May 20, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

The Pride Poets’ Corner “Death Sentence” By: Victor Yates

In honor of Black History Month The Pride’s featured poem this month is by poet Victor Yates. 

Yates is a writer, storyteller, and digital media artist. His Black Lives Matter spoken word performance, Death Sentence, received a grant from the city of West Hollywood in 2020. He was also awarded a grant from West Hollywood to shoot a documentary recording narratives of older gay men to preserve for younger generations. 

Yates is the winner of the 2020 George Floyd Honorarium for Poetry from the Los Angeles Press and was awarded a grant from the city of Glendale for a new spoken word performance in 2021. He won the 2017 Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging LGBTQ Writers and the 2016 Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Debut Fiction for his book, A Love Like Blood.

DEATH SENTENCE By: Victor Yates 

1.

AAA

To exhibit skill, English archers shot arrows through the eye socket of a bull’s skull.

The first Target store opened in the suburbs of Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1962.

It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.

AAA

In 2016, Philando Castile was murdered for being Black and suspicious. I wasn’t reaching for it, was all they heard before there were no sounds. The cop, holding a gun, felt threatened.

AAA

Horns, unlike antlers, are an extension of the skull and usually found on both males and females.

AAA

To live in a Black body means balancing the burden of hundreds of skulls on your head to allow in other burdens.

AAA

A cop locked his knee cap into George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds killing him in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

AAA

Across the country, riots broke out following attacks at the hands of the police In 1967. It was called the long, hot summer. 

AAA

It’s kind-of Alice in Wonderland with the same moving picture re-shown over and over again.

So, when the bulls eye burned during protests no one had to tell me. My skull itched from the shock of bone when smoke filled my home.

2.

The first time someone called me the n-word was in West Hollywood.

When I was 16, my mother told me, smile while my photo was taken at the DMV. If I was stopped, the police wouldn’t think I was threatening.

To be young, gifted, and black means nothing at 12am and a cop pulls you over.

At a nightclub on Santa Monica Blvd., a white man kicked me in the back and called security to kick me out. He owned the club.

In 1969, if you were Black you had to show 3 picture ID’s to gain entrance into clubs in West Hollywood.

I’m not young anymore and I haven’t had anything to smile about in months.

We’re taught from the moment we leave the house to remember we are black. Blackness is reason enough to be stopped.

Some Nights at 3am I wake up to a wingtip stuck in my back.

AAA

3.

AAA

Now I lay me down to sleep, 

I pray the Lord 

cops arent called to keep

The peace with spray of bullets

Angels 

watch me through the night, 

And wake me with the morning light.

Under morning light and flashlight

AAA

eric garner said

“I can’t breathe!”

Died in a prohibited chokehold. 

AAA

Sgt. James Brown said

“Please take the mask off! I cannot breathe. Please.”

died after injected twice with sedatives and an anti-spit mask placed on his face.

AAA

Willie Ray Banks said

“I can’t breathe!”

died. After Shocked with a taser multiple times.

AAA

Byron Lee Williams said

“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” 17 times.

died. He looked suspicious on a bicycle. 

AAA

elijah mcclain said 

“I can’t breathe correctly!”

Died August 30, 2019 

Three days after 

placed in a chokehold and 

sedated. 

AAA

Breonna Taylor

Last words unknown

Shot 5 times

But she was alive

For at least five minutes, as she struggled to breathe

AAA

Be a voice for Breonna

And speak up for Black women

AAA

Be hands for Elijah

And hold on to each other.

AAA

Be legs for Bryon

Willie

James

Eric

And those whose names are unknown stand up for somebody else.

AAA

4.

AAA

Tishuan Said

AAA

Here in this land,

turned by African hands,

Into a nation advanced 

by free work

We lie.

AAA

Here in this land

blood seeped into Earth–

dripped from lash,

fear and whip crack.

“Freedom,” We cried.

AAA

Here in this land,

We cried out

A litany in pews,

Down in the deep New South,

swung from trees

burned by gasoline.

“Equality,” We pleaded.

AAA

Here in this land,

Gunshots rang out,

water blasted 

canines ripped flesh

Of those supposed as less–

“Justice” We screamed.  

AAA

Here in this land,

Played out on TV screens,

History repeats.

And the caption reads

AAA

Unarmed Black Man Shot Dead By Police

AAA

Here

In this land

turned by great hands

Into a nation advanced 

by free work

AAA

Yet vilified as We are,

Rise up Black people, rise.

So we all can breathe

AAA

You can find a video of Victor Yates reading the complete poem at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZH_QCztmsQ

And a Q & A about the poem with Victor Yates and fellow poet Brian Sonia-Wallace at https://youtu.be/d6QtotBjhro

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