Friday, August 15, 2014

What Happened and What It Means

Like many in my metropolitian area, we were winding down the last muggy days of summer before the area kids started school in waves.  For many, it was their last weekend of summer before they would put on clothes, backpacks, and stand at bus stops.  For me, it was the last of a string of memorial services for family members who had lived a long fruitful life.  It was just another Saturday.

I had been with family and wanting to be present, had my phone and social media turned off.  It wasn't until the repast after the repast ended that I turned on my phone and was flooded with information about a police involved shooting in Ferguson MO.

From the time I read that at 9pm on Saturday night, the very day that my surrogate daughter celebrated her quarter century mark of life, I couldn't stop thinking about Mike Brown and the senseless murder of this 18 year old black man.

I couldn't sleep and on Sunday, while celebrating the college going-away of another 18 year old, my mind kept going to Mike Brown.  She also lived up in the North County suburbs.

After her celebration, we decided to go to Ferguson for the prayer vigil that was set to be the Canfield Apartments.

Not sure if it was being directionally challenged, confused between W. Florissant Road and New Florissant Road or divine intervention, my children and I ended up in downtown Ferguson for a peaceful prayer protest that was happening across from the fire station.

Streets were blocked off around the vigil I attended and cars had to circle the block for a place to park and participate.

I prayed in the street with others and with the babies. My college bound son took pictures.

We came home after we saw more than one police car zooming up the street and hearing about unrest on West Florissant.  My ten year old was afraid.

Driving back down 270 to Kirkwood, my son and I began counting the St. Louis County police cars we saw zooming north.  It confirmed the earlier reports of over 100 police cars and jurisdictions from as far away as Chesterfield descending upon this mostly black suburb.  The people were caged in and sieged because they demanded answers for this unarmed teen being killed and left in the street for hours, bullets riddled his body and police were putting up a blue wall.

As the week ensued, there were more and more reports of overaggressive,all white police in more military gear than our troops had when they served in Iraq.  The tear gassing and rubber bullets, the unlawful arrests of alderman and gassing of state senators, the arrest of journalists just telling the story, it was exposed for all the world to see the continued devaluation of the black male personhood.

Even the "riots" that flooded the news reels from Sunday and Monday were also questionable as it has been confirmed than an anarchist group from Chicago was among the crowd throwing Molotov coctails at the police and were working through the crowd riling it up, being seen throwing things at the police - the white faces of violence were not reported.

There were calls for the President and Attorney General of the United States, for the Governor who had been quiet and absent for the first couple days.  There were demands for federal intervention as this wound of segregation and overpolicing came to a head.  The prophetic among us even considered that the few (I counted two besides the Quik Trip) businesses that were damaged were a necessary statement in order to bring to Ferguson the attention of the world.  Nothing scares white people more than a crowd of black people.

Prayer vigils ensued, demands for action on those prayers resulted in people bringing food and partnering with the many social service groups that were meeting the needs of the kids.  Not a "they are so poor they need our food" type response but "they experienced a tragedy and when someone dies in a family, people bring over food because that is all we know how to do" gesture.  I was touched to see it as well as the free health care and the medical truck that was there providing mental health services to those traumatized by seeing a teen gunned down and his body left in the street.  Canfield Drive is not that wide, there were children living there, children traumatized.

I participated in social media conversations across the country and engaged in dialogue with friends white and black.  Black people understood immediately the symbolism of what was happening, the message the police was sending with leaving his body to bake in the hot St. Louis sun.  Whites kept thinking in terms of fear and came from a place of their privilege, accepting the media reports,  unchallenged, many had never been to Ferguson or North County.

Then there was action, finally.

Yesterday, Thursday afternoon, shortly after I left what we are all calling Ground Zero, there was a breath.

Perhaps it was after the President gave his statement Thursday morning saying there was no excuse for the gassing of citizens that had just happened Wednesday night.  Perhaps it was when the Governor spoke at a church to hundreds of people.  The police were not on site when I visited Canfield Green Apartments and sat in vigil at the site where Mike Brown died.  Police were not there at the protest outside Quik Trip.

They were up the street at the shopping center at Buzz Westfall.

Something changed around 4pm Thursday afternoon as I was going back south on 270 to help my college returning son get packed.  My black son that is still alive and gets to go back to college, something Mike Brown was looking forward to starting on this past Monday.  Something changed.

Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol was put in charge.

A black man who understood what it was like to be a black male in Missouri

He came on the scene and there were reports and pictures of him hugging protestors, protecting their constitutional right to demand answers.

He marched with them.

He was not covered in GI Joe-wannabe-military gear.

There were no tanks, no gassing, no rubber bullets.


See, if you approach people in respect, peace, and honor, peace is what is returned.  Understanding and more than one "yes ma'am" and "yes sir" as elders spoke to the teens among the crowd.

Now that we are one business week complete from when the world turned upside down in Ferguson, we reflect back at what it all means.

I could not write for an entire week.  My daughter, a white young woman and activist, wrote an article that said what I could not do in the midst of my reflection as a black mother of black males.

I read reports and reports, twitter feeds, Facebook postings, listened to MSNBC, avoided Fox because I didn't want to be any more angry.  I spoke to friends and quelled the concerns of family who contacted us from far away.

Then I began reflecting.

My college-bound son has my entire foyer filled with his luggage, waiting to be loaded up and driven down to his promise at Alabama State University.

Like Mike Brown's mother, I infused my son with values and expectations, hope and promise.  I proudly stood at his high school graduation and breathed a sigh of relief that my last son was finished with this thing that is illusive for so many of our black males just 18 miles away from him.  Like Mike Brown's mother, I am married and raised my son with the involvement of mother, father, and family.

I reflected on his life and like many have said, call for a Mike Brown Law that restricts deadly force by the police, that demands dash cams and badge cams for all police.  That demand federal investigations any time there is a police involved killing of yet another unarmed black male.

We try to make sense of the senseless, the thing we sigh and say "not again." Even as we remember Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin.  Even as we proclaim that all life matters, not just white kids in the suburb where I live, but all life.  That images matter and that black males are not any more dangerous than the white kids walking around town.

It means that the nation has to finally pause and address this situation.

It means that even a Republican condemned what the police did in Ferguson.

It means that the St. Louis region has to answer for the deep racial divide, the racial segregation, the apartheid conditions they created because of white flight, white fear, and white privilege.

It means that black people have to continue to speak up and stand up and vote.  It means being involved and not being resigned to saying nothing will change.

It means so much.

It means that perhaps in a week or two this will fade to the background like all the other news stories.

It means that we can not let it fade.

It means we are all involved, all of us.

It means we have to change.


  1. You have spoken, Sister Taye, let us listen.

    "We, who believe in Freedom, cannot rest" (Sweet Honey in the Rock)

    I too am a mother of Black Sons. I too fear the 'Strange Fruit' of the modern, unlawful, immoral killing.

    Today there are so many ways to die, we forget to properly mourn the death of the body, for inside us we die daily, but it is our right to live fully and abundantly, participating fully in Life in all of the ways, with all of the liberties, and for the sharing of the common Truth of Freedom.

  2. You have spoken, Sister Taye, let us listen.

    "We who believe in Freedom cannot rest" (SHitR)

    I too am a mother of Black Sons. I too fear the 'Strange Fruit' of the modern, unlawful, immoral killing.
    Today there are so many ways to die, we forget to properly mourn the death of the body, for inside us we die daily, but it is our right to live fully and abundantly, participating fully in Life in all of the ways, with all of the liberties and for the sharing of the common Truth.


Thoughtful dialogue is appreciated.