I heard the thud from upstairs.
When you’re living with an adolescent German Shepherd and two children of similar temperament, crashes, thump thump thumping, a thud is nothing special. But this was different; there were no preliminary warning sounds before the impact, and no sound directly after—just a loud thud.
Seconds later, my son was in my office, panting from running up three flights, and visibly shaken by whatever news he was gathering himself to share with me.
“A Black Bird crashed into the kitchen door … mommy said you have to help it!” I knew before I arrived leaning over the bird that there was nothing anyone could do to save it.
It was a Common Starling. A mostly black bird with iridescent arrow-shaped tips at the end of its plumage, they shimmer beautifully in the sunlight. It’s a pretty bird, I think.
Looking down on the motionless bird, I was mortified. I love animals, regardless of species, form, or size, and this bird’s death made my heart fill with heaviness. To mitigate my discomfort, I immediately thought, “it’s only a Starling.” And I’m ashamed to admit it.
Common Starlings were foolishly extracted from Europe and released within the United States during the late 1800s. Starlings are hearty birds that compete well with native American birds for habitat, often displacing other admired species of birds. For that reason, many consider Starlings an “invasive species,” a nuisance bird whose life has lesser value than other birds— leading to some shooting Starlings on site. Starting to sound familiar?
I wrapped my hand in a plastic bag and ever so gently picked up the dead bird. Through the bag that now entombed it, I could still feel the Starling’s warmth and its pillow soft plumage against my fingers. While closing the bag, I looked around, attempting to understand the last moments of this animal’s life. My eyes found the glass door the bird crashed into. The moment my son told me, “A Black Bird crashed into the kitchen door …,” I knew why it happened. But looking back at the door now, I was struck by the clear reflection of our backyard on the glass. The reflection was a convincing illusion, especially for a bird in pursuit of an insect or possibly being pursued by a hawk determined to kill it. To the Starling our door looked like a natural pathway – it looked like freedom.
Travon Martin, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, Emmett Till, Tamar Rice, George Floyd and too many others, flew into a similar deadly illusion. A misconception of their freedom as African Americans. Those were the real thuds I heard that morning, and it made me angry. Anger and frustration are the reasons why storefront windows are smashed with bricks, and it’s why Black Lives Matter painted on windows will not stop the next Starling from flying headfirst into American made glass.
Freedom is not living without shackles, nor being allowed to pursue happiness, religion, or lifestyle. Freedom is pursuing all those things without fear!
When the Rights afforded to others; the right to breath, to jog, to vote, to bear arms, and to exist are continually thwarted, you are not free. African Americans live captive still, bound by our skin. A skin that affords us little protection or justice.
If this is going to change, we must do the hard work of shattering the glass strategically and rebuilding in such a way that benefits all Americans. If we do not, communities will be dismantled violently, chaotically, and all will suffer, more than we suffer now under the illusion of freedom.
It’s Juneteenth. Break some glass for us.