I’ve gone (relatively) silent these last two weeks because I haven’t know what to write or how to be in the wake of the failure to indict the cops who murdered Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The immensity of the pattern, the history, overwhelmed me last Wednesday when the news came out. That same Wednesday, in the afternoon, before the news that the cop who choked Eric Garner would go free, a panel of boys of color ranging in age from 7 to 18 spoke to the rest of our school about their experiences with police. We are a tiny school and yet those boys were terrified to share their stories. And what they feared most was that their friends, people they had known for years, but people with white skin, would doubt them, challenge them, push back when they told their experiences. These boys were brave. The bone of my chest cracked and ached watching them speak.
“How old were you when your family started talking to you about how to deal with cops?”
“4. I was a big kid.”
One girl of color spoke from the audience. “At first I was upset when I heard about Michael Brown, but I also wasn’t surprised. But then when I saw that Ferguson stayed in the news; that people were still there and that they were still talking about it on TV, that really gave me hope.” And then she started to cry.
When I think of history I think of the big moments. The signature days. The March on Washington. Immense successes. The days we can point to in hindsight and say, “See, that was the change, that was hot it happened.” But that’s a dangerous way to teach and learn history, because it makes change and action seem the equivalent of topping Everest: feats of superhuman achievement, rare, almost impossible. What is essential for me to remember is that many point to the Montgomery Bus Boycott as essential to the momentum of the Civil Rights Movement. And that boycott began and was maintained by regular people gathering in countless churches holding countless conversations. It all begins with small, very doable actions. And before the boycott? Well, before the boycott was the murder of a 14 year old boy, Emmett Till, and his mother’s decision to take her mourning public, to share images of his mangled body with the country, to open the casket.
I am immensely grateful to the activists who have kept this story in the news, to the people putting their bodies in rows facing cops with military gear, to the people who have spent hours organizing and shouting and sitting and walking and marching. I don’t know where all this is going to go, there has been this momentum before, but for now, at least, the silence around this story is being cracked. It is a partnership of bodies and voices; we need the bodies in Ferguson, on bridges, shutting down highways, holding signs in order to open the casket once again, to show the marks of this violence, and to tell the stories.
One white student at my school said simply to me, “I can’t believe how young they were when they had to first think about cops.”
In that moment, I feel hope. And what’s one of the things I’m hopeful for, here now, at Christmas, expecting my first child, full of optimism and loving cheer? That these marches shut whole damn cities down.