Posted on June 4, 2020 at 1:25 am

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What do criminals look like? A Poem, by Fatimata Cham

Originally from the Bronx, New York, Fatimata Cham is a 19-year-old Government and Law major at Lafayette College. Her activism journey began in 2015 at her boarding school in Northern, New Hampshire. She noticed that there was a missing puzzle piece in the conversation revolving around equity and education. She began to lead discussions at her school about diversity and inclusion. She later became a teen advisor to the United Nations Foundation Girl Up and later began to advocate for gender equality around the globe. Fatimata scaled up her work and later became a published poet to the book Perfectly Imperfect. Featured in Pix 11, News 12 the Bronx, The Today Show among many others she continues to fight for a more equitable and just world.


What do criminals look like? 

At a young age, I’ve always wondered because 

To me 

All I saw where women and men who looked liked me 


With brown eyes 

Golden specks 

Just when the sun hit them 

You see light 

Black hair 


Kinky or loose 

Rough hands from all the work they do 

What do criminals look like? 

Was it the men who stood outside my house 

And protected me 

Told me to stay in school 

What do criminals look like? 

Was it the men with low hanging pants 

Who would never dare to go shoot up a school 

Because they got too much heart 

What does a criminal look like? 

Is it the man with strong arms 


Who made sure my dreams 

Were his 

He was mine and I was his 

The man who would sing me lullabies at night 

Who stayed awake so I could fall asleep 


The man who cared so much 

That he’d die for me 

The man whom I always worried about 


 if he would come back home 

Every time he stepped outside his house 

There was a clock on his life 

Ticking ticking 

Society painted him as a criminal 

But he was my father 

The one who spoke my native tongue 

So well 

There were never goodbyes with my father 

Only see you later sunshine 

What do criminals look like? 

Are they the people who sit in Congress 

In their gray suits 

Pens in hand 

Writing legislation 

To enslave my people 

Mass incarceration 

What do criminals look like? 


We don’t want to integrate 

What do criminals look like?

Does a criminal look like 

Parkland shooting 

Sandy hook five 


Amber Guyger 

What do criminals look like? 

Trayvon martin 

A bag of skittles 

Tamar rice 

Toy pistol 

Sandra Bland 

Traffic stop 

What do criminals look like? 

Do they have this beautiful scarf wrapped around their head? 

Do they have Melanated skin like mine? 

Do they prostrate in prayer 5 times? 


Do they fast for 30 days

From sunrise to sunset 

Do they give Zakat 

Do they wait for the Athan 

To ring in their ears 

What do criminals look like? 

They never wait for our hearts to beat twice 

They pull the trigger and were gone 

Left alone to die 

Blood covering our bodies 

Leaving our vessels empty 

Lifeless corpses 

But when we don’t get honored 

Until we die 

We aren’t celebrated till we die 

There’s always a clock on our lives 

Ticking ticking 

And I’m still asking this question 

What do criminals look like? 

Do they look like these people who have become hashtags 

Or do they look like the people in blue and white uniforms 

Saying they are here to protect us 

Or do they look like politicians 

In grey suits and their deafening silence 

What do criminals look like? 

I ask myself silently

Looking into the mirror 

And wondering if the criminal was me asking 

Because sometimes 

People tell you so much 

You start to believe it too 

It doesn’t matter if I prostrate in prayer 

Or wrap this beautiful scarf in happiness 

Or if I held my father’s hands a little tighter 

I always end up losing 

Either someone 

Or the person staring right back at me 

So I ask again 

What does a criminal look like?

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