Time in the age of the Coronavirus and #BlackLivesMatter: a dossier    

[Click on link to go to each essay]

James W. “Foxx” Bledsoe in his military uniform. He was a Vietnam Army veteran.

A 1959-60 school yearbook photo when my Uncle Foxx was in middle school.


My journey to 2020 Activism Lane

by Jaicey Bledsoe

My great uncle James William “Foxx” Bledsoe, a Black man from Richmond, Indiana, was 39 years old on March 20, 1987, when he was arrested for public intoxication in Richmond, though he had not been drinking for several hours prior to his arrest. Two days after he was arrested, my great-grandfather and one of my great aunts visited to bail him out. He declined, telling them not to waste money because he would see the judge Monday and anticipated a quick release. Not long after they left the department, the sheriff’s deputies dragged him from his cell, beat and kicked him, threw him to the floor, and left him there. The other inmates had to mop the floor of his blood in the room where he was beaten and took him back to his cell. Sometime later, someone noticed that he had not moved from where he had been left, and appeared to be having a seizure.

I’ve always known that race relations in America were poor. But it wasn’t until last semester, the end of my freshman year at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, that I became upfront about my thoughts and feelings on race and racism. A big reason why is the constant influx of incidents of injustice being shared, and my ability to quickly comment on them via social media. All the opinions I’d held but not vocalized boiled over in the midst of the brutality and killings of innocent Black people that have happened throughout this year. Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, Rayshard Brooks, Jonathan Price.

After some deputies realized my uncle had not moved, police personnel attempted and failed to revive him. According to Wayne County Sheriff Dennis Andrews, he was found semi-conscious and seizing at 6:40 pm, but the call to an ambulance was not made until 7:20 pm. Though he had dried blood in his nose and mouth when he arrived at the hospital, sheriff’s deputies claimed Uncle Foxx was suffering from alcohol withdrawal and had fallen off his cot, shifting blame for his multiple “craniocerebral blunt force injuries”. My uncle was a young, Black Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War. He was well known around Richmond for being witty, good-natured, and caring, despite the trauma he experienced in Vietnam. He would often buy and bring pizzas to his nieces and nephews, a memorable occurrence in a small town. He was loved and is deeply missed by his immediate and extended family.

Earlier this year, my parents and I ran 2.23 miles in white t-shirts to pay tribute to Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while out on a morning jog near his neighborhood. I’m not sure if I brought his killing up to my parents after seeing the video, or if they saw it and showed it to me, but I do remember my mom telling me some friends of hers on Facebook were planning to run with the #IRunWithMaud demonstrations happening all over the country. She did some digging through the hashtag on Facebook, and reached out to those friends to find out the significance of the distance we were to run–the month and day Arbery was murdered–and we made a plan to run. We then posted and hashtagged our own pictures and information. I was compelled to run not just to demand justice for Ahmaud and his family, but to protect my own. My dad frequently goes out running by himself. My brothers play in the street in front of our house. In order to prevent injustice like that from occurring in the future, people must speak up. Including me. Due to other tragic incidents of racial violence after Ahmaud’s death, the conversation continued to open up.

At the hospital, Uncle Foxx slipped into a coma. He died two days later. The deputies told my great-grandfather, grandfather, and other great uncles and aunts that the charges against Uncle Foxx were being dropped, and asked them to sign a document clearing the department of liability for Uncle Foxx’s injuries. My grandfather was quoted in an article for Richmond’s Palladium-Item as saying, “They were so forcibly trying to get us to sign this document. We raised the question: What happens if we don’t?” My family was reportedly told they would “be under a bunch of trouble”. They did not have a lawyer at the time. After Uncle Foxx’s death, the autopsy results on his death certificate ruled his death a homicide and the locale of the fatal injuries as Wayne County Jail. Almost a week later, a second death certificate was prepared that listed the location of the injuries as undetermined and providing a date range for the injuries from March 19-22. This document implied he could’ve received the injuries prior to his arrest, thereby providing false evidence for the cause of his death and absolving the department of any wrongdoing. When my family began investigating the circumstances of my uncle’s death, several members also said they received threats from the Indiana State Police that claimed they would be charged with obstruction of justice if they continued investigations.

