She’s been having trouble sleeping. There is a lot to worry about these days. And it’s all taking form in the minutes after she lays down to sleep. I know this all too well.
The other night, she came out and said she was scared. We asked her what she was scared of. And she told us the protest she went to, and specifically the police…
Back in May and June, local protests were planned everywhere. Most were too far to go for us, as I only had a limited window of time for our two-year-old. But then, one was planned nearby during their nap. It was organized by some local high school kids, in collaboration with a local advocacy group. It was a protest march from their school into the next neighboring city. I asked my oldest if she wanted to go.
She said yes, but I told her it could only work if we put some safety measures into place. Here is what I told her.
“You have to hold my hand the whole time. If I say run, you run with me, not questions asked. If we get separated, find another protestor and ask them to call me. We will put your Dad’s cell phone number in your shoe in case I get taken away. Or a person can’t reach me. The police are not your friends this day, do not go to them. Go to another person walking and ask for help. The police may look different than you’re used to. They may be wearing special outfits that are all black. They may wear helmets or facemasks. And you may see their guns. There also may be people there who disagree with us. They may also have guns or yell things at us. Do not look at them, ever. Always stay with me and look at me.”
She was in.
The day before we made some signs and planned out the schedule. The morning of, she dressed in all black. We slipped both mine and her Dad’s phone numbers into her shoe. For back-up, we wrote her Dad’s in sharpie on her leg under her pants. Dad was on call and had his phone handy in case anyone called. He knew to answer all calls and he knew that I might call if I needed someone to witness something.
We packed our masks, some water, our signs, and headed out. There were hundreds of people. She was nervous, worrying about her mask and feeling like her sign was too heavy. But she liked seeing some of the other kids, pets, and lots of people.
“Where are the police?” she asked.
I pointed to the top of the hill. They had minor riot gear on, just vests, dark clothes and walkies.
After some speakers, we started to walk. I kept her towards the back and on the outside of the group so we could step out if we needed too. She clung to my hand, and walked carefully. We switched our signs a couple of times to change it up. One said “Black Lives Matter” in her handwriting. The other said “Say Their Names” and we listed so many people who were murdered by police.
We had to get back for my youngest, so we couldn’t do the whole protest walk. When we reached our stopping point, she decided she wanted to support the rest of the protestors. On the side of the road, she held up her sign with unwavering intention, straight-faced yet waving at people and cars. Many honked and gave her a thumbs up. When the last car pulled up, a person in a car across the street slowed down and called her a terrorist. I told her it was time to go and explained that this person was angry with our message. She knew why this person disagreed with her, as we had talked about it so many times before.
In further protest, she held the signs out of our car window the whole ride home. She then marched inside, grabbed some tape and put them on our front door. Days later, she made more, and then even more. We have to keep making more as the days go by, in order to ensure we say all of their names. That we make a statement to our community that we won’t forget. And that these people who were murdered matter.
On the day of the protest, there was little police activity. Except to handle traffic. It was that day that she realized that they always carry guns. That at every moment they are in uniform, they can kill whomever they want.
This was her nightmare. This was what makes her scared. To not feel safe from a group who she has been told repeatedly in her white schools that they are there to protect her, help her, take care of her.
My partner reminded her that night that police can be helpful. But it really depends on who asks for help, or who they are interacting with.
She experiences her privilege as a white person every second of her life. This was her first really hard glimpse into what it feels like to not feel safe in her community, by those that are advertised to protect and serve. This is her nightmare, and she knows that for her it’s short-lived. And that for people of color in this country, for the Black folx she has and is making signs for, this is their everyday. Their nightmare does not go away.