This morning’s New York Times reported yet another innocent young Black man being gunned down on the street. NeShawn Plummer, 16, was killed in Far Rockaway, Queens, caught in a spray of bullets aimed at a crowd of teens on a street corner. Police suspect it was a gang related attack and are seeking two suspects.
Incredibly, his brother Shawn Plummer was killed in 2012, another innocent bystander in a shooting. Their mother Sharon Plummer moved their family to a quieter part of Brooklyn after Shawn’s death, but NeShawn liked to hang out with his friends in the old neighborhood, and had ridden his bike over that day to see them. The Plummer boys were reported by all to have been good kids who stayed out of trouble.
These horrific stories come out of our communities on a regular basis. Police are killing our sons. Our own sons are killing our sons. Our boys are in danger, victims of an epidemic of violence.
Danez Smith’s poem “the bullet was a girl” came to him as he contemplated the “normalcy” of the discussion of violence against Black Americans.
the bullet is a girl
the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet
was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin
was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it—
must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black
with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes
they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body
to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame
why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed
Smith, author of [insert] boy and an M.F.A. candidate at the University of Michigan, explains the origins of this poem on poets.org:
“This poem came while I was thinking about the casual nature with which many media outlets and people talk about the death, murder, and oppression of black Americans. It worries me how regular black murders have become in our vocabulary, so much that we speak of these maddening acts of violence as if there is destiny or tradition at play. I won’t pretend like violence against the black bodies isn’t an American tradition and sickness, but I refuse to deem it destiny or incurable. This poem is as much a true feeling as it is a complete lie.”
Poets.org features a free poem-a-day subscription service which we at GCP love and heartily recommend. You can sign up here, and you can hear Smith reading this work here. This was today’s poem, and the coincidence of receiving this poem in our inbox on the day that this latest tragedy was reported was too powerful to ignore.