many during. The one that pops in my head at the moment is the disheartening life of Terrence Johnson. I believe this one sticks to me at the moment because it was so close to home. We followed it from the beginning to the end. We know and understand many of the situations that we as young black males have had and continue to have when dealing with officials. And, in many ways, it has effected our thoughts and perceptions when it comes to dealing with law enforcement.

In 1997, Terrence Johnson was surrounded by police officers after robbing a NationsBank in Aberdeen, Maryland, put a gun to his head and took his own life. I was driving on my way home from work when the news flashed across the radio. The moment I heard it, a sensation of stillness came over me. Instantly, my mind began to flash back 19 years when the news first spread throughout the neighborhood, “that dude from Bladensburg name Terrence Johnson” killed two police officers. Like the blinking of a slide projector, my mind began to jump through the different pictures that were shown on TV of Terrence being led by police officers. Back then, it didn’t occur to me just how young he looked. But then again, I was two years younger. However, during those first couple of years, I got older and watched as he got older.

Continuing down the road, my mind took me to the time I watched him being interviews on WHMM Channel 32 just nine years ago. That’s when reality finally set in. “He’s dead!”

From that moment on, I couldn’t help but shed tears. But my tears weren’t just tears of grief. They were hammered with spurts of anger. “But at whom?” That was the question. I wasn’t sure if I was angry with him for taking that detour, or angry at society for paving that road.

The one thing that I am sure of is that this situation hits so close to home it terrifies me. To me, Terrence Johnson symbolizes a life in a time — a time that I can personally identify with. You see, when I looked at Terrence Johnson, I saw myself. Not only myself, but also a whole lot of people I know and grew up with. And, I am truly aware that it could have been me or any other kid I knew held in that police station that night.

That’s why I feel that those of us who really defended him were sincere. Deep inside, we wanted to see that something positive could blossom out of something so negative. So, when they finally released him, we became contented – and watched. Even when we didn’t realize that we were still watching, we watched. I feel this because every time his name was mentioned, heads turned. They still turn. But, what is it that we really see? I, myself, see a life that ended the way it began.

I’m led to a scripture that says, “we reap what we sow.” In this, I don’t mean Terrence. I mean society. What we are seeing, in my opinion, is the fruit of racism. Obviously that’s how it all began in the first place. What I see is a while officer handling a situation based on his views of a young black boy in the metropolitan area. That’s why there are so many of us asking questions such as: “Why would he do a thing like that?” or “Why didn’t he just go to someone if he was having problems?” or “Did he really shoot himself or was he set up?” It’s because we refuse to accept the label society has planted on him as a “cold-blooded killer.”

Therefore, in defense of the name Terrence Johnson, I would like to lead you through a story, while asking you just one question. Every time this question is asked, I would like for you to write down your answer. In doing this, I want to embrace a scenario from the move, “A Time To Kill.”

Picture this. You are fifteen years old. It’s nighttime. You and your brother are pulled over by three police cars and aggressively taken into the police station. You have not been charged with anything although you are told that your brother is suspected of breaking and entering. In the police station, you find yourself treated different from the others there and you’re sure it’s because you are black. The aggressive treatment continues as you are questioned by one of the officers.

How do you feel?

Let’s say this officer begins to grow more and more agitated because he doesn’t feel that you are answering his questions in a timely manner. In the midst of his agitation, he kicks your chair from under you, causing you to fall to the floor (by the way, you are handcuffed). Again, he gets agitated and kicks it again.

How do you feel?

At this point, you’re hurt. You shout to the officer that he can’t do this to you, and in response, he ‘backhands’ you for “getting smart-mouthed.”

How do you feel?

You begin to cry, because deep down inside you know that there isn’t too much that you can do about it. In defeated anger, you decide to try and pick up the chair to throw, but are attacked by three other officers and thrown up against the wall. Then, one of the officers says, “Take his handcuffs off. I’m gonna kick his black ass!”

How do you feel?

They take the handcuffs off of you and shove you into an empty room, where the threatening officer comes in and begins beating on you. You feel blood beginning to drip from your head. How do you feel?

You try to fight back by biting him in the chest, but he’s bigger and stronger that you. He then knees you in the chest causing you to fall backwards.

How do you feel?

As you fall backwards, your hand grips hold of his gun and it rips from the holster.

How do you feel?

You get up off of the ground and realize the gun is in your hand. The officer realizes also, and begins charging toward you for having the gun.

How do you feel?

You panic. Anxiety has grown to enormous proportions. You start to run out, but are thoroughly beaten by several other police officers. Although you’re fifteen years old, you’re on your way to be tried as an adult for the murders of two police officers.

How do you feel?

