Thinking About Audre Lorde And Ferguson

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.

–Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”

Last night, sick to my stomach, I watched the “Prosecutor” of Police Officer, Darren Wilson, explain to the town of Ferguson and the world why the life of the unarmed teen, Michael Brown was not worth a trial (See yesterday’s post, “Ferguson on My Mind”.) He explained why Wilson was justified in shooting him five or more times, two of those shots were to the head. I was disgusted by how much the Prosecutor sounded like the Defense Attorney for Wilson and not the one responsible for making sure he went to trial.

Immediately following the announcement that Wilson would not stand trial for killing Brown, I watched Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, in pain as she heard the verdict. I cried for her and I cried for the families of other black victims whose lives were not worthy of consideration from the American judicial system. Michael Brown never had a chance in that court room.

I hugged my daughter closer to me because unarmed black girls and women get shot by police officers and racist citizens, too. They, too, can be victims of a judicial system that does not recognize their humanity (See the story of Marissa Alexander in The Root.) I cried because for way too many people in this country, black lives have no value.

I watched President Barack Obama talk to Americans about our country being built on justice, and all I could think was “no, it wasn’t, it was built on thievery and slavery.” He continued by telling Protesters that he is standing by the statement given by Michael Brown’s family to protest peacefully.

His sentiments felt shallow because not only has he failed to admonish the behavior of police who racially profile and carefully carelessly snuff out the lives of black youth, but he also failed to connect with the Brown family in a meaningful way. He couldn’t even offer as simple of a statement as he gave Trayvon Martin’s family when he said, “If I had a black son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.”

I asked, “How do I write about this? How can I write about this when I am in so much pain for the future of our children?”

Twitter IThis morning, I awakened to the heaviness of the night before, still feeling ill. I picked up my phone and immediately got on Twitter. I read the Tweets from the activists in Ferguson and noticed a significant number of white people spewing anger and hate at the activism in the area. They wanted to silence the voices in Ferguson. They called them hateful names and wished bodily harm on them, but Ferguson activists ignored their comments and continued to address their ultimate goal: to make #blacklivesmatter.

As I continued with my morning routine of dragging Nina out of bed to get her dressed for school, I still pondered TwitterIIhow I would write about Ferguson. Between the news media using language like “rioting” instead of “protests” or “social unrest” and others on Twitter attacking the activists for the work that they were doing, I was utterly disturbed by the way in which the narrative was being told. The story of black people protesting the systemic victimization TwitterIIIof black bodies was being constructed by the mass media as deviant. It was sick and twisted to watch people stand up for the protection of property in ways that they would not stand up to protect a teenager’s life.

Meanwhile, Nina came down stairs and picked up her pen and finished working on whatever she was writing the night before. She was upset when I told her that it was time to go to school. She told me that she needed to write.

I thought to myself, “What would Nina do if she were confronted with some type of struggle in her 7 year old life?”

She would definitely write.

So, as I walked her to school this morning, I became determined to write/right a story of Ferguson.

During this walk, Nina and I talked about writing. I told her that she may not understand what I mean right now, but she must “right” the world with her writing. I reminded her of her magical powers and that everyone doesn’t possess the ability or desire to write as she does. I told her that she needed to use her writing powers for good: She must tell the narratives of people who don’t possess her magic to write. She must tell their stories because other people needed to hear her truth. Because her truth is important. Her voice is important. Never stop writing.

I needed her to hear these things, on this day in particular.

We have a responsibility to write/right the stories that are being told about Ferguson. Audre Lorde said in the “Transformation of Silence,” “We share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that Transformation.”

I know that when I am no longer around to be the voice for people through my writing, I know someone else who will continue in my place.

#BlackLivesMatter

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Ferguson on My Mind

In the news today:

One Brown body.

One Brown body lying in the street.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet. At least two bullets to the head and four to the arm, maybe even more.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet. At least two bullets to the head and four to the arm, maybe even more. The gut wrenching sound of crying rings like a tortured freedom bell.

