By Andre Jones
In the wake of what can arguably be called an epidemic of Black United States citizens being killed by police officers, 24 year old Harlem, New York writer Ja’han Elliott Jones has decided to do something about the decidedly undignified imagery surrounding the deaths of many of the victims.
“So often, we are killed and our photos are posted about but our stories are not,” Jones told Huffington Post, “This grants black folks agency we’re often denied in death.” While the numbers of those killed by police continue to grow (as of Huffington Post’s article about Jones, two more Black citizens were killed), all too often, we see disparaging stories assassinating the victims’ character, which many say is a racist effort to make the death of these victims more palatable.
This trend is evident in many of these cases such as Michael Brown, who was killed by police over two years ago. Though no witnesses saw him armed or in any confrontation with police officers, the New York Post posthumously vilified him saying, “Mike Brown was no angel.” This, and the media in general proceeded to, as many put it, “put Brown on trial for his own murder,” laying out his criminal record and anything else they could find to justify his demise.
After the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile early in the summer, Jones was again faced with the reality that he could easily face a similar fate. His response to this was to write his own obituary:
“Ja’han Elliot Jones, 24, was unarmed when shot and killed in conflict with local police officers,” his obituary reads. “His familiarity with the Black canon steered him into a potent state of unapologetic Blackness ― one in which the James Baldwins and Young Jeezy’s; the bell hookses and the Queen Bey’s; the Frantz Fanons and the Futures all occupied hollowed, cherished beautiful space in Jones’ identity.”
He almost submitted the piece to a publication as freelance work, but after realizing that he was not alone in his thinking, he created the Black Obituary Project. “We are all harmed ― young, old, righteous, ratchet, and all between,” Jones said. With almost 80 obituaries in his collection so far, he explained to Huffington Post that “black folks are uniquely burdened by the weight of mortality.”
“We are telling our stories ― speaking of our triumphs and tragedies ― before anyone else attempts to do so for us.”
The Black Obituary Project is open for submissions and will continue accepting them indefinitely.