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On Memorial Day in New York City, the sun is shining and a white woman takes her dog off the leash. A black man passing by politely asks her to leash that dog. He’s an avid bird watcher. He wants the birds to be safe in their space. To be free. The white woman calls the police, claiming an “African American man is threatening her life.” She’s shrieking. Working herself up into a tizzy. Acting the part. Doing the same dance Carolyn Bryant Donham did when she used her words to murder Emmett Till. Then, she hangs up the phone and leashes her dog. The black man records the whole thing.

In what seems like the same breath, George Floyd is being tackled to the ground in Minneapolis. Three police officers surround him while one firmly holds his knee on the back of George’s neck. Face down in the cement, George pleads, “Please, I can’t breathe.” He says, “My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. They’re going to kill me.”

And then they do. They kill him. The scene is all too familiar.

We’ve seen it a hundred times. He looks just like Eric Garner, in a chokehold, crying, the life sinking out of his eyes as people pull out their phones. And he’s begging them for his life back. Please, he says. I can’t breathe.

A few weeks ago, when Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down, my dad asked me where he lived. I said Georgia, and he shook his head. A few days ago, my sister told me she would never move to Florida on account of its red state. I shrugged in agreement. A year ago, when my brother recieved offers to play baseball at practically every college in the country, my mom said, “You’re not going to Alabama.” And in Los Angeles, I don’t drive across the country. It’s half because I’m tired, half because I’m terrified.

I almost didn't pick up my pen this morning for the same reasons.

You see, what me and my family are doing is drawing circles around this country for our lives. We are looking for a safe house. Walking around at night and knocking on doors. Asking for a place where we can take our shoes off and shut our eyes. Wanting for a world where the search dogs aren’t sniffing us out.

Where can we be free?

I’ve made red marks all across the west coast and completely covered up the middle belly of America. I’ve shattered New York into pieces (I’m most angry about that one) and I can’t find it. I still can’t find the place where we can exist in power without looking over our shoulder. Without gasping for air. Without begging for our breath.

It’s a bitter and familiar taste to recognize the place promised to us has been an illusion.

There’s this Tupac song, “Thugz Mansion,” that I always seem to listen to when one of us dies. It’s the acoustic version and it goes:

Every corner, every city / There’s a place where life’s a little easy / A little Hennessy, laid back and cool / Every hour cause it’s all good / Leave all the stress of the world outside / Every wrong done will be alright / Nothing but peace, love and street passion / Every ghetto needs a thug mansion

When I hear it at this time, it rings differently. It makes me think about how long we’ve all been bargaining for the quiet. How we have made every compromise, paid every fine, given up every peace of mind in exchange for our lives. I think about the way we ask, “What did you do?” Before we ask, “Did you even do anything at all?” How we seem to ask, every time, “Did you move? Did you run? Did you breathe? What reason did you give them to take your life?”

Jump higher next time. Be invisible. Be invincible.

I think about the way the world says show me your record and show me your worth. I think about how what happened to George Floyd is exactly what Amy Cooper wanted to happen to Christian Cooper when she dialed 911. And when it didn’t, she apologized not for what she did, but for the act of getting caught in doing it.

Most of all, I think about how much real and present danger there is when we walk outside in our Black bodies. I wonder when we will get paid for that — for going to war every day with a smile on our faces.

And then, I think about how I am tired. How I am terrified. How my neck hurts. How my back hurts. My stomach hurts. Everything hurts. They’re going to kill me.


Natalie Guerrero is a writer from Larchmont, New York, who currently resides in Los Angeles, California. She works in film development at MACRO – a production company whose mission is much like her own, to tell the stories of people of color in an effort to free and empower them. Follow Natalie and her writing on Instagram: @Nataliee.Guerrero