By Dawn Onley
When I was barely a teenager, I did something that could have had life-altering ramifications: I picked up a huge rock and threw it at a white girl who spat at me and called me a nigger.
The girl, who was two years older than me, was visiting a cousin who lived up the street. On this particular day, she and I got into an argument. I can’t remember why we were arguing, but I’ll never forget the sting of that word, which she delivered with ease and a smirk. I can still see the hatred in her eyes as she hocked a glob of spit my way, which, luckily for her, landed on the ground in front of me.
I’m guessing she saw the fury on my face and decided to run up the middle of the street, fearful of what I might do.
I didn’t plan on grabbing the rock. Truth is I lost my shit and flew into an absolute rage. I can tell you this: when you are enraged, you’re not in control of your thoughts or your actions; your anger is steering the ship.
I ran towards the curb, picking up the largest rock I could hold, and I threw it in her direction, as hard and as far as I could muster. By now, she was midway up the street and almost to her cousin’s house.
That rock hit her on the top of her head and she fell to the ground, screaming and crying.
I immediately ran to her, suddenly scared at what I had done. When I got to her, I saw that she was bleeding from her head. Now I was terrified. I helped her to her feet and I, along with her cousin who had also run toward her when she fell to the ground, walked her to their house to put an ice pack on her head. She was still crying but she was talking, which made me breathe, and before long, she was apologizing to me and I was apologizing to her.
She didn’t want me to mention to her family what she had said to me, which was cool with me because I didn’t exactly want her to mention what I had done to her.
So we both lied.
The truth is that once that rock left my hand, I wished I had never thrown it. I was so angry that I reacted before I could think through the consequences of that action. That’s the erratic mindset of many teenagers with frontal cortexes that are still developing – who may not fully grasp the danger of their actions or may lack the control needed to just ignore things and walk away. We forget this introspection often comes with maturity, guidance from adults, or a second chance.
In retrospect, I could have killed that girl that day, just as two Black teenage brothers in my hometown are now charged with allegedly killing a white 59-year-old man. The tragic incident that occurred last week at the 157th annual Great Frederick Fair, has prompted some white residents to take to Facebook to call the teenage boys “animals” and “thugs,” to question how they were raised, and to even suggest a public hanging as a suitable punishment for the crime – all coded language used by emboldened racists just waiting for the perfect opportunity and platform to espouse their racism.
Police say the boys asked the man for $1 and when he refused, they brutally attacked him. Video has surfaced showing the boys punching the man. However, some youngsters who claim to have been there during the incident say what the video doesn’t capture is what occurred beforehand. They allege the white man called the brothers “nigger” and spat at them.
Police are still investigating. More details will surely emerge in the weeks and months ahead. Regardless, this horrible tragedy claimed the life of a man, who undoubtedly had family and friends who loved him, and forever altered the lives of the teenage brothers, who are 15 and 16 years old and now facing serious charges.
I don’t believe the teens intended to kill the man. I feel this deep in my soul because I know that was the farthest thing from my mind years ago. Yet I could have faced a similar situation back then. There but for the grace of God, go I.
Anger is not rational. It doesn’t stop to think things through or wait to respond. It just takes over, and that’s what makes it such a dangerous emotion when it is coupled with violence and unleashed.
I know. I’ve experienced its depths. Some of you may also be able to relate.
Anger very often starts with words. Our response needs to determine how it ends.