Two Photos, Two Decades, One Ongoing Fight
Bapa's Last Joke
This weekend this image, captured by freelance photographer Jonathan Bachman on behalf of Reuters, went viral. It offers a clarity of vision at the end of a week full of confusion, tension, and re-aggravated wounds: a well-supplied and well-armed law enforcement organization aligned against an individual protester defended only by the belief she has in herself.
For those without the details (reports of police brutality situations are now so common that we each have our own regional ones that block awareness of others happening farther away), in Baton Rouge there are ongoing protests after two officers approached and killed an African-American man outside a convenience store. The officers were responding to a 911 call that the man, Alton Sterling, had shown another man who begged him for money a gun he was carrying in his waistband. The two officers tackled Sterling, and one officer chose to shoot him at least five times in the chest while straddling him.
Even though people thought of my grandfather as jokester, I very rarely heard him laugh. We visited my grandparents in south Florida only once or twice a year, so I never established strong familiarity with Bapa. I knew him as a voice on the other end of the phone that made my father burst into quick, surprised packages of laughter or in person as a soft giant taking slow, steady steps in his tropical home, wearing terry cloth polo shirts and bright white tennis shoes.
He lived to be deadpan. He did strange things just to amuse himself but never acted as if they were absurd. He turned pedestrian statements into catchphrases and undertook long cons, like the time he bought a live shrimp and put it in a small aquarium. He didn’t have any kind of eccentric love for shrimp, he just thought it would be funny to have one as a pet for a while and act like it was normal. I would watch the shrimp list around the tank, waiting for it to do something interesting, and my grandfather would say, “He’s a little tired right now; I just took him on a long walk.”