Time has gone by, but the horror of that night sill lingers on. It’s everywhere, especially in the media. You’ve aged a little. You’re now 17. So far, you’ve been transferred in and out of court, fighting a bail bond of one million dollars, called a liar regarding your side of the story, transferred from jail to jail, placed in adult prisons and treated as the lowest scum of the earth. Contrary to your beliefs, your name has been through the media as a “cold-blooded cop killer.” Schools have denied you of attending any classes. You’ve been continuously threatened and beaten. Your family and friends have been receiving numerous death threats. And, in conclusion, you’re found guilty of manslaughter and sent to prison for 25 years.

How do you feel?

Okay. Many years have passed. You’re now 31 years old. You can faintly remember what life was like before that dark night in the police station, such as: spending time with a girlfriend, hanging out at drive-in movies and going to Busch Gardens with your friends. But the moments that stick in your mind most are learning how to survive inside of the prison walls, getting jumped and robbed by fellow prisoners, getting beat up by the prison guards in front of your mother, constant counseling sessions trying to convince you that you’re a “cold-blooded cop killer,” and spending days in the hole where you were allowed nothing but a toilet and the skin on your back.

However, some light has shined on you during that time and along with the unhappiness, hopeful moments have come your way. There have been people supporting you. You have been able to receive your GED, AA Degree and BS Degree in Business Management with a 3.6 average. You’ve obtained vocational skills in carpentry, ceramics and office automation. You’ve even been able to get married.

Finally, it has happened. After 17 years of total adversity, and although opposed by strong disapproval from the same police department that placed you here, you are released. You are free to begin the life you had long dreamed.

How do you feel?

Your second chance in life has started out great! People from everywhere recognize you and express their support for you. Lawyers and businessmen seem to have placed you under their wings. You’re about to pursue law school. You’ve been given money and a place to stay for a while free of charge. People constantly want to support you. You get the opportunity to help participate in the Million Man March. You’ve even been addressed regarding a book and movie deal about your life.

How do you feel?

Okay. Two years have passed since you’ve been released. It isn’t as bad as a few years before, but it isn’t the same as when you first got out. In trying to attend law school at Howard University, you’ve found that you weren’t wanted there. So, instead, you registered at UDC. You still have supporters, but you also have those who say, “Just watch him! He’ll prove the criminal he really is!” You’re paying rent now, and it has become a pressure. Marriage isn’t quite what you hoped it would be, and finally there’s divorce. You’ve been threatened with eviction. Your father’s sick and your mother isn’t doing well. There’s a familiar sense of despair beginning to lurk back in. Although you haven’t felt it in a few of years, you know the feeling when it hits you. Oh-oh! Wait! There’s a financial dilemma at the school. Due to city cutbacks, the grants given to you for classes have been withdrawn. You have to withdraw from school.

How do you feel?

Take a moment to look at your life. Does the bad out weigh the good? There are a lot of people out there watching for many different reasons. What do you have to show for it? What have you really accomplished that matters at this point? What’s ahead for you? How many people are depending on you? And, how are you going to pay those DAMN BILLS!? That’s the problem. All you need is the money to get out of this slump and things will get back to running again. But, that’s a lot of money we’re talking about. Don’t forget about tuition. Don’t forget to pay that rent or else. Let’s not forget that you have a new baby boy to take care of. Dad’s test results for prostate cancer will be back soon. You need a lot of money – now! “A man ain’t a man unless he takes care of his own.” I’ve got an idea. Let’s check out the happenings around the way. Hook up with some of the homies and make some quick cash – get right back on my feet. But, it’s got to be something swift – something that’s going to last for a while. At least until this book or movie deal comes through.

Okay. Your brother and you agree to pull off a heist. A bank job. You’ve been locked up. You know the stories of how it’s supposed to be done. It’s an ‘in and out’ thing. Slip in there. Take the money and ‘presto’, slip right back out. Nobody will get hurt. Remember, you don’t want to hurt nobody. It’s not about that. And, you damn sure don’t want to end back up in prison. Anything but that! You and your brother go out of the area to do it. You and your brother rob the bank. However, in trying to slip back out, you find that it’s not quite as simple as you thought. The police stop you. Now, this scene here looks very familiar. You know exactly where this scene leads. Face it. You blew it again. You’ve tried it the right way and it didn’t work. You’ve tried it the wrong way and it didn’t work. What do you see? It just won’t work! You just can’t win! Forget it!

How do you feel?

Terrence once said that he hadn’t been happy in so long, he didn’t know what it felt like. He also said that managing a prison life required a certain mindset – one that he really didn’t have. I’m not saying that I agree with my brother’s decisions – but I understand!

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  • منبع: ایران آچیلان

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