What evil has been done? came the question, but they were too enraged. His innocence was not worth more than their satisfaction, their safety, their righteousness. He must be guilty, because they must be good. Arrest him, they shouted. Let him be a lesson, they said, so others see that their respectability must overcome our insecurity if they are to be spared. And because their fear was so important, he was sacrificed. No number of shots was too great, though he pleaded:
Hands up, don’t shoot.
As he was dying, they stood around and mocked him: you don’t scare us anymore. To one another they said: He had a gun, did you see it too? Be sure to report that he lunged at us first. Some who were nearby asked him, Why didn’t you run? Others rallied and said, He will save us; he will be the lesson so no one else dies this way. But he said only,
They would not allow family members and friends to keep him company as he died, or to say their goodbyes and reassure him of their love. From a distance they could only weep. He looked at them, at the women who had borne him through blood and water and oil, who had fed him and taught him and held him when it seemed that his hope and strength would fail. Their grief would be a shawl that wrapped around them for the rest of their lives; they would carry his name long after the world forget theirs. Loving them, he said,
Say her name.
Time stood still as he died. There was nothing to do but watch, and weep, and wait, and rage as he struggled. Those who were satisfied by his subjugation had long since left the scene. Only the authorities remained to keep order and commend each other’s valor. Seeing them in their satisfaction, in their certainty, in their relief, he gathered his waning strength and cried,
No justice! No peace!
And then with what was left, he whispered,
I can’t breathe.
The sun faded. Evil and sorrow and fury grew like a storm cloud as far as the eye could see, so it seemed for a time that love and life would always pale in comparison to violence and death. Those who watched him wondered if joy would dawn again and if justice would sing again. Knowing their hearts, he said,
And as if there was nothing left but prayer, he sighed as he died,