At 27 years old, the last words I clearly remember my mother saying to me were “You really should do something with your writing.” Hardly an original sentiment for her — banal, even. Nothing I hadn’t heard a thousand times before. And it barely registered on that occasion, just as it had every other; I didn’t know until afterward that that would be our last conversation.
Death has a way of retroactively transforming the banal, the everyday. That seems especially true for sudden, unexpected, especially tragic and premature death. Particularly under those circumstances, death makes an angel of every word, gives them wings where they once had shoulders smooth as ravens’ claws. The sheer banality though, reminds us that this life is a fragile thing, that our last moments are often those we least expect.
That’s all the more true here, today, in America, where the Grim Reaper less often wears a cloak and carries a scythe than he does carry a gun slotted into his smooth, black uniform belt. But the harvest remains the same.
It’s been many long years since America began treating its public institutions as profit-making corporations, as opposed to profit-losing public services. Many years since the horror of privatization began transforming our public servants into harvesters of feed stock for the misery machine, to “protect and serve” no more. “Fear” and “self-interest” are the bywords of today.
The images below, posted to Imagur by user bbshirin and hashtagged “#lastwords” are in part a short catalog of America’s shameful obsession with for-profit public services, of a justice system sold to the highest bidder. Eight unarmed black men and teens (most notably Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown), and the last words they uttered before being brutally gunned down. Most were victims of either police, or people acting as self-appointed police.
As you read them, ask yourself: What would these words have meant, had unexpected death not made angels of them in retrospect? How banal, how pointless will your own be, on the day you find yourself looking down the barrel of a gun, with hands held high?
(Images and captions courtesy of Shirin-Banou Barghi)
Diallo was shot outside his Bronx apartment. The police officers had mistaken him for a serial rapist, who was later apprehended.
Jonathan never had an opportunity to reply. He had bullets in him before he could ever hit the ground.
They said they thought McDade was armed because … he clutched his waste band as they chased him onto a dimly lit neighborhood street.
Mehserle testified that he meant to zap Grant with his Taser in an Oakland station – but instead pulled his .40 caliber handgun and blasted the man.
At one point, Guzman says, he spoke to Sean Bell and said, “S, I love you, son.” He says Bell said, “I love you too.” Then Guzman says Bell “stopped moving.”
New York City police officers shot and killed 16-year-old Kimani Gray in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
The officer demanded that the two “get the f—k on the sidewalk, Johnson says. “His exact words were get the f—k on the sidewalk.”
The medical examiner’s office later ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the officer’s chokehold as well chest and neck compressions and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.” (Garner’s last words were on July 17th, not July 7th as the graphic indicates.)
“He was at the video games playing videos and he went over there by the toy section where the toy guns were. And the next thing I know, he said ‘It’s not real,’ and the police start shooting and they said ‘Get on the ground,’ but he was already on the ground because they had shot him. And I could hear him just crying and screaming. I feel like they shot him down like he was not even human.”