I don’t think I’ll forget where I was the morning of May 1, 2015. I had been having a hell of a week considering the mayhem that had exploded that week just 40 minutes away in Baltimore. I called out of work because I was internally raging and was certain I would be much more candid than recommended with a white coworker who had already invited my ire the day before when she talked about the “thugs tearing up Baltimore.”
I sat in the passenger side as my husband drove. We were headed to run a few errands. A text from a friend that the Maryland State’s Attorney was about to hold a press conference to announce the results of the investigation into Freddie Gray’s death. I was prepared for another let down, expecting to hear a prosecutor announce that the state employees rhetorically charged with protecting and serving the public would not face charges. It was a tradition I’d come to loathe but expect.
I turned on the radio to listen to the live stream. As Marilyn Mosby began reading the charges, her voice ripe with anger, I screamed uncontrollably. I wept. “Finally,” I thought. I turned to my husband and yelled, “We in the building!” followed by the obligatory “Aaaaayyyyyeeee!”
I just knew that this time would be different. Though I had learned long ago that I could not afford the naivete of having faith in a system that was never meant to serve justice to people who look like me, somehow, I’d convinced myself that having this Black woman steering the U.S.S. Justice would make the difference. Black women always get shit done. This time would be different.
I texted a very good friend who’s an attorney. She was so proud of Mosby as a sister, but never one to mince words, my girl told me flat out, “They won’t serve a day in jail.” My heart sank. Despite the fact that my friend is an accomplished attorney and always keeps it real, I kept faith. Black women always get shit done. This time would be different.
In the weeks following the indictments, Mosby was all over my timeline. The video of her as a plaintiff on Judge Judy, still in law school and well prepared made me proud. The interviews with news stations where she held her own gave me hope that she could really do this. Then the parade of correspondents and consultants calling her “inexperienced,” their words tinged with the misogynoir that would plague Mosby for the duration of the case, reminded me that ambition and confidence in a Black woman are always negative attributes. The comment sections on articles calling her every combination of racist misogynist slur imaginable forced me to keep in mind that the only thing white people hate more than a Black man in a position of power is a Black woman in a position of power. But I still believed in her because Black women always get shit done.
Then the first trial started, and despite my friend’s unwavering contention that none of the officers would be convicted and what I know about the American injustice system (and Baltimore’s specifically), I held onto hope that Black girl magic we love to hashtag and fantasize about was just that: magic. I held onto to the delusion that somehow a Black woman acting on behalf of us — because whether you’re from Baltimore or D.C. or Ferguson or L.A. or West Bubble Fuck, Tennessee, Black people know that we take our wins and losses as a collective — in the courtroom would make the difference. I, despite a commitment to the realist, “I don’t trust none of these motherfuckers” attitude that has never misguided me, allowed myself to become a victim of the naivety I have made a habit of reminding other Black people we cannot afford.
But as trial after trial after trail ended in loss after loss, I realized that not even the famed, mythical Black girl magic was enough to contend with the cancer of American racism, directed by the system of laws with the paramount function of ensuring that Black people are always the chief sacrificial offering. The dismissal of charges against all of the remaining officers was just a formality, the euthanasia of the faith that should have never been. I knew better, but Black women always get shit done.
What I refused to examine, though, in my haste to support a sister and afford her the loyalty and solidarity Black women have made a practice of, is that anybody, ANYBODY — yes, even sisters — who willingly enters institutions of racism, colonialism, elitism and corruption, however noble their intentions, becomes complicit in the system they intended to reform. Mosby previously asserted that she was not anti-police but rather anti-police brutality. She bragged about coming from five generations of police officers in her native Massachusetts. She seemed to believe that fighting on the side of “law and order” and fighting for Black people are not mutually exclusive. She seemed unable to conceive that the laws of this country are deliberately and inherently anti-Black.
Perhaps in a world where the law had been crafted with true equality and equity in mind such noble intentions could be realized. But in our world, colorblind justice is a fairytale. Even a Black woman — because Black women always get shit done — cannot enter the pig pen without getting mud on her own shoes. So while I still believe that Mosby was at least partially motivated to take on the Herculean task of convicting six police officers for the death of Freddie Gray, I also understand that she was complicit in offering the charges, which legal analysts say were overzealous at least, to lull the rage Baltimore’s residents took out on the instruments of capitalism and fascism owned by the city and its residents. She threw the 6 oz steak at the wolves to calm us instantly if but temporarily forgetting that the smell of the meat would linger on her hands, marking her as friend to neither us nor them.
I have no doubt that Mosby fought the good fight in those courtrooms, even if not just to exact justice for Gray but also to save her reputation and career. But David and Goliath is fantasy. Her slingshot would never do the trick. Black women get shit done, but those victories never occur when we act within the constructs of the very system we seek to reform. And maybe that was the problem all along.
Black girl magic is outside the realm of respectability. When we try to contain, contort and modify it to fit within the box of white supremacy that it is meant to challenge in every way at every moment, it fails. Black girl magic is the height of ambition, but when we attempt to package it for consumption by the masses, we’ll always be left with nothing but the ashes of our ambition.