I’ve been struggling all day with what to say and how to say it.
Not wanting to say nothing for that silence speaks louder than anything. But the Ferguson grand jury decision yesterday has left me speechless. Speechless in grieving. Speechless in the not knowing of how to say some words that can add some different words, some helpful words, in the helpless spin of fear, anger, blame, rage… and yet more violence. In the hopelessness of “Will anything ever change?”
I was in my Tuesday morning painting class when we heard the crowd from Garfield High School marching down University Ave. A floppy white banner, “Ferguson” leading the way. Young kids with hands high in the air, chanting words we couldn’t understand, as we stood in the windows watching.
The police escort, blue lights flashing, clearing the road.
It was all here. The protesters. The police. All of it, the whole drama, passing outside the window.
On the way down the stairs to empty out my bottle of water, brown and muddy red, I said to the middle-age African American man going down the stairs with me, “It’s terrible about the decision today.”
“Yah it is”, he said, “and I’m not surprised.”
“Yes, that’s the worst isn’t it? Not being surprised”, I replied.
“It will bring out all the crazies”, he went on, “the anarchists and people who want to protest anything, throw things at everything.”
“Yes, it will”, I responded.
“And yes, we will move on and forget soon enough…”, but I didn’t say that.
But something in me can’t.
Can’t just move on, say nothing. There is something here in this decision that sticks. Sticks me right back in the place of grief, of feeling it all.
At a workshop on “Undoing Racism” last week, we were told that the place we need to begin, the place where we can begin to do some work that might really matter – is in feeling the grief.
Maybe it’s because I had lunch with a former cop who is a good man and shares many stories of the good and courageous women and men with whom he has served.
Maybe it’s because I had dinner Tuesday night with my friend who is a woman of color and who puts down her spoon half way through the meal and asks me if my having her as a friend affects how I think about the Ferguson verdict.
Of course it does. Of course it all does. All of my connections and interconnections do.
And in the midst of all the personal and media spin of fear, hurt, rage, and outrage I come back to that most difficult place to stand – in the in-between of hearing the stories, holding the grief. Before more words, silence and grief.
Today, I read this piece below by Safiya Jafari Simmons and it puts me in that place right there in the middle of it all and the complexity of it all that time after time feels like the place I am personally called to stand – as a witness.
Her words help me find my way to the words I can share today. To the place of standing there speechless in the middle of the pain, and paying homage to it. Thank you Safiya.
November 26, 2014
Why I Feel Torn About the Ferguson Verdict
By Safiya Jafari Simmons
updated 2:12 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Editor’s note: Safiya Jafari Simmons is CEO and chief strategist of SJS Consulting, a Washington public relations consulting firm. She is communications director for the Congressional Black Caucus, the Center for Policing Equity and other clientele. She has been a press secretary to U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Maryland. She lives in Washington with her husband, a police officer, and their three children. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) — I dreaded the Ferguson grand jury response for weeks. Not simply because I knew it was likely to lead to more heartache and unrest for the black community — my community — but because it would most certainly dredge up deep internal conflict for me.
I’m raising a black boy to be a black man. So the grand jury’s decision seems to double down on a pattern in this country of killing black boys without care or consequences.
But I’m raising my black son with my black husband, who also happens to be a police officer in Washington. And being the wife of an officer means I can’t support either camp fully — neither the outraged black community nor the justice system sworn to protect us.
When my husband first donned his uniform nearly 10 years ago, I told him clearly and directly: “You do whatever you must to come home to me.” Nearly a decade and three children later, he’s heeded that order, navigating the dangers that only populate my nightmares — just to make sure he comes home.
The irony isn’t lost on me. I know what the research says. I know that this country often denies agency to African-American boys, and that they’re often seen as a threat just by virtue of their skin color.
But in moments such as this, it’s the denial of agency to law enforcement officers that angers me.
All cops aren’t bad. All cops aren’t racist. Many cops have spouses and children. They have loved ones and friends and pets. They leave all this every day to place themselves in harm’s way for people they never meet.
