Seven Last Words of the Unarmed

assembled by Joel Thompson

Officers, why do you have your guns out?       

What are you following me for?           

Mom, I’m going to college.   

I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.                 

You shot me!                   

It’s not real.                 

I can’t breathe.–from the WQXR classical music blog by James Bennett II, where Bennett describes listening to a performance of the piece, “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,” written in 2016, performed and recorded in 2017 by the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and the University of Michigan’s Men’s Glee Club, conducted by Eugene Rogers. The link to the blog, which includes, a video of the recording, is below.

The above isn’t so much a “found” poem, since these seven sets of last words were selected and ordered by the composer. But it strikes me as a poem–terse, tragic, a cry for change.

The speakers of the Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, in order of appearance in the piece are:

1. Kenneth Chamberlain, 66, an ex-Marine, former corrections officer, shot in his home in White Plains, NY, in 2011.

2. Trayvon Martin, 16, shot in Sanford, Florida, in 2012.

3. Amadou Diallou, 23, shot in front of his apartment in the Bronx, NY, in 1999.

4. Michael Brown, 18, shot running away in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

5. Oscar Grant, 22, shot in a San Francisco’s BART station in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, 2009.

6. John Crawford, 22, shot holding an unpackaged  BB gun that he idly picked up from store shelves while talking on his cell phone in Dayton, Ohio, in 2014.

7. Eric Garner, 43. killed while in an illegal choke hold while being arrested for selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, NY, in 2014.

Anyone who follows the news can name more names–women are missing from this list, Breonna Taylor, 26, being among the most recent, shot during the execution of a no-knock search warrant in Louisville, KY in 2020. It doesn’t stop and won’t stop until we, as a people, insist it stop.

Read yesterday’s Thought. Thought of the Day (TOD) is selected by Rick Larios, Monday-Friday, minus public holidays and an arbitrarily chosen summer vacation. Saturday and Sunday, Stacey will be selecting TODs from the archives of past postings. Often, but not always, a comment comes with the quote. TOD originates as a personal email list-sharing and is further shared here with permission. A poem appears in full on Fridays; the copyright belongs to the poet and/or publisher. Buy poetry you like. It will be good for you, good for poets, and order from your local community bookstore and it will be good for them too.