A Black Life That Matters: Lonnie Mitchell

[Content note: gun violence, harassment, institutional racism]

Lonnie Mitchell is “lucky,” if you can call it that.

He’s alive.

He’s alive after being shot in the chest by a policeman in Decatur IL.

He was shot, as he held his hands in the air.

He was taken to the emergency room, but had to be airlifted to another hospital, where he spent 6 days. Now, he is home, with pain in his liver and ribs. He is employed but can’t work while he recovers, has many medical bills not covered by his insurance, and needs help with food, transportation, and caring for his dogs.

But he’s alive.

According to his family, Lonnie was walking home from the party when the police arrived in response to (according to the police report) a “noise complaint” at a party Lonnie had been attending on July 11. In their public statements, the Decatur police have claimed they were responding to reports of a man with a gun, but that’s not what the police report says. According to an e-mail from his sister, Anyta:

He says he was walking away from a party at a friend's, a few blocks from his house, when a police car pulled up to the house he'd just left. He says he was spotted by the officers and recalled to the party. As he approached the officers he held up his hands and informed them that his bracelet had a knife which he was removing. He says he unsnapped the bracelet, it fell off and he stepped over it, with his hands still up. Lonnie says the officer told him to get down on the ground but he refused. He said he told the officer that he was afraid he'd be shot in the back. Then he said he felt an abrupt pain in his chest and looked at the officer and asked, "Did you shoot me?" as his knees buckled and he hit the ground. He said he could hear screams around him but couldn't move or speak but that he could feel his blood pooling around him and he wondered if they'd call an ambulance.

Lonnie and his friends filmed the encounter, but, according to his family, Lonnie’s phone, and those of his friends, were confiscated by the police. There is a state police investigation ongoing.

The police have made much of claiming that Lonnie was carrying a “realistic” bb gun. I want to point out that having a partially concealed real gun is perfectly legal in Illinois, as long as one has the the appropriate license. And if you believe that a 40 year old white man in possession of a gun and interacting in the same way with the police would have ended up shot in the chest, well, I have a bridge to sell you. As of this writing, Lonnie has not been charged with any crime. It’s unclear if he will be. The community has marched, peacefully. Will it make a difference?

Lonnie is alive, but he could use some help. His family has set up a Give Forward Page where, if you would like to do so and are able, you can help with his bills. He is employed in the building trades, so he won’t be able to work for a while. In addition to paying off his medical bills, he will need help with his usual expenses as he recovers. He also needs help with transportation to his medical appointments, food, and caring for his dogs. Even leaving a kind word can make a difference.

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to speak with Anyta, and she shared with me a little of what she and other family members have been going through. We don’t always consider the ripple effects of attacks like this—all of the family members who are also affected. Parents, children, siblings, cousins, and chosen family. And in particular, the women of the family are often most tasked with caregiving; sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins…. There’s stress and anxiety. There’s the problem of trying to effectively advocate for the family member, without simply being written off as a “hysterical black woman,” or otherwise negatively stereotyped. There’s the issue of taking time for self-care, and of getting appropriate support from co-workers and friends. As Anyta put it to me, it’s like you’ve been through a major disaster—a hurricane or fire—and everybody knows, but no-one knows quite what to say or do. Simple messages of support can mean a lot. The “women’s work” of emotional support is, well, real work. And because of this epidemic, an awful lot of family members are working overtime.

It’s been said many times, but it bears repeating: This. Should. Not. Be. Happening. And we know that there are many stories out there like Lonnie’s, stories that don’t grab the headlines, because those black victims of police violence are “lucky,” and survive. Well. I suspect we’d all be happy to trade in that “luck” for a healthy dose of the police not endangering black lives to begin with.

Black Lives Matter. Lonnie’s life matters. It cannot be said enough.

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