About a month after the run, I posted around six videos, one on Instagram and the rest on Snapchat, talking through my thoughts. In the Snapchat videos, I expressed my frustration about seeing a half dozen police cruisers sitting off the highway exits and in front of grocery stores. They were there because local high school students were protesting police brutality around their high school building. However, the protest was several miles away from where the police were sitting. They were prepared to respond with force to peaceful high schoolers who were exercising their First Amendment rights. The next day, I felt the need to talk about my mixed feelings; non-Black people were finally recognizing there was a problem, but Black people, myself included, had been trying for generations to get them to understand. That same day I posted a black square on Instagram for #BlackoutTuesday, an initiative started within the music industry as a day to listen to and reflect with Black people and especially, Black activists. Along with that post, I shared information about a boycott, encouraging people to spend their money at Black businesses instead of big chain corporations. When one of my former youth group leaders, a woman I once trusted and respected left a comment chastising me for my posts, it only spurred me on. The conversations were starting. My posts garnered many more responses than just hers. I was having conversations with my white friends about racial tensions in America who’ve likely never had conversations like that before. It gave me an outlet to express the pain and hurt myself and the rest of the Black community was going through. I process things by working through them.

Posting on social media gave me a feeling of purpose. I wasn’t just stewing in my own grief and anger, I was making a difference, even if only in my little social media circle. I spoke with a couple of friends who were beginning to approach this subject with their family members, some of whom they already knew disagreed with them. Without the benefit of readily accessible articles, books, and posts I’ve seen shared and been able to share through social media, it would have been a lot more difficult to provide the same to those people.

I have been having conversations with my younger cousin, who is herself beginning to use her voice to speak out for what she believes. Social media has especially been important in continuing these conversations remotely, as we are not able to be in person with groups of people right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a vital tool in our conversations as we are not spending as much time with each other in person as we normally do. We have been chatting on a near-daily basis, which is ironically more often than we saw each other before COVID-19 restrictions. I have spoken with her about what happened to my Uncle Foxx and she has shared her concerns about potential police encounters with her own family. She, like me, also has younger siblings who she wants to be safe as they get older and are out in the world. She’s 17 years old, in her senior year of high school, and coming up against tough encounters with her non-Black friends who don’t support Black Lives Matter, or are unhappy that Trump lost the election. Prior to the events of this year, we didn’t have such specific and in-depth conversations about race. Now we constantly share resources and posts via Instagram direct messages that were made by other activists and everyday people. Resources like those that explore the statistics of brutality in America, or updates on the cases against perpetrators of racial violence. I am enjoying watching and assisting her, a young Black woman, in her journey.

From 1987, the year Uncle Foxx died, to 1991, there were several dozen articles written about his death, the investigation surrounding it, the eventual charging and convicting of some of the deputies and prosecutors involved in my uncle’s case–for illegally fixing other police reports–and the protests that were held in his honor. The articles also include details of the case that were brought up in the wrongful death suit that my family later filed and lost. These articles–and protests–ranged in location from Richmond, Indianapolis, Chicago, and around the Midwest. This year, amidst the other Black Lives Matter protests, a written piece honoring my uncle was placed at a community memorial in Barcelona by a friend of my family, and images of it were shared by family and friends on Facebook.

Without social media, my friends and I wouldn’t be talking about racism, brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The reason there have been near-daily protests is that the first two major incidents of racial violence in 2020 were both caught on camera and shared over and over on social media. Unfortunately, there were no cell phone cameras when my Uncle Foxx was brutalized, and the jail he died in was later destroyed and relocated, so there is no known footage of the attack. The deaths of both Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd were videoed and both went viral on social media. Without the ease of connection and communication that social media provides, it would take much longer for people in other places in the U.S. to have heard about their deaths, and it likely wouldn’t have reached other countries the way it did either. The use of visual media has added a new dimension to activism, one that allows people in separate areas, from all walks of life, and at any time, to come together to fight for a common cause. This happens today in a way that it couldn’t have happened prior to the creation and public use of personal recording devices and social media.

More than three decades after his death, my uncle James “Foxx” Bledsoe has still received no justice. Police brutality and violence against Black people in America isn’t new. Racism and its effects aren’t new to me. What is new is the knowledge and ability to do something about it. I can no longer sit quietly, or only talk about it amongst my family and close friends. Social media has given me the opportunity to start these conversations on a larger scale.