They love their communities. They want the law of the land to work as it’s supposed to. They don’t like to see children hurt, people taken advantage of. They are people doing a job that few are brave enough to take on.
So when I heard St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCullough describe how Michael Brown allegedly lunged at Officer Darren Wilson in his police car, I knew it was likely that my husband could have responded the same way: shoot to disable the threat. Do what he must to make it home to us at night.
This is part of my reality. It’s how I process these incidents now.
But it was also my reality when, as we sped home to relieve our sitter one night, my husband and I were pulled over by a police officer on a dark, wooded parkway in Virginia. And I watched my husband, an officer for nearly 10 years, immediately turn off the car, turn on all the interior lights, place the keys on the dashboard and put his hands on the steering wheel.
He turned to me, calmly and coolly, and said, “Get our insurance card out. Don’t make any sudden moves, and leave your hands on your lap.”
I froze. I teared up, and fear welled up as a lump in my throat. Because that night, before he was an officer, my husband was a black man. Like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.
These conflicting parts of my reality are why the South Carolina state trooper shooting earlier this year isn’t, to me, a black-and-white case of excessive force used by white law enforcement on an unarmed black teenager. And it’s why I’ve not waded into the debate waters on Michael Brown either.
Because I need my husband and his colleagues to make it home. Every night.
So I can’t “like” many of the stirring posts I scroll through on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. I can’t post my own rants of outrage at the failings of our justice system, nor can I post any statement that might be interpreted as in support of the Ferguson officer. Not because I can’t connect to them or feel them on some level, but because it’s complicated.
And complicated in a way that no one seems to respect or acknowledge or care to understand.
“Complicated” is the place where I can actually begin to see.
Beyond my quick rushes to hateful words – or no words.
To putting into some larger holding all this sorrow. All this longing. All this fear. All this prayer.
10 thoughts on “The Decision”
Stunning Peter. Thanks for honoring this complex issue by sharing Ms. Simmons’ complicated truth.
Thanks Kathryn – And sometimes I think “complicated truth” is the only truth that is real truth.
Wow. Complicated, grief, silence, and pain. Amen.
Thanks John for writing – This is the place – “complicated, grief, silence, pain” – which I want to avoid, cover up, skip over. And it is the only place where the kind of words that need to be heard, can be heard. Maybe they are words I don’t want to know, hear, but I join you in the listening.
Peter: thanks much for your comments, for saying something. one slight note: it wasn’t a verdict on Monday night. that was the problem. it was a decision made by the Prosecutor and Grand Jury to not indict on any charges. which meant that there will not be a trial where evidence can be evaluated fairly in order to reach a verdict. this is why people are angry: the manipulation of the process in order to avoid a trial.
when an unarmed citizen is shot dead in the street with 12 bullets, something is wrong and that something (manslaughter?) should have been adjudicated at trial. so there was no verdict and that’s the problem.
Thanks Marie for the clarification – that will lead me to change my blog title to “The Decision” –
I really wish there could be conversation about this issue in my Church. I live in a conservative area but my Church is liberal on a good many areas such as non violence and social justice. I probably fall on the conservative side of things to a degree when it comes to politics and theology. However I have some beliefs that put me square in the liberal camp. Regardless I probably fall into the camp with those people who believe the verdict was fair. I am not a lawyer and I certainly didn’t see all of the information so there is no way that I can judge the evidence so I can’t tell whether the verdict not to indict was right or wrong. Was it fair? That is another question and unless somebody protest the decision over some legality the decision will probably stand. I would just like to know more about white people feel the way they do and think the way they do. I have studied human nature and human behavior for over 40 years and I would truly like to know more about why my sisters and brothers in Christ believe the way they do. I have probably seen too much violence in my life and am probably influenced by that violence but we all are influenced by many things. I feel terrible for the family and for the young man who was killed. Corky Riley
Dear Corky – Thanks so much for writing – I keep all of this decision, its aftermath and those affected by it close in my heart, hope and prayers,
Thank you. Corky
I was re reading what I wrote and discovered I did a very poor job on proof reading. I meant to say why not white but maybe that’s a closer term to get to what I truly felt. Thanks Peter. Corky