Sunday, October 19, 2014

In the Streets

As a Saint Louis resident, the Mike Brown shooting and Ferguson protests have felt especially close to home.  I have friends who have front-line protested in Ferguson essentially every day; conversely, I have friends who are the forefront leaders of the “I am Darren Wilson” movement.  My Facebook newsfeed blows up each day with continuous stories about police brutality, cover-ups, conflicting news media reports, racial divide, segregation, and shows of support and disgust for both sides.  I presume I am not alone in this.

I cried and cried when Trayvon was murdered; I would put my kids to bed and then stay up late reading accounts and feeling so furious and sad and powerless.  My grief for him and his family was palpable.  Knowing this about myself, I purposefully kept separate from Mike Brown’s death for a long while.  Confronting this loss – in my own community – and the ramifications of it were more than I was willing to try to handle.  Mike’s death is a tragedy and the consequent civil rights violations are frustrating, disappointing, and just plain wrong; however, I kept most of these things at arms’ length emotionally.  I tried to distant myself from an emotional response – supporting reason rather than reaction – and it was, surprisingly, really easy to do.  I just went about my normal days and weeks (teaching, working, volunteering, parenting) and I thought about this explosive situation only occasionally and when I wanted to.  I fully recognized that my white privilege gave me the space to distant myself, and I more than occasionally felt guilty about it, but I kept that at a safe distance too.  In conversations with folks, I spoke intelligently and with appropriate outrage, but all I did was speak.  I did not act.  And this is where I have the most regret. 

I drive by Ferguson, Missouri, each time I volunteer at Hope Clinic for Women.  I have driven past Ferguson three times since the shooting.  I have never stopped.  I have not gone to Ferguson to protest or show support for those who do.  It didn’t fit into my schedule and I would be out too late and it seemed dangerous and I wasn’t certain that my being there would be helpful anyway and I just had foot surgery.  These were the things I told myself.  And yet.  My inaction is an action, and it’s not the right one. 

Last weekend was Ferguson October, three days devoted to activism.  My schedule was packed with other things already (Girl Scout camping, five Ethical Society obligations, school) and I agonized over whether to cancel my participation in these other events so that I could participate in Ferguson October.  I tried to (unfairly) pressure my spouse to take on an activist or volunteer role in my stead so that our family would be represented at all these events.  And all the Saturday and Sunday Ferguson October events seemed so tame – I struggled to imagine any safety risk for myself or the kids.  In the end, I attended the only event that did not require cancelling my other responsibilities, which was the interfaith rally on Sunday night.

Samantha and I packed our crocheting and settled in for an evening of clergy members giving speeches.  And that’s what we had for quite a while.  And then members of the audience got tired of hearing the same message over and over again and they started shouting back.  Youth leaders and Tef Poe took the stage and shared their thoughts – it was so energizing to hear from them – and they issued a challenge:  “White allies – you can call yourself what you want, but if you’re not helping then you’re not an ally.  Get in the streets and help us!”  That line punched me in the gut, because it was spot on and told me that I would be of service in Ferguson, provided that I put myself there.

During the drive home, Samantha and I agreed that it was time to join the movement with actions, not with words.  Yesterday, we joined hundreds of women in the Mothers’ March in Clayton, in which mothers who have lost their children to violence in the streets raised their voices and shared their stories.  And I cried and cried.  During the four minutes of silence for Mike Brown, I imagined being Mrs. Brown: dealing with the violent loss of her child and wanting to turn to the police for justice but being unable to because the police had shot her child.  How would I express my intense grief and fury?  I felt such an overwhelming wave of hopelessness, and yet these women did not stop.  These mothers continued to live their lives, care for their other children, and survive.  And yesterday they issued a call to action to mothers everywhere – to raise our voices and say “no more killing our children!”  

I urge you to spend four minutes imagining being in Mrs. Brown’s shoes – or in the shoes of the parents of the 110 people shot in the Saint Louis streets so far this year – and consider what you would do as a response.

Join us in Ferguson.  It’s time for mothers and fathers to be in the streets.