9/8 – 9/10/15
Cameron Tillman, aged 14, died in Houma, Louisiana. He was shot at the doorstep of a longtime abandoned home in the neighborhood he lived in—the abandoned home was a haven for the neighborhood youth. As I was filming in the rain with my camera trained on the abandoned home, a gentleman came up to me—admitted that back in his day (which could have been 5-7 years ago), that home was used as a gathering spot for slanging, playing dice, and other shenanigans, but not ever known to be a locus for gun violence. According to him, it was a neighbor who might have been fed up, might have been something other than willing to a take step out of his home and walk over half a block away to just ask. Rather, that individual called the police, reporting that some youth had gone into the abandoned home with a gun. A policeman responds to the call, and as young Cameron opens the door, the policeman begins firing. The officer claimed to have seen a gun in Cameron’s hand, however conflicting accounts from Cameron’s friends at the scene said that the gun wasn’t anywhere near Cameron’s hand, and it was a BB gun at that. By the way, Louisiana is an open carry state—so there’s already a cultural accepting with guns. Even if Cameron was too young to legally carry, shouldn’t have the course of action been one of dialogue and questioning by the police officer?
Houma is a small town, and unlike larger hubs like Ferguson, New York, there isn’t the same critical mass, but there will be a memorial vigil by community members next month. Cameron’s family is still grieving and will not participate.
Victor White III died in the back of a Sheriff’s office patrol car in the center of New Iberia on March 2, 2014. You can read the official story, the criticisms around the official story, and provide support through the family’s website at justiceforvic.com
The Sheriff’s office sits in the center of the city, marked with different placards, commemorating important moments in New Iberia’s establishment by a group of Spaniards from Malaga in 1779, and after the Louisiana Purchase, New Iberia became official in 1814 when the federal government opened up the city’s first post office. One placard in the courtyard is dedicated to Fèlicité, a Haitian woman, who was immune to yellow fever when it struck New Iberia in the fall of 1839. She tended to masters and slaves alike—everything from administering care, to minding logistics for burials. She died in 1852, her wake taking place at Frederick Duperier’s home (her master), “where both races paid their last respects for her.” (They Tasted Bayou Water, by Maurine Bergerie).
Ironic, to film the placard within the vicinity where Victor died.
Necessary, to film that placard.
As if Félicité, could rise above her station in life by the exclusion of that word: slave. That particular omission and revision acknowledges her dignity, but denies reality. Félicité is revered for her enduring kindness, and great capacity to work under duress. If you could transcend the social conditions during incredible crisis, then you are more human, and will be immortalized.
Yet, this somehow cannot be the case of the millions of enslaved that lived a very similar life as Félicité…didn’t slaves transcend their conditions every day they survived?
Why is the way we commemorate slavery’s legacy one that denies rectification, one that denies healing?
I’m speaking beyond placards, and museums—but demanding a paradigm shift, anything and everything from rectifying the criminalization of Blacks. To going even further, and reconsider reparations, and one of the more revolutionary, but still sensible solutions: abolishing the prison system altogether.
In a future like that, maybe Cameron Tillman’s neighbors wouldn’t have called the police, and maybe the abandoned home would’ve been an established communal site. Maybe then Victor White III wouldn’t have been arrested, maybe he would have pursued his education, begin his blue collar career to help raise his new family (his girlfriend is due with his child this year)—and continue his already forward trajectory as a productive member of society, as a human.