Updated: Jul 14, 2020
A couple of weeks ago, I spent an hour looking for information about the first protest of a police action shooting that I remember attending. I grew up in Tampa, and I have a rough idea of when it happened: sometime in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. I was in the 6th grade, and I remember the victim being unarmed. The fact that I had to search for information and that there were so many similar cases is itself heartbreaking and proof that this is a systemic, long-standing stain on the US. I even found out that there were riots the year I was born, 1967. The names change, but the facts (and our responses) stay the same. I don’t remember my life without police action shootings. When I arrived in Indianapolis in the fall of 1987, I was introduced to the community at meetings and events hosted by Muhammad Siddeeq and other community leaders about the death of Michael Taylor. This problem is pervasive and exhausting.
These shootings are devastating to the victims' families, friends, co-workers, and peers. However, communities as a whole are also affected. Being injured by someone who is supposed to protect you is terrifying and always causes deep, long-lasting harm. Law enforcement's entire purpose is to protect and serve communities to ensure public safety. Violence at the hands of the State (police are agents of local government) reinforces feelings of powerlessness and creates a special type of trauma.
Police shootings are forms of racial terrorism. Incidents of racialized terror don't just affect a local community: they affect us all. Thanks to media and technology, these stories are transmitted across the nation and reinforce feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness throughout the entire African American community. These stories do not go away; instead, they increase fears about law enforcement and our overall feeling of being unsafe. These fears can be especially pronounced for youths. For our mental health and wellness, we should try not to amplify these fears. There are bad structural policies that allow bad behaviors to continue and grow, but not all police are bad. Mobilized, we can change bad policies and practices – unjust structures.
Expressing our discontent safely and bravely is one strategy, but it does not lead to systemic change. In my experience, change requires a clear vision, constant pressure, and collective action.
But first, a word to parents. What you say and do matters. Yes, you have the right to be angry and sad. You have the right to grieve. However, your children are watching. Limit what you say and do in front of them. Be careful of words like “always” and “all of them.” Yes, there is a need for huge systemic reforms about the policies, procedures, and practices that govern policing...but all police are not bad. Use this time to tell your children that the police and the prosecutors work for them. Help them understand the power of their actions and votes. Join a civic organization (and take them with you – now, with social distancing, they can join you). Help them see that collective and focused work makes a difference.
Do something – memes, Instagram stories, and Facebook posts (or even going to a protest or two) do not change policies. Click here for a list of what you can do:
§ Encourage Congress to pass the anti-police brutality resolution of Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Karen Bass.
§ Reach out to your local NAACP or Black Lives Matter chapter and check out their policy recommendations. Give your time, talent, and energy to support these causes.
§ Seek healing and peace, especially if you and/or your child attended a march or protest where things got out of hand. Look for a chance to talk about your feelings and behaviors; grief, anger, and frustration are all legitimate feelings. And, if you did something wrong (strong words, property damage, etc.), make those wrongs right. Look for restorative circles. Talk about disruptions in the community and their impact (faith-based or organizations could host these). Find an emotional emancipation circle. Be proactive in engaging in help-seeking behavior.
People banded together to end legal lynching. Remembering what we have accomplished builds resilience. You have power that is greater than your anger and pain. Use your force for good!
As always, please send me a message me! I would love to hear from you! * A shorter version of this appeared in the June 8th,2020 edition of the Champaign News Gazette.