In the Black community, grief is a squatter. The unwelcome tenant laughs at our eviction notices. It rebukes our pleas. It even ignores, it seems, our prayers.
But I expect it — despite its callousness — to spare our children. It declines that request, too.
Still, we cannot accept Black children dying in the streets of Minneapolis as the norm. We also cannot accept Black boys settling their differences with guns as ordinary, either.
London Michael Bean, 12, was shot and killed on the city's North Side on Wednesday after a dispute with another child. A familiar sequence has followed that tragedy. A preliminary police investigation pointed to an altercation that led to one young man making a decision to shoot and kill another young man. But the young shooter remains at large as a family mourns a child who enjoyed the rides at the State Fair just days before his death. At a Thursday vigil, community leaders called for peace.
Soon, the Twin Cities will move on because the shelf life for public interest in the deaths of Black youths is short. Our tragedies are snippets on a timeline, although multiple groups and individuals here are demanding solutions and searching for answers.
The last year has been defined by politics, policing and activism, and the coming months could reshape a community and the role of policing within it. Those invested in imagining a new world after the murder of George Floyd continue to vie against those who do not believe radical change is necessary. This is a consequential chapter for the entire area. After the votes are cast and officials are elected or reelected and policies and laws are changed — or preserved — I do hope the most important conversation will persist: What about our kids?
Black children in Minnesota continue to lose their lives to gun violence. That's not a Black community problem. It's a Minnesota problem. Any child's upbringing and environment can influence the decisions they will make in the future. But Minnesota wasn't established as a place for Black folks to thrive. The economic, medical and educational disparities have stretched across generations.
That's why the gun is not the first problem. It's just the last and most pivotal problem. It starts at the beginning. Young people, of any background, become more reckless when they are offered few reasons to believe they have bright futures. Tragedy becomes more likely when their access to firearms is not impeded. The police brutality, the violence, the pandemic and the financial devastation bombarding the Twin Cities' Black community right now have only encouraged that unfortunate outlook for some of the young Black men who've decided the gun is a necessary accessory.
Too many Black kids in this place do not believe there is anything better behind Door No. 2. And if that's not addressed, then the list that already includes London Bean, Ladavionne Garrett Jr., Trinity Ottoson-Smith, Aniya Allen and the 30 people — at least — under 18 who have been shot this year will grow. There is a long line of young victims and, in many cases, young shooters.
I was about 12 years old the first time I touched a gun. Someone I knew, who was a few years older than I was, pulled one from his pocket. "You ever held a gun?" he asked. I told him I had not. I grabbed it and quickly let it go because I was scared.
We did not live in the same neighborhood or the same world. We did not share the same concerns about our safety.
He carried his gun with him wherever he went. He said he would rather have the gun and not need it than not have it if and when he did. We were both young, but he expected death.
That is not a mind-set that any mentor or community leader or politician can easily fix. But it's also an impossible quandary if it's addressed through a one-dimensional approach. There are layers to this.
A few months ago, I asked Mayor Jacob Frey — after another child had been shot and killed in Minneapolis — if he had a plan to instill more hope in a city where it was clearly waning for some Black kids.
"I'm an optimistic person," he told me. "I do feel that there is not just a collective acknowledgment of our societal shortcomings but there is also a collective acknowledgment that we need to channel all of this energy toward specificity. It's that kind of precision that we all need to get galvanized around. Sometimes, it's so broad and the conversation is so philosophical, as it should be, but then we never get to the 'thing.' "
No one in the city of Minneapolis is more responsible for identifying and solving that thing. And that thing, for the Black community, is ongoing violence that is stealing the dreams of our youth. But it's not untethered violence. It is the seedling of despair, which has been inflamed by inequality.
That's why London Michael Bean is gone.
At his funeral, those who loved him will tell their favorite stories. His friends will reflect on their memories of a Black child who was killed before he turned 13.
And the grief will linger.
It refuses to leave us alone.