That one Brown body lying in the street was somebody’s child.

Next week’s news story . . .

Another black body lying in the street.

In Memoriam, Michael Brown

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigital Photos.net.

No “Foto Friday” picture today, folks. Today we light a candle for Michael Brown, who was killed on Saturday, August 9, 2014, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. For Brown–and for all victims of police violence–we will seek justice and we will not forget you. Rest in Peace.

Jaywalking while Black

downloadTo me, jaywalking seems like a minor infraction. At most, it is a misdemeanor violation that might lead to a ticket or a fine, but recent events illustrate that it has become probable cause for harassment, suspicion, arrest, and violence.

On May 20,  2014, an African-American professor at Arizona State University in Tempe was arrested after a confrontation with an ASU police officer (Stewart Ferrin) that began as a result of her jaywalking. According to Assistant Professor Ersula Ore, she was crossing the street to avoid construction. Although others had done the same, she was the only one stopped for jaywalking. In the footage taken by the cruiser’s dashboard-mounted camera, Ore asserts that in her three years at ASU she had never seen anyone pulled over for jaywalking. And I must concur. There are two things I know from all my years on large university campuses: Construction and jaywalking are ubiquitous. I have never seen someone who was stopped–let alone arrested–for crossing the street in the wrong place or at the wrong time. The tickets issued from the constant stream of students, faculty, staff, administrators, and other pedestrians for jaywalking would be enough to keep the campus police busy all day, every day.

The campus officer was clearly displeased with Prof. Ore questioning his probable cause and his authority. Ore seemed incredulous that he would treat a “citizen” and a “professor” in such a disrespectful manner. When Ferrin attempted to put handcuffs on Ore and arrest her, she resisted and the officer slammed her to the ground. After this, she can be heard asking, “Are you serious?” as she is lying in the street.

Crosswalk

A crosswalk near my home.

Certainly, there are those who have argued that incident’s escalation was the professor’s fault. But to paraphrase Ore, How is someone supposed to behave when she is being disrespected and manhandled?

Although she stands fast in her assertion that her civil rights were violated, Ore pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of resisting arrest and was sentenced to nine months probation on August 1. Prosecutors dropped the original charges of “obstructing a public thoroughfare,” refusing to produce identification, and aggravated assault on a police officer.

While Prof. Ore’s situation left her physically and psychologically battered, she was not broken. Unfortunately, Michael Brown, the young black man killed by police on August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri (a St. Louis suburb), did not escape with his life. Early reports indicate that after visiting his grandmother, Brown and a friend were walking home when a police officer told the 18-year-old to get off the street. Not surprisingly, the police officer’s version of the events differs greatly from the witnesses, but both sides agree that Brown was unarmed.

I would like to believe that trumped up charges of jaywalking are not the new “driving while black,” “stop and frisk,” or “papers, please.” But these cases remind us that even in this so-called post-racial America we must continue to proclaim both our humanity and our citizenship rights. As W. E. B. Du Bois stated in 1906, “We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a free-born American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America.” Black communities–in fact, all communities– are entitled to “freedom from fear” that those who ostensibly “protect and serve” in reality have malevolent intent.

 


See also:

Catherine Calderon, ASU Professor Gets 9 Months Probation for Resisting Arrest in Incident that Sparked National Attention, The Republic|azcentral.com, 1 August 2014.

Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, Arizona Professor’s Jaywalking Arrest Quickly Gets Out of Hand, cnn.com, 30 June 2014.

Dean Schabner, Witness Says Missouri Teen’s Hands Were Up When Cop Shot Him, abcnews.go.com, 10 August 2014.

Conner Wince, ASU English Professor Pleads Guilty to Resisting Arrest, The Republic|azcentral.com, 9 July 2014.

Video of ASU Professor’s Arrest