March 19, 2008
I’m in an awkward position. On the one hand, I’m a member of the media. What that really means, I still don’t know. So far I’ve gathered that it has something to do with writing and making decisions about what other people read. Take this here, blog-a-thon, for instance. I’ve been
harassing encouraging people for almost two weeks to tell their stories of how violence impacts their lives and communities.
Midway through sending out a mass text message, I started to have second thoughts. It’s not easy to get people to write about anything, much less something as personal as violence. And then I began to reconsider what I would write about. I had made the decision long ago to write about topics from a distance, especially those that were closest to me. It was a decision based more on personal protection than journalistic objectivity, and it’s always easier to write about something you’re removed from. I was going to google some statistics, quote some song lyrics, maybe make a reference or two to The Wire, and then write about it all in some vague, circular way, make sure all my links were on point, post, and then peace out.
But that would make me a hypocrite. After all, I can’t ask anyone to do something I’m not willing to do myself.
My older sister was murdered on the streets of San Francisco when she was 15 years old. I’ve always had a fraught relationship with the media because of it. Journalists were the ones who used my family tragedy as their newsworthy story of the day. They asked questions, got answers, then left. They printed my sister’s name so that some ambitious young politician could use it as political fodder for a campaign against crime. On every poster, in every story, she was reduced to a mere footnote, a statistic without a smile, a favorite song or a family.
Even though they never got the story right, it was usually the journalists who did all the talking. For the rest of us, my sister’s death was shrouded in silence, a memory too painful to talk about.
Growing up, I didn’t know how to talk about it with my family, but I knew exactly what not to say to spark an ill-advised trip down PTSD lane. Every year, the rules were the same: birthdays and holidays are somber occasions. No violent movies. Never protest a curfew. Never ask the police for directions, ’cause if they can’t find your sister’s killer, they surely can’t be of service.’ Don’t question mom’s forlorn gazes. People whispered my sister’s name like they were afraid of it. Most times, it seemed like the people most impacted by violence are so wrapped up in fear, hopelessness and isolation that silence becomes their only safeguard against a litany of meaningless words and empty rhetoric.