The After-WHEN THEY SEE US

I couldn’t do it, y’all.

I really can’t.  I tried, dearest ones. I was prepared to go in, let have and bring every linguistic dragon I could think of.

But…I couldn’t bring myself to watch this. At least, not right now. This series brings back too many memories, too many current traumas, too many things that right now I cannot lean into. I may not come back out the same. I am trying to remember in such times to keep my heart soft. I am trying to remember that police are not monsters, but human beings. I am trying to remember that police are supposed to protect and serve.

…even the people that you don’t like.

But in times like this? Mane, it would seem that the boys in blue hate the boys in Black skin. I don’t, we don’t, have the luxury of taking off skin. As a mother, sister, wife and daughter, I could not suffer my heart to be snatched through my chest through the incarceration of the Central Park Five (CP5). I could not do it! I know they are all out now, and out their money and trying to do as best as they can. But that doesn’t erase what happened to them, the time stolen from them, or change the fact they were sacrificed to further the career of Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer!

But I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t add this as I hasten to close this piece.

WE TOLD YOU SO.

We as communities of color, as Black people, as Brown people told you that the police can be, are, can be seen as the biggest organized crime syndicate ever constructed. We told you the police pull us over just because we are there, have a nice car, too many people in it or in the wrong neighborhood.

We told you that the St. Louis County Police Department was evil before Michael Brown died.on a street. We told you that Chicago PD had houses that hemmed people up and beat them up and through them back out into the night–daring us to say something. We told you that the NYPD, the LAPD, and the small sundown towns along or past highways didn’t like us.

We told you that they beat up my brother in Baltimore.

We told you the police officer hand no reason to stop the girl he wound up raping.

We told you that police harass Black children. Try to interrogate them without parents. Or concern. Or regard for any future they may have.

We told you that police lie to Black children.

 

We told you.

We told you.

We told you.

 

What Ava DuVernay has done is pull back the lies told by this police-positive narrative shoved at a non-minority people to not challenge badges and uniforms. She, through the vessel of art, showed the world–through the intersection of Blackness and humanity—the Central Park Five are more than articles. More than these monsters or mongrels the current POTUS believes should have gotten the death penalty!

Trauma is not for public consumption or amusement. But when you focus trauma, revealing its source, that is when you can harness it as a teaching tool.

There are so many exonerations happening now that judicial reform is something like rain–it is inevitable. It is impossible to ignore. The cry of ‘there are good cops too’ are hollow. They are shrill. And they are not followed up by any action which would empower these phantom ‘good cops’ to hold these blue monsters accountable.

The excuses are over, fam.

The jig is up.

In the immortal words of Cathy “Mama Cat” Daniels:

“We know that all lives matter, but for right now? We gon be specific.”

 

The Before- WHEN THEY SEE US

TW:  The Central Park 5; Police brutality; Industrial Prison Complex; Mass Incarceration

 

The miniseries ‘When They See Us’ started airing on the streaming service, Netflix, in late May 2019. 

The first time I remember distrusting the police I was about 10.

I was about 8 when The Central Park 5 became a national news story.  I remember going with my father to the grocery store in Cahokia, IL (about 40 minutes from where we then lived). We were headed home, and we stopped.

My father wasn’t speeding. He was the only adult in the car. And we had groceries. He was driving a black GMC  pick-up. The officer asked him to step out. He did, and what I vividly remember is the officer, whom was shorter than my father, white and blonde and mustached, asked who the other adult was in the car. I remember my father, in all his 6’2″ could muster, said, “She’s 10.” The flashlight he shone in the car might as well have been the damn sun. He asked what the glass bottle was, because it was drank out of, but capped. He was a fan of Mr. Pure juices, and that’s all it was. I remember he didn’t come back right away.  This pause I am sure now was to make sure the truck he made payments on, registered to him, wasn’t stolen. I think the officer said something like “Take care”, returning my father’s ID and freedom to him.

At 13, after my cousin’s encounter with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, I was done. I saw my cousin illegally searched in my maternal grandmother’s doorway. I remember wondering, “Why is this happening?” My father was there and saw them, and told them to get out. These two white, plainclothes officers, were insistent. They wanted my cousin. My father told them to get out. They acted like they weren’t going to go. But they did. He yelled at my mother for opening the door and summoning my cousin to it. He told me then, “Jennifer, if the police call you to their car don’t go. They don’t have any right to bother you unless they have a reason or a warrant.”

I remember my Dad telling my cousins (John, whom they were looking for; Joshua, whom they weren’t)  they would have to run to my cousin Joshua’s house–about a 10 minutes away. I stood on the red gray porch of my grandmother’s porch and looked back in the yard to where they were. I thought my 13-year-old body would be a big enough, wide enough, strong enough to protect them both. When we got to my Mom’s car, I remember calling the police ‘motherfuckers’ under my breath. I remember praying that they not be caught. I remember and officer in a red shirt, jeans and a ballcap pointing to the side of my grandmother’s house like a wolf after sheep.

That feeling of outraged helplessness I have never lost. Ever.

I saw the police as necessary evil. I never wanted to be in the presence of police officers, but I would watch COPS, and Homicide Life On The Street (the precursor to any Law & Order). I remember my Aunt Linda (John’s Mom) watching Hunter, and L.A. Law. The disconnect of wanting the good guys on TV to win and distrusting the police who I saw I couldn’t reconcile.

From this, and my complicated relationship with dealing with big blue gangs, we have When They See Us.  Have I seen it yet? No. Will I? Yes. Will I have something to say? Yeah! I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. The thing is, I want y’all to hear my heart. This review won’t be  haymaker to law enforcement (even though I still feel FTP is always going to be a war cry for me). I want those of you that follow this space to know that 10-/13-year old girl is still within the 37-year-old wife and mother. Those experiences have allowed me have the frank conversations that I can around and about police brutality. Those experiences fuel activism and pushes towards the support of police reform.

When They See Us is a reminder just how close trauma is. How malignant it is. It is also testament to how broken the system of law and it’s enforcement truly is. There is no amount of social undoing, op-eds or charity work that will allow Linda Fairstein, Elizabeth Lederer or the gang known as the NYPD to fix this. That’s the thing about history and recording trauma. As long as someone knows what happened, someone else will know too.

[image from Netflix]

When Mama Can’t Protect You-Part 1 (Prelude To ‘The Talk’)

TW:  Police brutality, police abuse, wrongful arrest

 

This came through my personal Twitter timeline on Father’s Day of all things. And I was inconsolable. In looking through this thread, all  I could think is, “This could have been my daughter. This child is my daughter’s age.” I make no qualms about my valid, palpable distrust of law enforcement. I make no reassertion that I am changing my mind about that. I have not trusted law enforcement since I was about 10, and I’m almost 40. With that being said, I make no bones about my Mama Lion nature for my children. In reading this thread, my heart sank. I wanted to stave off having ‘The Talk’ with my oldest daughter. The same daughter that is beautiful, intelligent, and stands 5’6.5″ at age 11 1/2.  I am aware that the world will not always see her as a girl. As an adolescent Black girl.

When I saw this thread, and really began to digest what had happened to this child without her mother present, left me horrified. The rundown was this:

A group of Black kids were playing on a movie parking lot. The police saw them and told them to move along. The kids grumbled and muttered but they go on. Nicole (the woman in the screenshot), heard screaming. She looked up and saw one of the officers dragging one of the child to the car. There are more cop cars that appeared (Nicole said it was 5-6 cars). She gets out her car and asks what is going on. The cops tell her to move along. She sees on child in the car’s backseat–handcuffed. The other girl was shaken and about to be arrested as well. Nicole advocated for the child, and confronting the police officer. The handcuffed child did not have her phone, and it would seem she was arrested for ‘loitering.’ Nicole gave this child her phone to call her mother. The police said they were going to release her to her mother. Nicole continues to advocate for these children, and speaking to the girl’s mother–she waits for her to get to the area. Another older couple is parked nearby watching. The handcuffed girl’s mom arrives, and wants to know what happened. Turns out, the girls are arrested without being Mirandized, or without a guardian present. Once that’s pointed out, the officer tells Nicole to leave. She doesn’t. The girls are released to their mother/aunt. Nicole gives Mom the name of lawyers that she knows. 

As a mother, I was horrified. My husband and I have gone round and round about how to handle raising our girls when these situations exist. I know that the world doesn’t see Black girls as girls–especially if Black girls are tall or in any way shapely! I never looked my age from 11-17. And my mother had to gently tell me that I had to watch how I dressed because I didn’t look my age. Not to leave the house without my purse that at least had my school identification. I knew that the police wouldn’t think that I was 13, 14 or 15, unless my parents were with me.

With this though? I thought I had more time, at least one more year to allow my daughter to be protected completely by her Mama Lion. But that shattered yesterday. This is the paradox Black parents have:  we know the world sees our children as never being such. But we know they are. I have talked to my husband about our daughter having a cell phone. He said she was too young. I disagreed. I tried to tell him that the world is such that she needed access to us in case she needed us.

This is another reminder that she is becoming more and more visible on the real world’s radar. It was a reminder that if something like this happened to my baby, I would want someone to help her. To see her. I would want her to know how to handle herself if an officer stopped her, and had no right to do so.  I know that in having this talk, The Talk, with her, a portion of her innocence is, and will be gone. And there is nothing I can do about that.