Poetry, Race & Politics, Writing
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I am Philando Castile

People at Philando Castile's funeral

by Tyeastia Green

“Thug: noun
a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer.”

I’m not a thug. My dreadlocks hang on the nape of my neck
There’s a halo of pride
A glow of esteem, built upon by all of those who came before me.
My people, who have long since passed
Leaving their legacy.
As we continue to search for the cultural identity stolen
When we mounted ships for the land of free. I’m not a thug.

Education won’t spare me.
Money won’t refrain me
The love of my family, can’t keep me in safety.
For there are too many who fear me.
Too many who see me, threatened by my physicality.
Because I was born into a country
That never meant for me to be free. I’m not a thug.

Thug is code for the N word you don’t want to speak.
Outwardly.
Thug is code for the cowardice you feel, unfoundedly.
As my blood spills.
Apparently, too much to ask not to be killed
In a country my ancestors built.
Their chains traded for our graves. I’m not a thug.

They search for any hope of derailment.
Any sign that my appearance meets their suspicions.
To justify the unjust.
They look for a record, a felony or two.
In hopes of attaching truth
As they have named me, thug.
When they can’t find it, they finally embrace me.
White tears spilled
On the ground that bears my memory.
A moment too late, just before my family buries me. I’m not a thug.

I want to return home safely.
But in fear, trembling hands, and a pounding heart beat
As I look at my loved ones when the suns peaks.
Kiss them goodbye, and I love you is said, as our eyes meet.
Never knowing if this is the day
My see you later, meant goodbye.

I’m not a thug.
I’m not a thug.

[Header image courtesy of Holly Peterson, Pioneer Press, 2016]

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