After I wrote a column about Travon Free’s Oscar-winning short film, Two Distant Strangers, a Groundhog Day for a Black man who, no matter how he alters his behavior, is shot by a white policeman, another Black man, Duante Wright, was gunned down.
It was as if Free’s film was less of a reflection of the madness of the shootings, and more a replay of the news. You can watch the film on Netflix, then switch back to CNN, and inevitably watch breaking news about another Black man being senselessly shot. The movie merely melding into reality.
I then wrote about the George Floyd verdict, and how at that moment when the three guilty verdicts were read, there was a brief hope for the future. You went to bed that night with a slight sense of relief. But, then came the next morning, and you were jolted back to reality.
Just like Free’s film, it’s the continuation of the same harrowing, horrific story. The day after the verdict, on April 21, Andrew Brown, a 42-year-old black man, was fatally shot in the head by a deputy sheriff in Elizabeth City, N.C. Seven officers were placed on leave as a result of the shooting. Brown’s attorneys allege he was killed execution-style by a bullet through the back of his head.
And early the next morning, on April 22, Isaiah Brown, a 32-year-old gay Black man, was walking down the street away from his house in Spotsylvania County, Va., and was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, when he was shot 10 times – that’s right 10 times, for holding a phone to his ear. Brown remains in critical and guarded condition fighting for his life. The family blames miscommunication between the dispatcher and the police officer.
The irony, if you can call it that, is that the police officer who shot him also gave him a ride home earlier, after Brown’s car broke down. How could this happen?
As of this week, Brown and Brown had nothing in common except their last name and skin color. They also now join the scores of other persons of color who have been killed or critically wounded by rogue police officers.
It just keeps occurring, despite the outcry for police reform, despite the protests, despite the tear-jerking press conferences that feature the grieving mother, brother, sister, wife or child. It’s like a warped, haunting broken record. We can’t get away from it. It’s sticking to us, and whatever we do, we can’t seem to get rid of it. Unless you are that wife, brother, child or sister, you can’t imagine the pain. One day they are part of the family, and the next day they are tragically part of an unbroken string of breaking news.
I reached out to Isaiah’s sister, Yolanda, for what can only be described as a very difficult conversation. I was torn about speaking with her at such a delicate time, particularly since Isaiah is still fighting for his life, but I assured Yolanda that the LGBTQ+ community was thinking and praying for her brother and wanted to learn more about him.
The most immediate question was how is Isaiah? “His condition hasn’t changed,” Yolanda said while exhaling a long breath. “He’s still in the ICU. It’s still touch and go. His vitals are up one minute and down the next, and he hasn’t regained consciousness. We’re just waiting for him to come to.”
I explained to Yolanda that none of us could possibly know what she and her family are going through, and asked how everyone was holding up. “I guess all I can say is that we’re doing the best we can. As you said, this is very hard because it’s not knowing what will happen that is so tough. Not knowing which way it can go. We’re all just trying to hang in there, and support Isaiah as best we can.”
Yolanda explained because of COVID-19 protocols at the hospital she has been the only family member allowed to see Isaiah. “It’s been eight days, and I’ve been there every day. I tell him stories, pray with him, laugh with him, and play music for him. And I tell him I love him constantly. I’m just waiting for him to tell me that he loves me back, and that will lift a big burden off my chest. We just have to believe that he will be alright.”
The brother and sister have a very special relationship, with Yolanda and Isaiah sharing the same mother and father and being closest in age among the rest of their siblings. Also, Yolanda said she was responsible for pointing her brother towards the field of health care. “The very fact that he works with elderly people, and loves it, tells you so much about him,” she pointed out.
I told Yolanda that I went through her brother’s Facebook page, and that it made me awfully hungry. “Oh yes, he loves his sweets,” she said with laugh. “He is just the life of the party. He loves his family, loves to laugh, and just loves, loves his music. He currently loves Big Freedia, and as a matter of fact, he just got me into her music.”
Yolanda added that her brother’s smile, “Just lights up a room.”
I found myself a bit choked up thinking about how much Yolanda loves her brother and told her and told her I had a special relationship with my sister as well. “It sounds like you both are just full of love,” I said. “Yes. I think that’s the message he’d want me to tell you is that we have no hatred. We will continue to love everyone the same.”
I asked Yolanda if anyone from the police department has reached out to her, or the family, to check in on Isaiah. “No,” she said after a long pause.
Living through this nightmare, I wanted to know if she had a message of any kind. “So many things are running through my mind. First, I just want my brother to be healthy. Hopefully, we can get answers as to what happened, and at least try and move forward.”
“Finally, my heart goes out to all the families that have had to deal with this situation. We need to figure out why this keeps happening and where all the failures are coming from. How to fix this is the million-dollar question. I have other brothers, and I don’t want them to continue walking around in fear.”
John Casey is the editor at large for The Advocate.