Week of June 1, 2020: The Protests: A mother’s ramble
My children have decided to join the demonstrations in New York City and Brooklyn to protest and mark the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 40 seconds. These protests have expanded to express the rage of systemic racism, a cancer, an emotional illness that is part of the soil of our culture. It’s time to protest. And the simultaneous pandemic has only exacerbated the trauma and pain. And although I admire my two boys’ involvement in the protests in New York City and Brooklyn I stew about the spread of the virus at these often chaotic and violent proceedings. Violence can get our attention, often a good thing, but I also want my children to be safe.
George Floyd’s death came only days after three Georgia men were arrested on charges of pursuing and killing a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, whom they saw out running (A prosecutor had initially declined to charge the men on the grounds that their actions were legal under the state’s self-defense laws) and the killing of Tony McDade, a black trans man, by police officers in Tallahassee. The list of black victims murdered by the police is longer than we know or imagine and goes back to the creation of the idea of policing during slavery.
My children need to speak, to take issue with an unfair system of oppression and to be a part of a consequential, full throated seeth of anger that meets the moment and to support the demand for the most basic necessities of life, including the right to be free of police harassment or murder. These protests also take place in the context of widespread health and economic devastation that’s been disproportionately borne by people of color, especially those who are poor. Some believe that the frustration is likely to build, because the economic ruin from the pandemic is just beginning. But the fact that Mr. Floyd was even arrested, let alone killed, for the inconsequential “crime” of forgery amid a pandemic that has taken the life of one out of every 2,000 African-Americans is a chilling affirmation that black lives still do not matter in the United States.
So, when formal mechanisms for social change failed to function, compelling African-Americans to act on their own behalf with the support of white, mostly young white Americans who give a crap, they hit the streets.
My children grew up in NYC. They were shepherded to marches and protests from an early age and developed close friendships with black and brown kids throughout their childhood. I told them stories about my own experience as a child when our town, outside of Chicago, decided to more fully integrate the public schools. Because of the tragically inadequate procedures that were employed to execute a potentially marvelous path for everyone, with no conversation or preparation, the elementary school students in my grade were left to reckon, fathom and crack open the good and the ferocious struggles together.
With no leadership, it was often ugly. I bounced into the fray, ready for new friendships, with eyes wide open and no preparation. My parents were progressive democrats, a painter and a doctor who didn’t seem to understand the import of what was happening at our school. They were hardly hovering parents and probably felt that in principle this was a good thing and that we, young kids, would work things out. It took a few years of screaming at each other, testing each other, flirting with each other, physically fighting and finally, after a couple of years of this experiment, we began talking when we were all exhausted, ready to listen to each other. As I recall well, the catalyst was the music and dance we shared and personal stories we exchanged that gave us empathy for each other’s pain, struggles and joy. Art, music, dance, theater offered a language beyond the scope of our prejudices and our shame.
I have a feeling that my boys have already transcended theirs. They are artists and I trust their intellect, their anger and compassion to enter the colossal stakes of the political. This is their time to be part of a final ongoing fight against the grotesque segregation of blackness, to make whiteness smell better, and how racist policing has taken over American cities. Perhaps this will be part of the beginning of the end of police bullying as the protests have pushed the Federal Government to transform the current model of policing from enforcers to guardians. And we can begin, finally, the work of reparations. I feel a little squirmy.