Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ask. Listen. Call it out.

I've shed a lot of tears lately.

Mostly for the moms.

For the moms of beautiful black boys who have been lost; killed for reasons that can never be fully explained or understood.

For other moms; moms who are my friends, who worry about their own children, but especially their sons, in ways that are quite different than the ways I worry about my children. I worry about my girls' happiness, their friendships, the influence of drugs and alcohol. So do my friends, but they have other worries. They know that their babies will be subjected to scrutiny and judgments that they have not brought upon themselves by any action of their own, but simply because of who they are. Because of how they look. Because of the assumptions and fears of other people. People who don't even know them.

It has never occurred to me to teach my daughters how to act if they are accused of shoplifting or what to do if they are stopped by the police. Other moms do teach their children these things and it leaves me with a sick feeling in my stomach and an ache in my heart. I know their children: smart, funny, kind and sometimes a little sassy, just like my own children. But not blonde-haired and blue-eyed. So, in addition to teaching their children the things all parents must: rules and values, games and academics, they have to teach them how to defend against the indefensible.  While I can safely assume that if my children are accused of a crime, they will be treated fairly, my friends cannot. In the United States of America in 2014, they cannot assume that their children will be treated fairly by law enforcement if they are suspected of a crime, because they are black.  And that is what I must teach my children.

I've cried in frustration and horror because I can't imagine why men who swear oaths to serve and protect reach for their guns first, instead of their tasers or batons; why men who are heavily armed are so afraid and so filled with fury that one shot won't do - it must be six. How are police officer applicants screened? How were they trained? How are they held accountable? How did it come to this - that shooting an unarmed kid was the best choice among the range of possible actions? What is being done to ensure that this does not happen again?

I know that the officer from Ferguson who shot Michael Brown has his own story and a right to due process. I just can't get past the idea that there must have been another choice available to him besides executing a kid who had no weapon.

I have struggled with how to articulate my anger and sadness about the shooting of Michael Brown and the continuing turmoil in Ferguson. I know my feelings pale in comparison to the thoughts and feelings of people who are more directly affected in their daily lives by racism. And then I realized that I am directly affected by racism because its poison corrodes us all.  It tears apart our whole community. It makes us suspicious and distrustful of each other and of law enforcement. It undermines the entire premise of our country: that we are all equal and have equal voices and opportunities. Without that, what are we as a nation and a people?

It's very tempting to remain silent for fear of offending someone or of starting an argument. It is, after all, an unpleasant topic, injustice. We'd like to think we are past all that; we'd like to think that if it exists, it's only in isolated little pockets. It is only by talking about it that we can learn what is really happening on a daily basis to the people around us. And it is happening, make no mistake.

So what can we do?

Ask. Listen. Call it out when you see it.

Don't wait until another mom's child is lying dead in the street.