Black ExperienceStacy M. Brown

Black Obituary Project Highlights Growing Fears of Police Killings of African Americans

A 238-word necrology posted on a website called “The Black Obituary Project” eulogizes Allex Dominique Osborne.

The obituary notes that Osborne was unarmed when he was shot and killed in conflict with local police officers.

Osborne counts among the many authors of pre-written obituaries on the website, all of whom are alive.

But they serve to evidence the ease with which Black people conceive of their own death.

The Black Obituary Project’s New York-based founder Ja’han Jones said the writings clarify that the so-called “talk” Black parents must have with their children – instructing them on ways to avoid destruction at the hands of law enforcement – is not without psychological consequence.

The words are real to the writer, but the obituary is a bit premature – hopefully, decades too early and with a much more palatable ending.

“These writers have embarked on a journey toward agency,” Jones writes on the website that features hundreds of pre-written obituaries.

“In drafting such agonizingly introspective works, each has declined the trite and tired obituary template often deployed for those killed by police in favor of their own rich tellings.”

In a 2016 interview, Jones described the moment he wrote his own obituary.

“After the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I was going to submit an obituary, but I decided it would be much more impactful to loop others in,” Jones remarked.

Each of the obituaries on the website contains a photo, and all begin with the line, “was unarmed and shot and killed in conflict with local police officers.”

“Often, when the police kill black people, people say they ‘died,’ which is a very passive way of discussing it,” Jones told the New York Daily News.

“Black people aren’t giving their lives away. Their lives are taken.”

Jones also stressed that those who contribute obituaries to the site, not make their story heroic.

“I wanted to get rid of the idea of the perfect victim,” Jones asserted. “In our imperfections, we are still due justice.”

According to statista.com, the trend of fatal police shootings in America has increased. In 2020, 226 African American civilians were shot and killed by law enforcement officers.

The rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans “was much higher than that for any other ethnicity, standing at 34 fatal shootings per million of the population as of December 2020, statista.com relayed.

Those statistics are what has driven many African Americans to the Black Obituary Project and to pen words like Osborne, whose eulogy depicts him as “an optimistic, genuine, and loving man who touched many hearts he came in contact.”

Still, others might resonate with the 150-word obit written by 24-year-old Alisha Patrice Miles.

“Alisha, a vigorous young woman with endless compassion and kindness for those whom she loved, even momentary acquaintances,” Miles writes.

“Her childhood years in the foster care system taught her that the warmth of love was not limited to those who shared the same blood-line as she did, not limited to those who looked the way she did, nor limited to those who shared her culture or heritage.

“As a soldier of the United States Army National Guard and a nursing student, Alisha, yearned to make a difference in all lives she encountered; men, women, and children, young and old.”

Miles’ notice concludes by noting that she was “once a woman upon this Earth, yet she is no longer.”

In the postscript, Miles’ obituary reflects that she’s survived by her mother, Angela Johnson; her father, Sha’Shonee Solomon; her sister, Ashley Johnson; and her husband, Xavier Miles.

“These are Black lives, as told by those who experience them in all their glory – tragedy – frustration – triumph,” Jones remarked.

To learn more about The Black Obituary Project, go to www.blackobituaryproject.com.

The Washington Informer has started a weekly series memorializing fatal victims of crime in the District. The series intends to humanize the victims, highlighting their hopes, dreams, and how they would like to be remembered. We welcome your input, and if you have a loved one, or know of someone, you would like us to feature, please email stacybrownmedia@gmail.com.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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