In a sign of the times, black writer David Dennis has issued a video with instructions for his son on what to do should he be shot and killed by police. Watching Cameron Sterling — Alton Sterling’s 15-year-old son — breaking down after his father was killed by police necessitated making the video, Dennis said.
“Up until that moment, I hadn’t really thought about what would happen if I were killed by police and I left you here to deal with life on your own,” Dennis says into the camera, his voice steady as he reassures his son about what to do. While many consider being shot by police to be unthinkable, for black men, the “unthinkable” has moved so far into the realm of the possible that fathers have to plan for it. That’s the take-away from the video.
Dennis had previously posted an open letter to his son on July 6th, after the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on July 5th. In the letter, Dennis responded to a press conference video of Sterling’s widow and son speaking to reporters. Cameron Sterling cannot stop crying, which led Dennis to write:
That was the visual I wasn’t prepared for. All I could see was you. I’ve been so accustomed to getting over Black death that I’d ignored the reality of Black survival. Of what it was like to bury a parent as the price paid for inequality. The pain of what it’s like to have to wake up the next day knowing that injustice took mom or dad away. I now have a new fear. One I just watched play out in front of me the same way I’ve seen Black people lose their lives in front of me. That video has shown me what it would be like if you were awakened in the middle of the night and someone told you that police murdered me in cold blood. Cameron’s screams sound like what I imagine your screams would sound like. I see his mother trying to be strong in light of his pain and see your mother doing the same. I see his family trying to console him and think of your sister trying to tell you that everything will be okay knowing that things have never been okay in this country.
Dennis writes about how, if he is killed by police, in the days following, his son will have to deal with photos of his dad that will show him in the worst possible light — anything that will make his dad look like a criminal — or the quoting of his dad’s words out of context, to make him look like a bad man. He tries to prepare his son for how to get through that time.
In the video, which is now posted online at the BBC, Dennis wants his son to know that any encounter he has with the police will not have been with Dennis carrying a gun or resisting arrest. He says:
“But in the event that [my death] does happen I want you to know that no matter how my death would be justified, that I didn’t deserve to die. I didn’t deserve to get killed by police. I deserve to be home with you.” Dennis says that his son will know these things just as he knows that Alton Sterling, Oscar Grant, and Trayvon Martin all deserved to be home “with their families.”
Dennis makes it clear that no encounter with the police is worth giving up the chance to be with his son.
“[I want] to let you know that all I want to do, is be with you, and unfortunately being around police in America, I run the risk of that not happening. And I don’t know when that will change.”
Watch the video below: