So, let’s start from the beginning. Well, actually let’s start from MY beginning. I will admit, all of my knowledge and understanding of anti-racism did not happen in the order of events however, each of the deaths I mentioned, impacted me in different ways and helped me discover practices that I needed to develop and where I fit in.
2014 Ferguson. The untimely death of Michael Brown by Ferguson, St. Louis police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 sparked a series of riots in Missouri BUT a new development of fear of police for me. Call me sheltered that is fine. I grew up in a small town of 3,000 plus people with about 6 stop lights. My exposure to gun violence, homelessness, poverty, and police brutality etc. was very limited. So, it was not something I anticipated or even expected, I did not know where to look and had not developed the habit of watching for this type of news. You know with black death you usually have to search—or least back then you did. However, regardless of my past experiences and knowledge, Michael Brown’s death, these riots, changed me. I was 30 years old and for the first time in my life, I feared the police.
2014 I Can’t Breathe. The untimely death of Eric Gardner by New York City Police officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, 2014 cause communities to question the practices of chokeholds and other police tactics when arresting citizens. Now I recognize Gardner’s death came after Brown’s death, but now I was alert, watching the local news and searching for local news to have a better understanding of the community I was living in. I resided in Yonkers at this time and so my exposure to civil unrest had changed drastically from my small-town upbringing. Reading about Gardner’s death and watching the tragic video caused me to want to speak out. However, I knew I was not ready for the front lines. So, I bought a few shirts, that read “I Can’t Breathe,” and I wore them everywhere—to the gym, to the grocery store, to the mall. I wore the shirts both sadly and proudly so that at least the world could see that now I was awake.
2015 Film Yourself. The untimely death on Sandra Bland in police custody on July 13, 2015 changed the way I thought police would handle interactions with black womxn. The recording released from Bland’s personal cell phone during her traffic stop by Waller County, Texas Trooper Brian Encinia was heartbreaking, tragic, and eye opening. As a assault survivor, it triggered me to think not only citizens could cause harm to me, but potentially an officer of the law could as well. I guess you can say I had been numbed to the fact that black men are typically the victim of police brutality, I was highly unprepared for a womxn to be openly assaulted for driving while black too. I promptly purchased a dashboard cell phone holder and made sure my camera settings were easily accessible every time I was driving in case I was pulled over and needed to record the experience. Now I was prepared.
By summer 2016 I feared the police, I was awake, and I was prepared. However, I still had not taken any direct action against police brutality or racial injustices and I limited my news intake as it was difficult to continue to watch/read the death of black bodies with little to no convictions. I took the time to arm myself with research—starting with google scholar and the articles that populated followed by reading books on social justice and systemic racism---The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, How Long ’Til Black Future Month? By N. K. Jemisin to name a few. I did this all the while witnessing the live broadcast deaths of the untimely death Philando Castile on July 6, 2016 by St. Anthony, Minnesota police offer Jeronimo Yanez; the untimely death of Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020 by local citizens in Glynn County, Georgia; the untimely death of Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020 by Louisville Metro Police Department officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove; and then the untimely death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 by Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin.
And so now in 2020, I march. The global pandemic—Covid 19, made it impossible to ignore the blatant injustice and brutality of black bodies specifically by police. While I did not watch the full video because mentally, I could not stomach it, most tragically the death of George Floyd who was suffocated to death with a knee on his neck for 8:46 seconds prompted me to march as well as the entire world. In Floyd’s last breaths he called out to his mother for help and his plead rang around the world thus sparking the current climate of both national and international protests for the end of police brutal, racial injustice and an end of systematic racism.
Lately I have done more than march. I have been provided the platform to speak out at designated protests, lead break out groups structured to formulate action plans for change and now write for the Hudson Valley Next Step blog. I am finding footing in each of these platforms and as you can tell it took me time. Nearly 6 years of watching, reading, and hearing about the death of black bodies have I been moved into action. There is not right or wrong time, there is just DOING.
So, if this is your first time reading about the deaths and developing fear, we welcome you and support you. We now encourage you to do your research, read books, explore, ask questions, and then find your way to wearing that t-shirt I mentioned earlier. If you are more secure in yourself after reading this post and doing your research and want to march, then join us! There are scheduled marches almost every weekend in the month of August and more to come in the fall. If you think your work is better suited to speaking in protests, IG/FB live or in word format such as this blog then let us know! We will connect you and our media and make sure your voice is heard. No matter what steps you take, big, small, or half-way, just know that they count, and you MATTER. Find your way to the next step in which action plans for change in the local, state, and federal policy, budgets, and policing are in development. Help us fight injustice. Find out where you fit in.
Written by Dr. Rae Hall #SoSayDrRae