I'm sure many of my new "friends" on the internet social space may be surprised at how strongly I have expressed my feelings over the past few months - first regarding the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case and most recently regarding the murder of an unarmed teenager, Mike Brown, by a police officer in Ferguson, MO.
For those new to my space and my life, let me catch you up by giving you a really quick overview of the last 13 years of my life that have shaped my very strong beliefs. My senior year of high school I vehemently debated the repeal of the death penalty in my senior seminar against classmates who brought their Bibles to class and waived them at me while arguing "an eye for an eye." Even then, my 17 year old self knew that as long as that eye was often dependent on the color of that person's skin, I would never accept that argument.
My senior year of college I began working at a domestic violence and rape crisis center in Elkton, MD where I got my first dose of reality that people are not safe in their own homes and some are fighting for their lives. I started to understand what it was like for people to turn to a system to protect them and their children only to discover that system is corrupted by their abuser's relatives and friends in positions of power. They were crying out for help. Looking to be seen and heard. Yet they go unheard.
When I graduated from the University of Delaware, I packed up my cute apartment and moved to Baltimore. A country girl from New Mexico living and working in the inner city. My parents must have been terrified. I started working at a public advocacy organization where I began fighting for issues such as tenant's rights, poor people's access to Medicaid, foster youth, homeless kid's education rights, and prisoner's rights. I started advocating for those whose voice went unheard.
When I was 22 years old I began doing prisoner's rights advocacy work. I would march my cute little high heels into the Baltimore City Detention Center, one of the worst jails in the country, and advocate for individual clients to receive adequate health care while detained. I provided individual, immediate advocacy while the attorneys I worked with used that work to fight for systemic reform through class action lawsuits and public policy. These were individuals who were being detained pre-trial (innocent until proven guilty, right?), many who were in jail for drug-related, substance abuse charges related to an addiction. Many had serious illnesss such as diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS. Illnesses that a missed dose of medicine could mean a life sentence of death. (Sure some wanted to feed their addiction on OxyContin but can you blame them when our system treats addiction by locking you up in overcrowded inner city jails with overflowing toilets?). I watched an elderly woman go into a diabetic seizure during one of our appointments right before my eyes because she hadn't received medication in 3 weeks. When she came out of her coma she thanked me because she knew if I had not been there demanding the guards call the doctor and ambulance she would have laid there in her own bodily fluids for God knows how long.
I never once asked our clients what they were in jail for. Looking back on it, I'm pretty sure I demanded to be locked in the cell with some alleged murderers for the sake of attorney/client privilege. I didn't care and it didn't matter. I saw our clients as humans. Someone's mom, son, daughter, brother, friend that deserved to receive proper health care while they waited to stand trial. I can recall several occasions where clients would come down and give a sigh of relief that it was me and not their public defender. Can you imagine being so desperate for your medication that you'd rather see a young 20-something advocate who really didn't know anything than the attorney who may get you out of jail? All they knew is that I would fight like hell for them to get their medication.
So I'd walk into BCDC three to four times a week and give voice to those no one cared to hear from. That's what I do.
So when things happen in our world that I don't agree with, I need my new friends to understand that it's not my nature, nor has it ever been, to remain silent for your comfort. I've seen more things in the first decade of my career that I believe no human should ever have to endure, whose stories would completely break your heart, that being quiet about things that matter is not an option for me. Many will disagree with me. I see you roll your eyes and call me a liberal. That's ok. It won't change my love for you. Just don't expect me to be quiet.
So when I first saw the report of Mike Brown's death one Saturday night early this month, my heart broke. I said a prayer. There were no details of the case released yet but I did know that a mother's son laid dead on the scorching hot pavement for four hours. I knew that another black male had died at the hand of a police officer.
Over the next week I watched as a city erupted. I watched a town that was angry, hurt, and tired pour out on the streets demanding answers. I watched as those "in charge" did everything but provide answers. I watched and I couldn't stop.
For those who think Ferguson is an isolated incident...I feel sorry for your naivety. For those who think the militarized actions we all watched on the news were a justifiable response to those looting in the city...I feel sorry for your naivety. I feel sorry because you have missed how deep this runs for black and brown people in our country. You have missed the significance of the historical trauma a people of color have endured and must continue to live through.
You've missed what is an undeniable existence of your neighbors.
Last week I took my son to the doctor for his annual well-child visit and expressed some concern to his pediatrician over his increased food and water consumption and frequent urination. (For a family with a history of diabetes these are huge warning signs). After getting great results from the glucose screen, our pediatrician assured me the only thing I need to be concerned about is my food budget because in his words "he's just going to be a big guy". (My son is in the 98th percentile for height and 95th for weight at 6 years old). I let out a "praise God" shout that my son is a healthy kid but this report also puts a huge responsibility on me.
I have to spend my precious boy's childhood protecting his innocence and allowing his amazingly bright light to shine the way he's been gifted by God to do so. I also have to prepare for the day when I have to make him aware that as a black boy he may be pre-judged by some just for being. How do you do that without changing someone's God-gifted spirit? I know that my son is being raised "right", will be well-educated, live in a "good" neighborhood, and all those things that we have told ourselves are the indicators of preventing these tragedies from happening. Those are my controllables. I also can't promise that my son will never sag his pants, talk in slang, or hang out in the wrong place. (I sure lay hands on him every night praying he doesn't.) I also know that at some point he may be thought to be something else than the amazing spirit he is just because he is. Uncontrollable.
I was raised by an educated and successful black man who comes from a good family. He has experienced racism just being. I have dated educated black men and been married to an educated and successful black man who come from good families. They are conscious of how they come across in the board room and on the street because their being may be perceived as a threat. I have cousins, a brother in law, and friends who are amazing black men who have experienced racism just for being. I know because I've asked them.
So when another black man is murdered I'm not ok with it. I won't be quiet about it because it chills my bones and boils my blood. It is not ok. I want answers. Mike Brown's parents deserve answers as to why they had to bury their baby. Our community deserves answers. Still.
We cannot look away from Ferguson.
A friend wrote a deeply moving song that speaks to the heart of where we still are in America. We must fight and speak up for freedom for all. We cannot get comfortable with white freedom or class freedom or any freedom unless it's freedom for all.
Now you know why I don't, and I won't, look away.