Black and Brown people are not cartoon characters. We do not not run through bullets, breathe while being strangled, or rip our own spines. We also evolve and do not wear the same clothes everyday for years like a tv cartoon series. We are not Bart Simpson’s that are bereft of complex souls and intricate biographies.
Yet, the media portrays many of ‘us’ as such.
Three weeks ago in Brooklyn, the trauma of death displayed itself violently at a funeral. Six people were shot, two fatally, at the funeral of Jose Louis Robles who had died of natural causes. Sadly, exacerbating this compounded trauma were ensuing media and police reports that released the criminal history of one of the men who were killed. The local media were complicit in the character assassination of Sharieff Clayton, one of the men who were murdered. His wife and children had to read and see news reports about their loved one’s death as if it were insignificant—a by-product of being formerly incarcerated—untimely murder.
The deceased, Sharieff Clayton, was the Enrichment Coordinator of a alternative to incarceration program at CASES. He held that position for seven years until he was killed on April 26th. He was a father and husband whose Facebook posts were filled with pictures of his children and wife. He also assisted students at Columbia University’s Teachers College at their Racial Literacy Roundtable on Educating Greatness.
Yet, the NY Daily News obituarized him in an article inaccurately titled, “Two men killed, one shielding wife from bullet, in gang-related gunfire at Brooklyn wake after 20-year-old grudge boils over, as [emphasis added]:
“Victim Sharieff Clayton, 40, was paroled in 2007 for his conviction in a Brooklyn robbery and manslaughter case, police said. He started his 10-to-21-year jail term in May 1994 — 21 years ago.”
No sentimental note that Mr. Clayton was a human being who will be missed. No words that would allow the reader to empathize for his wife and children. No indication that Mr. Clayton was just attending a funeral to mourn the death of a friend like everyone else at the funeral. Nothing to document this man’s biography of evolution, redemption, and selflessness.
Formerly incarcerated women, men, and children make up 21%, or 68 million of the US population and African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the 2.3 million people incarcerated. Many of us are professors, lawyers, not-for-profit professionals, activists, actors, musicians, preachers, writers, students, mommy’s, daddy’s, brothers, husbands, wives, sisters, sons, daughters, grandparents, great grand parents—human beings. We are people; people worthy of mattering beyond our worst moments. We are contributors. We are relevant.
In a Judeo-Christian society where we venerate men like the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus. Do we remember him for the many Christians he tortured and killed, or do we remember him for the 13 books of the New Testament that he wrote, and his mentorship of another Bible book writer, young Timothy?
As a formerly incarcerated leader who also has his Saul of Tarsus days, I have also created a life that includes many wonderful things…things that I hope matter in the event that my life comes to a tragic end like Mr. Clayton’s.
He was a significant and layered human being with a biography who did not deserve to die. Let’s make sure his character also rests in peace.