I never understood what older people meant when they cried, “stop killing people who look like us!” Until now, I could never bring myself to echo those words. These faces constantly appearing on the news never looked like me. They never even look like each other. Each victim has their own face, their own life, their own story, their own shade of brown. It isn’t fair to continuously lump them together in protest.
“I know it’s sad, baby girl,” my dad would sigh, fingers dancing through my hair soothingly, “but it’s the only way they’ll see us.” But they don’t see us, I’d want to argue back, but that was a truth I didn’t want confirmed. I’ve always preferred to curl up in his arms, the safest place in the world.
Dad wasn’t always home, so I cherished the nights that I could sit beside him on the couch and challenge him in Mario Kart. The greatest sign of my maturity was my increasing win tally, and my father made sure to mope about it after every Mushroom Cup I beat him in.
“I’m gonna be racing you in GTA soon,” he’d groan, slapping a hand over his face. Whenever I rolled my eyes or nudged an elbow into his side, he would lean over and plant a sloppy kiss on the crown of my head, right at the part in my braids.
A tear suddenly down my cheek, and I hurried to swipe it away. Despite Dad being the reason for the crowd and reporters, all eyes were on us.
“I know my husband didn’t have the cleanest record, but he didn’t deserve to die!” My mom was glaring at a Fox News reporter whose microphone was jammed under her chin.
Gerren’s grip tightened on Mom’s arm so hard that I was sure it’d bruise. Standing erect, my brother towered nearly five inches above the male reporter’s head. A half-step forward sent the man stumbling back in fear.
It was almost amusing to picture my brother as an aggressor. A skilled cellist, Gerren had just graduated from Julliard and accepted a position with the Philadelphia Philharmonic. He’d be starting from the back row, but I’d be surprised if he wasn’t First Chair by the time I graduated.
“Ma’am, all I’m saying is your husband wasn’t exactly innocent,” the reporter countered, scowling at Gerren. “Without bodycam footage, how can we be sure the officers didn’t fire their guns in self-defense?”
Our attorney, Terrell Stuart, finally stepped forward. The reporter visibly relaxed when Gerren and our mother retreated to my side. I reached over and grabbed onto my mom’s hand. My palm was sweaty and hers dry, but she laced her fingers with mine so that we were locked together.
“There are bullets embedded in the driver’s side of the car,” Mr. Stuart stated, calling back to the case evidence. “The 12 bullets lodged in both the front and rear doors, alongside the 16 recovered from Mr. Lansing’s body, are an immediate indicator of excessive force. You cannot allege that those men had probable cause to unload nearly 30 rounds into one man during a routine traffic stop.”
“Mr. Lansing was a 6’4”, 270 lb man, and had a firearm in his glove compartment,” the reporter countered. His thick dark brows drew together skeptically when he asked, “Wouldn’t you fear for your life standing in front of him?” I sucked in a harsh breath.
Gerren reached around to rub his hand along my back as our mother gave my hand a squeeze. I felt dizzy and nauseous all at once, and the incessant camera flashes were suddenly overwhelming.
The tears broke past my lids before I was aware that I was crying. “Miss Lansing, are you alright, dear?” one of the female reporters beside me asked gently. She reached a hand out toward my shoulder, but I swatted it away. In the same motion, I stepped away from my remaining family and snatched the microphone from the Fox reporter.
“That’s enough!” I sounded far less intimidating than I hoped I would. I took a slower breath and started over. “When are you people going to give this a rest?”
My eyes landed on each reporter in turn as I continued my tirade. “I’m sick of hearing about how scary all of these people were, as if that justifies how they were murdered!”
“Now, young lady, ‘murder’ is a strong word…” one of the reporters raised his hand, but my glare silenced him again.
“Senseless killing is murder,” I said, blinking my eyes to clear them. “And I refuse to believe that my father’s history should define him.” My dad sold drugs 15 years ago to make ends meet. My parents were poor, but they wanted us to have the best opportunities. They wanted Gerren to be able to have his own cello so he could practice over the summer. They wanted me to join club soccer because it’s what I love to play.
“My dad served his time. He spent eight years in prison and had another three on probation, and all that time he never stepped out of line. He’s been free for only a few months, and you’re going to stand here and tell me that he deserved to die?”
My chest was heaving when I finally stopped, and the dizziness had only gotten worse. Gerren stepped forward to hold me up, but before I released the microphone I had one more thing to say.
With everyone’s eyes on me, I held onto the microphone and spoke my truth. “This system was built on the premise that we are all innocent until proven guilty. Because no one proved he was guilty of anything, my father died an innocent man. Stop twisting things to make it sound like he was a criminal.”
My fingers shook as Gerren took the microphone from me. He had the softest expression on his face, and when I pressed my face into his chest he held me tighter.
“It’s not fair!” I sobbed, my words muffled by his shirt. “We just got him back… we had him back and now he’s gone.” My father gave me his light hazel eyes.
He gave me his thick lips, and his long legs. Now, I can say “stop killing people who look like us,” because one of those people looked like me.
words_cassie couri. photo_nailah anderson. design_olivia ginsberg.
This article was published in Distraction’s fall 2020 print issue.