Jamal Michel Can't Breathe
“I write to re-assure you that you faithfully fulfilled the difficult task you were asked to undertake. The criticism of the jury’s decision of which I am aware has focused primarily on a reaction to the squad-cam video and on consideration of issues you as jurors were never asked to address. You were never asked to decide whether racism continues to exist, whether certain members of our community are disproportionately affected by police tactics, or whether police training is ineffective.” — Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III, in a letter to the jury after Jeronimo Yanez’s acquittal.
I find it difficult to breathe when my justice system tells a ‘jury of my peers’ to ignore the systemic, historic and perverse injustices that have oppressed my community. Even more, I find it harder to breathe in a society where a system that failed Kalief Browder—that failed Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile will go out of its way to mask the past fettered to the victims of it.
Malcolm X once spoke of the ever evolving search for truth, one that was intelligent and purposeful due to new and astounding knowledge and experiences gained.
I now feel that my justice system does not want me to breathe, does not want me to be recognized as a survivor of a history fraught with the absence of oxygen—a truth my justice system willfully chooses to overlook, willfully chooses to neglect to disclose to my ‘peers’.
I do not know how much longer I can still breathe in a society that doesn’t believe I can…or should.
Jamal Michel is an English teacher at Northern High School in Durham, NC. He is a Duke MAT graduate and has been studying the lack of diversity in the world of the humanities and in academic faculty. He also writes commentary on race relations for Duke’s news outlet, as well as poetry on Black lives in 21st century America published in different literary magazines and journals.