Aundre Larrow / Spotify
A camera of the officer’s body recorded footage of Wright’s shooting, but podcast host Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr., who lost a close friend from college a few years ago to police violence, has no plans to watch it.
“I decided not to get through it,” he says. “I know if I look at it, I’ll just be frozen … from grief and frozen from fear. And I can’t move like that.”
Tejan-Thomas Jr.’sResistance“The podcast explores different aspects Black lives matter movement. There is a podcast they were mostly dedicated to the protests that began last summer after the murder George Floyd in Minneapolis, but also records the personal history of Tejan-Thomas Jr.
Born in Sierra Leone, Tejan-Thomas Jr. he experienced that country’s civil war before coming to the United States at the age of eight. He says the violence that blacks experience in America by the police brings back traumatic memories from his childhood.
“I think it probably affects some more fundamental fear that I have unnecessary killing and that people like to be killed unnecessarily,” he says.
We single out from the interview
To his friend who was killed by the police
My friend had an episode of mental health and he was going all over Richmond with clothes … he just took off his clothes and ran around Richmond because he was obviously going through something. And he drove to the highway and I think he hit a tree and then got out of the car. By that point, the police were called and the officer got out of the car and tried it on Tase, and I guess it didn’t work out. And so the policeman decided to shoot him. …
As far as I know, it was not [any consequences.] And for context, in a town not far from Richmond, there was a man to whom literally the same thing happened. He had an episode of mental health and was fighting with a police officer, for a while they dealt with him using non-lethal forces and arrested him. And he was white. So it ended quite differently. And it was about the same time.
What he remembers about the war in Sierra Leone as a child
It’s hard for me to fully characterize it because I was like a child, but what I remember was when the war came, things really changed drastically and we had to get out of town and go somewhere to the countryside where it was said to be safer. And one of the things we had to do was have my father turn me over to one of the people he knew was smuggling me out of town. And the way we did it was literally through the sewers, like we had to go down the sewers and walk for miles until it was safe, then climb somewhere where it was safe and then go meet …. whoever we needed find yourself in a safer place.
I remember the shooting. I remember the fire. I remember the uncertainty. And I was so young that I don’t think I wrapped my head around it because I complained a lot about things like I didn’t have the food I was used to eating, because we had to ration and eat food … dishes that were easy to cook. It was all happening. But it was because I was so young, I think I just lived through it somehow and hoped that the people I loved and myself would just hope we were safe. And for the most part we were. But family members … knew people who were really, really ravaged by the war.
About the trauma he carries from the war
I remember when I came to America … the open windows scared me because I was afraid bullets would fly through the window and hit me, or someone would try to take me out the window. I always ignored that feeling. But, yes, it was definitely the result of the war, because one of the things we had to do was hide under our beds when the shooting was particularly bad and we just couldn’t get out. All the windows were closed. …
I returned home recently, a few years ago, and there were still traces on the walls of the place where the bullets hit the walls. And it really resonated with me because I was like, “Oh, this was my childhood.” And for some reason I think I ignored a lot of that. I think it definitely, definitely traumatized me.
Learning what it means to be black in America
I think I fell into the trap so much [Black and African] immigrants do that … when we come here, and that’s it … I knew I was here to go to school, try to live a better life, and for the longest time I don’t really think I dealt with race. And I didn’t really deal with what it meant to be black in America. And, in fact, I think I thought I wasn’t black … and maybe that prevented any violence from happening, because I thought, “Oh, whatever kind of racism has happened in this country is obviously aimed at African Americans … Whatever the hell is going on here, I’m not part of it … ”
As I got older, I expressed these views to other Blacks and they told me very clearly, “Listen, when a cop sees you, he doesn’t see an African immigrant. He doesn’t see Sierra Leonean. He sees a black man, as if he sees you the same way as And me. And when you apply for a job, when you do all these things, people won’t see you apart from this, because you’re literally the same as the rest of us. And you’re not taller than us. You’re not better than us. ”
And it took me a while to really understand. And I think it was because part of it was … there was a division between being African and people who are African American and not feeling completely accepted in that community because of my difference. But after a while, [I realized] we’re all on the same side, like, there’s no difference between me being where I’m from and where they’re from – and we’re all faced with the same kind of threat.
About songwriting (“Play“) on sexual abuse by an uncle as a six-year-old
I haven’t really talked to anyone about it. … I was scared. I was terrified of what this poem might read aloud. I’m glad I wrote that song. I’m glad he’s there. But … it’s a song I wrote before, I think I was ready to write it. … I got a lot of good responses from people who felt like they had similar experiences and it touched them and it was really good. What I was afraid of were some things I even researched in the song, which was just like, if I take this song out, what does this song about sexual abuse say about my manhood? What does that say about me as a man? And what does that say about me as a Negro? Like, am I soft now? Am I just weaker because of this? Will people see me like that? But that’s not at all how people reacted to it. And I really appreciated that.
Too bad I got rid of my accent
I did have an accent, but I tried so hard to get rid of it because I think I really have an ear for sound, I was very good at masking it and solving it to the point that half a school year they forgot I was an immigrant and never I was not taught any English as a second language, because I tried so hard to get rid of it. And I regret it. I wish I still had my accent. I really wish I was … because that’s how I was and that’s how I am. A lot of the time I feel very far from home. I feel very distant from that part of myself that I left home and I feel that the emphasis is a reminder of what you are and a reminder of where you come from and that I own it and accept what I think is a powerful thing. But I was so young and I wanted to fit in and I got rid of it. So I really regret doing that.
Heidi Saman and Kayla Lattimore produced and edited the sound of this interview. Bridget Bentz and Molly Seavy-Nesper adapted it for the web.