Salve for Salt-filled Wounds: Healing after Mike Brown

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Me, babygirl, Lola and Maya, and Tamieka and Layla at the #shutitdownatl march on Tuesday, November 25 at Underground Atlanta.

This is a piece I wrote last week for the Center For Community Change.  It was originally published here.

I didn’t cry Monday night.  I turned off Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s press conference after only a few minutes.  I raged a bit with my husband and on social media, then I pulled it together and sat down to watch Curious George with my daughter.  Because that is what it means to be Black in America – becoming a master at compartmentalizing grief and trauma in order to simply live.

I didn’t cry until Tuesday.  I came across a video of Michael Brown Jr.’s mother, Leslie McSpadden, addressing a crowd of protestors after learning that Darren Wilson, who had gunned down her 18-year-old son in the street 108 days prior, would not even face a trial. “Everybody wants me to be calm,” she shouted.  “Do they know what those bullets did to my son?”

I thought of my own son.  Only a few years younger than 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed on a playground by Cleveland police only days ago.  Brown, and tall for his age with a head full of wild locks, I wonder what fate lies ahead of my son.

Or my baby girl. She’s barely a year old now, but in the blink of an eye, she will be the same age as Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was killed as she slept by a Detroit police officer.

Who will protect them from “nervous” cops like the one that shot and killed Akai Gurley in Brooklyn last week, or predators like Daniel Holtzclaw, who used his authority to sexually assault at least eight Black women in Oklahoma?

Afraid, grieving and angry, I reached out to other families who would be attending a Ferguson solidarity gathering here in Atlanta.  I packed up my children and went to Underground Atlanta.

Even when we are not chanting, when we are observing four and a half minutes of silence to represent the four and a half hours that Mike Brown’s body lay in the street, when we are simply bearing witness to each other’s grief, we are powerful.  When four hundred or so people, mostly Black, as young as one month old, hold space to see each other, to speak to each other, to move our rage to collective action, we are healing.

If racism in America is an open wound, then Bob McCulloch’s non-indictment announcement was salt poured directly onto it.  But we have become accustomed to the pouring of salt into that wound.  The night’s emcee, Southerners on New Ground Campaign Co-coordinator Mary Hooks, reminded the crowd that state violence does not just look like police violence.  She invited the crowd to name state violence and there were no shortage of examples.  Mass incarceration.  Salt.  Water shutoffs in Detroit.  Salt.  School Closures in Chicago.  Salt.  The razing of entire communities to make way for a new football stadium here in Atlanta.  More salt.

But we spent four hours together in the cold on a Tuesday evening, beginning to heal that wound, and building and strategizing such that once it is closed, it would never be reopened.

I do not know exactly what happened late into the night, but I stand with the young people who are mobilized to action here and around the country.  One of the organizers of last night’s action, Aurielle Marie of #Itsbiggerthanyou, challenged the crowd, “What are you willing to sacrifice for this?”

I asked my 7-year-old son what he thought we should do.  “Fight back,” he said.  And so we will.

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I’m Struggling: Contradictions, Violence, and Dependence on Police

I called the cops today.

This is not something I do. I don’t call the cops.

Today, I was outside with my babygirl raking the yard. A young Black couple walks by.

Now, I’ll pause here to point out that I’ve done a poor job of getting to know my neighbors. The only people we know even a little are the guy right next to us, and the people directly across the street. But we don’t know them. I couldn’t tell you their names, but I say hi when I see them.

So, it wasn’t extraordinary that I didn’t know the kids walking by. I’m guessing they were teenagers.

I heard them arguing in the street. I didn’t pay much attention; teenagers tend to be loud, and I couldn’t tell whether or not they were serious.

I see the girl running in the street not far from the house, but not close enough that I can see what’s going on. I hear a car coming. I think to myself, “I wish those kids would stop playing in the street, because that car is coming fast, and that’s scaring me.” I am old, apparently.

I hear the young woman scream, then I see the young man run back by going in the opposite direction. A few seconds later, the young woman is walking up my driveway.

“Can I use your phone please.”

She is crying. “Are you ok?”

No. “What’s wrong?”

“He put his hands on me and broke my phone and I need to call the police.”

Sigh. Truthfully, I know enough people who have had their phones snatched trying to help folks, that I’m not all the way trusting. “You want to call the police? Hold on, I’ll call for you.”

I talk to the police. They show up a few minutes later. Never seen cops show up so quickly.

Two cars approach. One with a Black woman cop, one with a Black man cop.

They both get out and walk up the driveway.

“Did you call for the police?”

“Yes, but this little sista is the one needing help.”

They go through the story with her. Apparently, he lives a few houses away, while she lives on a nearby street. Her friend had called. He got mad and took her phone. I can remember this. I heard her yelling for him to give her back the phone. She tries to get the phone back. He breaks it, punches her in the face, scratches her.

“What did you do?” the Black woman asks her.

“I started to cry.”

“Did you see this ma’am?”

“I couldn’t see what was going on, but I heard her scream, then she came and asked to use the phone.”

They ask her if this is the first time he had hit her. It is not. She says his mom had found out about him hitting her, and kicked him out of the house.

She would like to press charges.

She goes to the car with one officer, and the other officer goes to his house to see if he is there. After doing whatever it is they do at the car, she comes back to use my phone and call her people. When she is done, the woman officer takes her home.

I gather my babygirl and go inside.

I wish so many things. I wish there was something else I could have done, something besides call the cops on my neighbor’s kid. I wish I would have known he was my neighbor’s kid. I wish he would have known me. Maybe he would have thought twice. I wish he wouldn’t have been an abuser. I wish this little sis had someone to help her get out of that abusive relationship. I wish we had some infrastructure in place to intervene outside of the police state.

But here we are. A young woman got assaulted on my street today. She came to me asking for help.

And I called the cops.