On March 9, 2015 Anthony Hill was shot and killed by DeKalb County police officer Robert “Chip” Olsen.
Anthony Hill was a United States Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan. He was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and awaiting an appointment at the local VA. He experienced an episode of psychological distress.
He was naked.
He was unarmed.
He was Black.
Anthony Hill’s naked Black body threatened Officer Olsen so he shot him.
Anthony Hill is dead.
On October 10, 2019 – more than four years after Hill’s death – a jury found the officer NOT guilty of murder.
On November 1, 2019, the officer was sentenced to up to 20 years for the assault charge and up to five years for “two counts of violating his oath of office and one count of making a false statement.” He will serve 12 years.
Imagine yourself at your most vulnerable state. Imagine someone shooting you when you were crying out for help, even if you didn’t have all of the words exactly right.
While Anthony Hill’s case received some national attention, it did not spark the outrage and protests that we’ve seen as of late, though it is arguably the single most disturbing case of a murder of a Black man at the hands of the police.
Why didn’t this get more attention? Why didn’t people galvanize for Anthony Hill in the same massive way people are gathering now for George Floyd?
Yes, the climate is different now. George Floyd’s death comes in the midst of a pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black folx. But I can’t help but wonder if Hill had been shot now if the outrage would be the same.
You see, Hill was battling mental illness after battling on the frontlines of war. We’ve all heard of PTSD but we don’t always know what that looks like. In fact, it’s that way with a lot of psychological disorders.
The stigma around mental illness, cognitive decline, and other types of behavior-altering conditions remains pervasive in the Black community, despite concerted efforts to combat the stigma. We, as a people, do not talk about mental illness, though I posit that we collectively suffer from the trauma of racial violence, which manifests itself in mental and physical ailments that have gone untreated for centuries. But, as any shameful past, we don’t talk about it.
It’s too heavy and there is too much to unpack.
Another thing we don’t talk about in the Black community? Sexuality and gender identity. That is why many of you aren’t familiar with the names Tony McDade, Riah Milton, or Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Three Black, transgender people whose lives were also taken in this most recent rash of killings of unarmed Black folx.
Unfortunately, many in the Black community (and society at large) are uncomfortable with queerness and fail to understand that the people who abuse, oppress, and suppress Black people and trans people are often one and the same. Our brothers and sisters who identify as LGBTQIA+ feel exponentially alienated and are therefore at far greater risk. When we march, when we worship, when we organize, we need to pull up a chair for them at the table, too.
But why stop there? Black women’s bodies are constantly and consistently being violated. In hospitals where doctors fail to take our childbirth concerns seriously. When we seek help following sexual assault we are ignored and then permanently silenced, like Oluwatoyin Salau.
We may at home asleep in bed where police officers burst into our bedrooms and shoot us 12 times. Like they did with Breonna Taylor. We might attend a girls’ night with some other moms from your child’s football team and end up dead with no explanation, like Tamala Horsford.
But we don’t talk about violence against women or women’s reproductive rights in the Black community because it’s impolite to discuss such things in mixed company. We shame our women and their bodies into suffering in collective silence or as some heroine-esque show of “Black woman resilience.”
I say no more.
No longer will we allow the shame and stigma that was put upon us by centuries of supremacy by the White male patriarchy to perpetuate our collective suffering.
We will pursue joy as fulfilled by equitable access to all things necessary for good quality of life.
We demand fully funded schools and defunded police.
We expect clean, breathable air and healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
We want freedom and peace and opportunity and love and security.
And all the things that make life truly worth living.
And we want it now.