First, I must applaud Ava DuVernay for her brilliant direction of the docuseries, When They See Us, a gripping and emotional film about the Exonerated Five. Korey, Kevin, Raymond, Antron and Yusef are their names and they were falsely accused, manipulated and abused by law enforcement and the media in the wake of the brutal rape of the Central Park jogger. You know the story. They were called animals, essentially tortured while in police custody and were the subject of a death penalty campaign by the current occupant of the White House.
I found it interesting that the film debuted against the backdrop of the ever-present debate about the beginning of a baby’s life amidst the recent abortion bans passed in Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri and Alabama. As we engage in these debates, those of us who often exist on the margins in the United States due to our racial, economic or gender identities beg to ask the questions, “Whose babies really matter? Whose babies are we really committed to protecting as a society?”
Korey, Kevin, Raymond, Antron and Yusef were babies. Only ages fourteen to sixteen, they endured their interrogation with naivete and innocence, believing what they were told; if they cooperated, they would go home. One of the most heart wrenching images in the film was when the camera zoomed in on the face of the youngest boy, Antron, as he was hearing graphic details of “his” crime. Imagine 14-year-old Antron, who had never had sex, trying to process being accused of sticking his penis in a woman he had neither seen nor known.
He was just a baby.
I was recently reunited with my own 14-year old son and I was taken aback by his new girth and ginormous feet. I know he is on the slow steady course to manhood. But then I spied him playing Minecraft on his computer, something I haven’t seen since he was about nine years old. He told me that he just felt like playing it again and while he was collecting llamas and building worlds, I was reminded that his heart and soul are still so young and childlike.
In the grand scheme of things, he’s still just a baby. My baby.
If we can dare to see the potential of a living breathing baby in a fuzzy image on a monitor, can’t we also see that same baby in the eyes of a 14-year old Black boy? Why is that so hard to imagine? Korey, Kevin, Raymond, Antron and Yusef were all just babies.
And so were Trayvon and Tamir and Antwon and Ramarley and Michael and Laquan and Quintonio and Jordan.