Racism appears even in a place of grief

Michelle-Hendersone-w-family, Racism appears even in a place of grief, Culture Currents News & Views
For Dianna Dolan, racism doesn’t cease when she’s mourning. – Photo: Dianna Dolan

by Robbie Jackson

Racism can feel omnipresent, sometimes appearing no matter what country you are in, what time of the day it is, or the hard work you put in to dismantle it. It shows itself as Black women take on the challenge of giving birth and even rears its ugly head when Black people are in a place of grief mourning the loss of a loved one. Some can’t even retrieve the body of a loved one without a fight or get a proper investigation on what happened to a missing loved one. Racism seems to pop up on anyone, anytime, anywhere. Dead or alive. It’s a hard fact that many of us face daily. 

Dianna, the sister of Michelle Henderson, knows this intimately. It had been a while since Dianna had spoken to her sister. This was unusual so she traveled an hour and a half into Oakland to lay eyes on her loved one. She knocked on the door a couple times and noticed three eviction notices on her door. Worried, she even went around to the other end of the apartment to see if she could see inside. 

“On the window I saw flies and I could smell something. I still didn’t believe that my sister was there. Maybe since she was getting evicted there is food in there that she left. I headed back home and called for a wellness check,” says Dianna as she recalls the horrible experience that led to her finding out her sister passed. 

Unknown to Dianna, police got permission from a man on the lease to enter the apartment. “They called and told me my sister was there and she appeared to have passed three weeks ago. I was on my way out there and then I was told I couldn’t come, because it wasn’t a healthy situation to be around, and to call the coroner to identify my sister. I called the coroner and they told me that Alameda County does not identify by people going to see their loved ones.

“They do it by DNA and fingerprint. Why would you have me call the coroner knowing they were going to tell me that. It made no sense,” Dianna goes on to say. Her sister’s case was passed around to multiple investigators before she got any update on what exactly happened to her sister.

Unsatisfied with the updates she received, she asked some common questions that anyone would like to know. “The initial investigator on the case told me that previously the apartment complex had a gas leak issue that caused them to bust my sister’s door down to wake her up.

Later I ended up talking to another investigator that told me that since my sister’s door was locked from the inside, she had the only key, and that everything appeared to be her stuff that they are assuming it’s hers, but they will do fingerprints to be sure. 

Did they check the cameras on the property? Did they truly investigate? Diana assumed they would have checked cameras to see the last time they saw her sister going in and out the building. She was told no because the only camera they have only saw people entering the building, not the floor or door they go to. Well, how did they know that it wasn’t fowl play? 

The investigator told Dianna that It was locked from the inside and she was the only one that had a key since she is the only one on the lease. “Well, that’s not true. I know for a fact that someone else is on her lease. How do I know? When my sister first moved in there, she told me and there were court notices on the door the night before she was found that had her name as well as another person’s name who was on the lease,” Dianna states as she breaks down how from the beginning her family and her sister’s case was mishandled.

“These people are not investigating. They don’t care about what happened to my sister. They are not even doing step one to find out if this is foul play.” Dianna says as she expresses her frustration on the ongoing situation. Nearly a month after losing her sister, the apartment complex finally gave Dianna access to collect all the belongings left behind.

And if that daunting process wasn’t enough, they have yet to get the body back from the Alameda coroner’s office. “To me, it’s like she is just another dead body in Oakland. You guys [the investigators ] didn’t even check or he lied to me, because the notices were clearly on the door stating that more than one person was on the lease. So either he lied to me or didn’t even do an investigation. That lets me know that they don’t care and are just trying to push it off,” a frustrated Dianna expresses. And she is not alone. 

Often Black people are mishandled even when grieving a fresh loss of a loved one because there is little consequence to mishandling such a vulnerable community. They value the flavor we culturally bring but they do not value our joy or pain. They consider and manipulate the buying power and influence we communally possess while simultaneously mistreating sacred spaces, places and moments that directly relate to us. They use and abuse us whenever it benefits them. Why? Because they can with no fear of repercussions. We must be our own force that moves to put those repercussions in place. Otherwise racism will continue to appear, even in places of grief.

Robbie Jackson  is a graduate of the San Francisco Bay View’s Community Journalism Class, which is funded by the California State Library.