It had been a long day. We stood alongside thousands of others to, yet again, bring attention to the issue of excessive force in city police practice. The trigger event for this series of marches, op-eds, and community meetings was the killing of Amadou Diallo. Diallo, an unarmed 22 year old originally from Guinea, had just made it to the vestibule of his home when he was shot 41 times by plain clothes police officers. After a long day, Diallo reached the safety of his front door. However, he never made it inside. Before Diallo there were others like Luima and Baiez.
The city witnessed the premature ending of many Black and Brown lives. Lives lost, sacrificed as unmitigated police policy, practice, and prejudice prevails despite community outcries for change. As a result, communities of color, particularly their younger generations, are left vulnerable to unwarranted police harassment and violence. This pattern of violence, and the threat there of, is just one of the many threads weaved together creating a tapestry of oppression and subjugation. The repeated exposure to violence both traumatizes and creates a narrative of loss for targeted communities.
So on that day, the concerned gathered and raised their voices to one more time say, “Enough.” As the protest ended those gathered wandered down different streets when suddenly police officers rushed the demonstrators pushing and yelling. My brother and I were separated from one another. As he pushed his way back to me a large group of police officers surrounded him. I saw blood on his head and then he was pushed to the ground. I did not know what was happening. Then, within moments I was surrounded by a seemingly unending swarm of police officers. In the center of their swarm I was grabbed, kicked, pushed, pulled…violated. One officer tried to help me to my feet; another pushed him out of the way and knocked me back onto the ground.
Enough protesters lingered to form a circle around the swarm of officer. I could hear the demonstrators yelling “Shame, shame,” as I tried to stand and get away. Eventually a fellow protestor, reached into the swarm and pulled me out. Battered, yes. Bruised, yes. Limping, yes. Disoriented, absolutely. But alive, I was alive. I saw my brother just as he was being forced into a police car. His head was a little bloody, but I could tell, at least at that point, there was no permanent physical damage. Brother safe, I did not know. Brother alive, yes.
In some respects, we were lucky. We both walked away from a police encounter. Though I had never taken for granted that my rights as a twenty something Black woman were equally protected or guaranteed, now I had confirmation that I was less safe, less protected than my white counterparts. For, if I could be hurt by a group of police in such a public manner in the middle of the day with presses only blocks away, then my life, dignity, worth, personhood, and citizenship had little value. I lost confidence in my autonomy; I lost reasons to hope; I lost much of the trust/ faith in others I once had. And, I lost the notion of carefree mobility in the city that I love. That day, I lost much.
Unfortunately police misconduct was not a new story then, and it is not a new story now. Rather it fits a narrative of historic and cultural trauma imposed upon Black and Brown communities. Whether it is New York, Los Angeles, Phildelphia, D.C. or Ferguson the loss of lives is further compounded by the loss of institutional equity, systemic justice, as well as by the loss of rights, dignity, and freedoms. From strange fruit to excessive force and all that is in between, communities grieve each and every loss. They grieve the loss of life and they grieve the imposition of a narrative of trauma institutionalized by unequal protection under the law. Each Anthony Brown, Abner Luima, Amadou Diallo, and Michael Brown marks the introduction of this legacy to a new generation, and for this we mourn.
Communities grieve through tears, frustration, hopelessness, prayer, anger, inter and intra community violence, fear, self-determination, advocacy, and action. Communities grieve by asking questions, holding debates, enacting rage, seeking solidarity, isolating, demonstrating, and demanding changes in both practice and policy. There is no one-way to grieve. Further, all manifestations of grief are present in each and every community. Recognizing the grief process, for both individuals and communities, opens the door to a new realm of possibilities. Though tears, frustration, anger, and advocacy are aspects of the grieving process, the aforementioned only represents half of the grief process. To move toward completion of the grief process moves one from externalizing feelings and comprehending the loss toward establishing a new way of being. New relationships, new patterns of behavior, and reconciling past pain with renewed hope are imperative to complete the process.
Communities who have endured a legacy of cultural trauma and systemic oppression are seldom able to complete their grieving process. The process often gets stifled during externalization. At times, communities are empowered to dream of new ways of being, engaging or legislating. But too often those dreams are not translated into new relationships, law, policy, or practice. Therefore they fall short of establishing new interpersonal and systemic relationships. So trauma or multiple traumas occur and hope is sometimes achieved, but restoration seldom has the chance for realization.
Much public space has been given to combative posturing, penalizing perpetrators, and enticing individuals to take sides. Today calls for a shift towards reconciling voices and a process, which seeks to preserve dignity and protect rights. Each unique narrative needs be publically heard and witnessed by community shareholders. Liminal space must be opened up, not only to dream of new balanced and just relationships, but also to make commonplace a new way of being and interacting. So that, through our daily living as well as through legislative, institutional and systemic change communities can grieve fully, be heard, and be restored.