May and All We Cannot Control

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In May, the trial for the officers accused and charged (in various categories) in the death of Freddie Grey wound its way through the courts. Freddie had died a year prior in Baltimore following his arrest for allegedly possessing "an illegal switchblade". They had dragged him into the bus and he had suffered a severed spinal cord on the way into the precinct.There are the names that loom large in my mind– Kendra James, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin. Philando Castile would die in July. Freddie Grey.

There are others, of course, many more.

Years ago, I was waiting for a friend to come over on her bike with her son. She arrived late and explained that some boys were fighting in front of the library and she had stopped to help one of them who was hurt. Someone else standing close by had called the police. As she leaned over the young teenager, a woman pulled up beside them both and quietly asked the child if he had any weapons on him. He handed her a small pocket knife and she hurriedly wiped it off and threw it in the bushes. My friend stopped. They helped the kid get up. She arrived at my house flustered and conflicted. Two summers ago, some kids we know were getting into it at the park. They started to fight. The park staff had called the police and another man had gone in and was trying to get in between them… shouting and putting his hands on them. Paul and I both started to quietly panic. I began scrolling through my phone to see if I had any of their mother's numbers. Paul ran straight into the middle of it and told them that he got that they were pissed, but that things were going to get much worse if they didn't get their asses home and FAST. They all started running in different directions.

People in Liberal Portland love to call the police over everything. My Next Door App is full of people chastising each other for not calling the police and filing a report on suspicious behavior sooner. I bet they love to call the police in your neighborhood, too. I used to think this was a good way to make sure everyone stayed safe. I used to hide behind my ignorance.

In May, Chance the Rapper released Coloring Book and I lost my mind with happiness and his Black Boy Joy. The kids rolled their eyes at me and worried as to why I learned all the words. Worried is a code word for being embarrassed.

****

My mom asked me what the kids might want for Christmas and I told her that Sam wanted a new Swiss Army Knife. He had lost his and had mentioned he might like another. I didn't hesitate. I did hesitate, however, as I was thinking how much J and J would also love a tiny knife to whittle away at sticks and carve up their erasers. You see where this is going. There are so many scenarios in which my kids might not get a second chance to: explain themselves, defend themselves, make amends, choose a different way.

We are on our second snow day this week and fourth for the year. Portland doesn't get very much snow and there are very few plows, the city doesn't salt, no one uses studded tires, and the warming and cooling trends, means that everything melts a little and freezes solid. It gets treacherous quickly. Yesterday, the boys were out making snowballs in the park and messing with their friends when an adult walked by and threatened them with a beating if they hit him– accidentally or not. "I don't care if you're a kid", he said. And that's it, really. That guy is the same as our systems. They don't care if these are someone's kids. They don't care that these are my kids.

Safe to say that the kids have resigned themselves to knocking Nerf guns off of every and any wish list from now until forever.   

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So that was May. I turned the front lawn into garden beds. I tried straw bale gardening (trying to make the dirt while growing… it doesn't work, by the way. But I'll have a new, sweet bed next year). Track practice started up five nights a week. My sister and brother-in-law came to visit with their three kids and there was a mostly joyful reunion of cousins and practically cousins filling up all the spaces in our giant house. I thought a lot about Freddie Grey and I willed good thoughts to his mom. I hoped that the trials and the subsequent acquittals would not kill her.

(Painting above our sofa by Cameron VanLom)

3 Comments

  1. You write so eloquently. It’s been staggering watching what happens in America (I’m in Britain). Why can’t kids be kids? Play with the toys they want? And you as a parent not be scared the police will act in a shoot first ask questions after way.
    Wishing you and your family peace and goodwill and the generosity of your neighbourhood that they can recognise children playing.

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  2. I don’t understand your fears, but I know they are real. I have friends who experience the issues you talk about and it isn’t right, it isn’t fair and we as humans should do better. I find it ironic that in the very liberal area in which you live, the fears are as pronounced as in the deep south in which I live. I hear over and over that we need to treat everyone with the respect and honor that all humans deserve, but there continues to be distrust in both directions in the racial context, but it is also in class and religion. There needs to be a respect for self first. A friend of mine grew up with a grandmother who in St Augustine Florida during very stressful times taught him that no one would ever respect him unless he respected himself. He is someone I look up to and think very highly of and more importantly he believes he can do anything and he has raised two engineers and a nurse who have the same opinion.

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  3. “I used to hide behind my ignorance…” That is a phrase that encapsulates the way I used to operate. I’m slowly learning to each day open my eyes and really try to see. I love that you are writing again and look forward to your posts. Thank you for teaching. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your bravery. I believe that the world needs more voices like yours. ❤️❤️❤️ Wishing you all a happy holiday season.

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