I am a white woman.
My gentle, articulate, Yale-alum husband is black. His blackness didn’t matter to me when we started dating, or when I discovered I was pregnant. I couldn’t really believe it mattered to anyone.
I’d seen otherwise long before July 19, 2013, when I tried to make people laugh while recognizing the limitations of misunderstanding their own experiences and insights as universal.
A police officer repeatedly shot and killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. I didn’t pay Mike’s death much mind until two months later, when I saw how many people were still protesting and “suspected it likelier I was uninformed than that they were delusional.”
One month later, I was no longer uninformed. I’d spent countless hours poring over news and watching devastating social media clips reflecting very different fact-sets than those set forth by policemen and their mainstream media spokespeople.
I discussed Ferguson with my then five-year-old son that day. “But they won’t shoot me?” Li’l D asked of policemen, punching me straight through the heart with his words.
Ten days later, I wrestled with warring desires to roar at people who didn’t understand and wondering how I could encourage them to try understanding incomprehensible truths.
On November 30, 2014, I tried to sum up Ferguson related protests in tweet-sized bursts. I wrote about Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, Darrien Hunt, and Michael Brown.
On December 3, 2014, I wrote in greater detail about Eric Garner and the questions his killing raised. I wrote that “[u]nwillingness to see things we don’t want to see doesn’t keep us safe.” Worse for society’s most vulnerable, I said, our unwillingness to see “tells perpetrators that we are prepared to protect them because it’s less painful to us.”
(Two years and hundreds of lost lives later, I’m still no closer to understanding how to help people remove the blinders from their eyes. I know it’s not my responsibility, but damnitall, howhowhow can people still pretend there’s no pattern? What does it take to make thousands of uncharged killings not thousands of separate anecdotes but a single problem that must be solved?)
By December 27, 2014, I was starting to feel genuine hope. In a changed social media landscape, ordinary citizens had the power to show different stories than the often questionable ones advanced by authority.
The following summer, Sandra Bland’s death in custody inspired me to write again about race and power in the United States.
August 19, 2015 marked the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing. I wrote that if my husband dies at police hands, he will have died with his own hands in the air.
Three months ago, I wrote three separate posts after policemen killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
On July 1, 2016, I wrote:
I pray for police cameras
actually turned on, for police
accountability such that lethal action results,
always, in independent review and indictment,
rather than habitual non-indictment
that virtually assures tomorrow
policemen will again kill
and then again the next day
and the next day,
and the next,
A week later, I wrote:
that i may
listen, that i may
hear, that i may know
how to show
that “those people”
will keep dying
as long as
On July 9, I wrote about how I walk around with shrapnel embedded so deep in me you can’t see it. Some days, that shrapnel drags me down. Most days, though, it “is a powerful reminder that I have survived.”
“Somewhere out beyond fight or flight,” I wrote, “there is a better way, and I am committed to seeking it.”
Today, August 20, 2016, police misidentified a black man reading in his car and killed him, barely hours after a policewoman a few states over killed Terence Crutcher despite his upraised arms. Terence’s crime? Standing outside his stalled car waiting for help.
Most days, I don’t feel the shrapnel. Days like today, I feel it with every breath and shift. I get winded and wobbly on my feet, knowing someone else’s husband or Li’l D won’t ever be coming home to them again. Knowing that none of it need ever have happened, if only authority cared as much about protecting citizens as it does about protecting itself.
When I left the Democratic party on June 10, 2016, it wasn’t a stumble or a tantrum. It wasn’t because the AP named Clinton the Democratic candidate the evening before I was able to vote. It was because how everything flowed together felt eerily, uncomfortably familiar.
I couldn’t pinpoint that discomfort until President Obama called allegations the Democratic party had rigged elections “ridiculous.” At that moment, I understood that feeling I’d had in June: I’d witnessed power propping up itself, not the people it was supposed to serve.
Black Lives Matter taught me that those in power do not cede power readily; they cover for each other, expecting like immunity in turn. This is how the U.S.’s two-tier justice system perpetuates itself.
The movement revealed to me that so-called public servants routinely choose themselves when given the choice between protecting themselves and protecting the public they’re paid to protect.
It helped me understand that “isolated incidents” are no such thing. When a public servant repeatedly reveals herself to be self-serving, she is telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: My well being is more important than yours. I’m sorry not that I did it, but that I got caught doing it.
Questions I posed in December 2014 apply to so very many more public servants than I then could’ve fathomed:
What else might police departments potentially conceal to protect not the public but themselves?
And, more importantly: Who else must die before that changes?