The morning after 21-year-old Dreasjon “Sean” Reed was shot and killed by an Indianapolis police officer, I had a conversation with my mom. I shared the emotions I felt watching the Facebook Live video of his death the evening before.
“It was terrible,” I said. “From the look in his eyes to the end with the shooting, the entire thing made me really sad.”
My mom remarked that she knew exactly what I meant. She’d seen that same look many years ago in the face of one of her “adopted sons” from the neighborhood who was headed to Harvard but ultimately ended up on another path. We saw his potential, his spirit and perhaps his brilliance which blinded us to the unaddressed trauma lurking beneath the surface. Trauma that would lead to decisions ultimately landing him in the last place he, or anyone, should ever be — behind bars. And in the case of Dreasjon, left dying in the street.
Community members have posted on social media about Dreasjon’s involvement with a prestigious mentoring program and his short time in the military. His family remembers his lively personality. I didn’t know Dreasjon and just got a glimpse of him on the day he died. He was flying down the street, shirtless, broadcasting to over 3,000 people on Facebook Live while being followed by police. Shortly after the broadcast ended, others posted on social media about his dark past. Pictures of him brandishing a weapon filled my timeline. I thought, does any of that matter right now? I just watched him die and was still traumatized by what I saw.
Trying to reconcile all this was puzzling for me. At one point, Dreasjon was doing the things we’re told to do to help our young men to stay alive. I fear that what we deem accomplishments — like elite affiliations, respectable career paths, etc. — will not save us or protect us. They are not the balms we’ve convinced each other they are. Maybe they’re just tiny bandaids on a gaping wound that the effects of systemic racism have created. Some can handle the stench, and others grow rabid from the aroma. Violent societies beget young people who sometimes adopt the posture of violence as an identity and means of survival. Some are taken from us before they have the opportunity to realize another path. And we all lose when even just one is lost.
But does being lost justify one’s death? I believe Dreasjon deserved to live. Like the countless others who have been taken from us, he deserved to live and grow from his mistakes. And it hurts me deeply to confront the truth that we don’t get to choose when we die, and second chances are not guaranteed.
Two days after his death, I joined hundreds of protestors downtown for one of the many rallies. Police officials said Dreasjon was not only armed but fired at police before a cop returned fire. But protestors demanded proof. Directly in front of me, I watched a young black mother with her elementary-aged black boys holding signs yelling Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! They were among the first protestors to arrive.
Seeing them, I thought about the countless conversations I’ve had with the black men in my own life. I tell them to be safe. Don’t do too much wild stuff. Make sure you come back home to us. I don’t want you to die. I even stay on the phone with them whenever they have interactions with the police. I do that because it makes me feel safer knowing they aren’t alone, and if something does happen, I will be around to tell the story.
It breaks my heart every time a black person’s life is taken. In the past two weeks, I’ve learned of other instances in Georgia, where Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when he was hunted down by two vigilantes in a pickup truck and in Louisville, where Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in her own home.
Each time, I feel depleted, helpless and angry. It’s just another black name on our lips with declarations of ‘RIP’ and ‘Justice for…’ It reminds me of the times when it could’ve been my family in mourning, desperate for truth.
My Indianapolis community is divided. Since police say Dreasjon had a gun, some feel his death isn’t the one to fuss over. Others want retribution to prove once and for all that black lives have worth and can’t be taken without penalty. I wish for a world where Dreasjons don’t die, and we don’t have to debate whether or not the actions of the police were justified. I wish for a world where young men like Dreasjon make it back home.
Ebony Chappel co-hosts the talk show “Open Lines,” alongside television reporter Cameron Ridle, Sunday mornings at 8AM EST live on both 106.7 WTLC FM and Hot 96.3 FM in Indianapolis.