We’ve never met. And unfortunately, we never will. You were killed by a system that permits the ultimate violation, the termination of your precious life. For no reason. There is no answer for your mother, who weeps and wails in your absence. There is no answer for your friends, neighbors and teachers, who saw in you all of the promise of a young man with his whole life ahead, callously and viciously taken from you. There is no answer, because there is no reason for your death. Your death does not matter to the privileged and powerful; otherwise, how could it happen?
I did not meet you, but I did meet your neighbors. I traveled to Columbus for a conference and reached out to the Columbus People’s Partnership thinking that I would simply canvass for voter registration, which I did. After our training, Tammy Fournier Al Saada, an organizer for the aligned People’s Justice Project, thanked us volunteers and took a moment of silence for you, and twelve more seconds of silence for your peers killed by Columbus police in 2016. Thirteen seconds for 13 young black souls who perished at the hands of a system that prohibits, rather than protects, your sacred life. She concluded with a humbling, “we love our babies,” and I cried.
I cried because I thought of the moment when your mother received a call that her precious baby was dead. I cried because Linden and a thousand neighborhoods just like it across this supposed “great” land are communities in constant mourning. I cried because black people in this country have the burden of not simply surviving, but also proclaiming that their own lives matter against a system that proves them wrong over and over again. And in that moment, I saw sadness transform into healing love.
I went to Linden, and I walked on your streets for a few hours. I saw no fewer than four police cars speeding down Cleveland Avenue, lights and sirens on, racing to some unnamed, unexplained crime, or perhaps to nowhere. I felt, for a brief moment and only as a visitor, the terror of over-surveillance. A small glimpse into mere existence-as-criminal. There was no visible sign of conflict or unrest. This was a warm Saturday afternoon. People were organizing church yard sales, going to the barbershop, and children were riding bikes together.
I ran into some of your neighbors, wearing matching orange shirts. These were the inspiring Columbus Peacemakers, a group of your community members committed to improving and healing the largely neglected neighborhood. Only our Black Lives Matter t-shirts indicated that we were allies against injustice, and we were again met with love and even invited to pray with them. We learned about the Peacemaker’s efforts, teaching neighbor-to-neighbor conflict de-escalation techniques. Today, they were simply cleaning trash off of the streets. They were committed to bringing dignity and love to their community, a community that is assigned no value in the eyes of the indifferent largely white, Columbus elite.
Ty’re, I’m sorry that we never had the chance to meet properly. I’m sorry that we – the privileged and powerful ― are too cowardly and comfortable living in delusion to stand up to an unjust system that not only allows for, but requires your death. Your childlike, 5-foot tall, 95-pound body is a threat. Your name is a threat. You see, your very existence is a threat, a nebulous, imagined threat to powerful folks mere miles away who have never visited your streets, met your kind neighbors, or considered the radical notion of walking in your shoes.
Ty’re, alongside your bothers and sisters, I will say your name. I will admit, along with your neighbors, “enough is enough.” I will proclaim that “Black Lives Matter,”because to do anything else is false, and truly disrespectful to your precious life. I challenge my white peers to break their silence today and from this day forward, in the hopes that we can all be freed from this nightmare where your death is allowed. Breaking white silence is the only way that the death of Ty’re King, one among the thousands named before him, will not be in vain.