I have a story to share.
It’s a story I’ve written many times before and never shared it publicly.
On March 22, 2013, an unarmed black man was murdered by the Bellevue SWAT team on our small and very familial block in Seattle.
This man had been in and out of jail for much of his life. It is possible he committed the armed robbery, the crime the SWAT were coming to arrest him for, yet we’ll never know as he was murdered. Regardless of whether he did it or not, shooting at an unarmed man 26 times is brutality. Vicious, cruel, heartless brutality.
His story is gruesome and terrifying, as is every police killing.
After Russell Smith(say his name) was murdered, after our outrage settled and activism accomplished, after we held a community meeting and received a smattering of press, we, the white people on our block, went back to our lives, because we could. Because, while this forever changed our perception of the police and altered our psychology, we were simply witnesses. This brutality will never happen to us. Our skin color is an insurance policy, protecting us from being shot by cops.
After the shooting, I met regularly with the Seattle and Bellevue Police Chiefs, our South Precinct Sargent, local politicians, basically anybody who would talk to me about Police reform, because Police need to be reformed.
Police Departments in the United States are not healthy. While Jeff Sessions is lifting citizen protections, we need to demand change in our policing. Black people will continue being killed for being black. We will say more and more names. More families will experience the injustice of a failed system. More protests and even riots will unfold. And we will slowly go crazy in the demise of what is holy and precious – human life – as numbness sets in from being under constant assault.
On Saturday, while riding my bike throughout Seattle, I stumbled upon Native American prayer ceremony at outdoor festival. Women, men and children in full headdress were ceremonially dancing and chanting as the drums played and sage burned.
As every race, age, gender and orientation watched in awe, a sense of sorrow, shame, awakening, awareness, collectiveness washed over me. A knowing of how cruel and uncaring we’ve been, of the violence we’ve inflicted, even if our personal actions were non-violent. I was aware of my inability to fully acknowledge, comprehend and relieve the suffering of our brothers and sisters.
I felt such deep heartbreak. And shame. I realized I am growing numb from not knowing what to do. From reading too much news. For OD’ing on Social Media. I don’t know how to feel and I don’t know who I am in the midst of this mess.
In my heartbreak, while being prayed for in a language of the people who are our first settlers, it struck me that we are burning.
There are daily attacks. Too many people are not held accountable for their actions. Cops shoot people and get paid leave. Can you imagine that killing a person of color gets them a paid vacation?
I realized we need to do entirely differently than we’ve been doing.
The universe is screaming at us. Dramatic change is needed right now.
Our heartbreak allows this change to happen. By staying awake to the pain, we can work towards making different. Women are rising. Feminists are showing up in every gender, as that’s what feminism is about – equality. We are communicating deeper. We are seeing each other, perhaps for the first time in an awfully long time.
We are figuring out how to do the work that requires crossing color lines and gender lines and religious lines - all the lines that have separated us vs. uniting us.
It may take time before we experience the shift, the Malcolm Galdwell tip, as we have to learn how to truly intersect – to develop a common language, to make mistakes, to ask for help, to look inside of each other.
It will take curiosity, empathy and lens in, which may not be our normal lens as many of us have not experienced true injustice. We may not understand the rage or defeat or the I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-what-people-feel who aren't free to drive, to walk, to call the police because of the color of their skin.
Can you imagine getting killed for calling the police?
Can you imagine getting killed because your tail-light was out?
Our tail-light is out as I type this. Nobody’s going to shoot me over it.
Quite honestly, I don’t know what to do here. There is no easy activism for this one. This requires a deep re-wiring of our entire system.
Philando Castile was pulled over 43 times for driving while black.
I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been pulled over and I’m almost 50 years old. And I have never been pulled over for doing nothing.
This requires all of us.
All of us to stay outraged.
All of us to march in Black Lives Matter protests.
All of us to demand from our cities and states that police be retrained.
Police need mandated mental health treatment. Police need to learn to not shoot to kill. Police need race, religion, immigrant, gender training. Perhaps Police need women bosses. Hell, I don’t know.
Four years ago I went to the Police and City of Seattle with a program called Rebuild Together to humanize the people police were serving and to humanize the police and they laughed me away. They invited me to the Policemen's Ball and yet, laughed me away as a citizen who’s neighbor's brother, Russell Smith, was murdered by the police.
I know policing is probably a crappy job. Police are vilified (with good reason). Police are a tribe of other that for too many people feels like a mob. Police, most likely, are 90% bored and 10% scared out of their heads.
They need help. We need help. You know the drill. Make the calls that need making. Call your Mayor and let them know - No Justice, No Peace.
No Justice. No Peace.
Say their names. Put them in the signature line of your emails. Wear them on your sleeve. Write the families. Help their children. Get involved. The only way through is with all of us working together.
Charlenna Lyles. Say Her Name.
In love and sorrow –
P.S. Call your Senators about this secretive healthcare bill and demand to know what is in it.