Two videos that captured media attention in the U.S. One, a highly edited video making wild accusations about a life saving tissue donation program operated by some Planned Parenthood affiliates. The other is Sandra Bland being pulled over by the police for failing to signal a lane change. Bland died three days later in police custody. Both are infuriating, but in very distinct ways. Both involve reproductive justice issues.
When it comes to issues around #BlackLivesMatter, it is so easy as a white person to say, “This isn’t about me– this won’t affect me or my family, so I’ll just sit this one out and let those affected take the heat.” Often our silence is not purposeful: we are all so busy, so isolated that we say that we can’t deal with “those issues” right now. THIS IS WHITE PRIVILEGE. Being able to be “too busy” to deal with it is not possible when it is you, your family, your friends, and your community that is being targeted.
It took a wake-up call from someone I have the honor of calling a new friend to put my thoughts to paper, to step back from “too busy” and do what I should have done much earlier. I am thankful every day that Jasmine and groups like New Voices Cleveland are around to give me the nudge to be better. She should not have to. I should be better all on my own. But thankfully she is there as a constant reminder to- “DO BETTER!” I am also grateful for all the women activists who founded #BlackLivesMatter continue to push the movement forward even though so many, even in the progressive movement, would rather ignore their pleas and silence their voices.
From the very beginning, the arrest and death of Sandra Bland hit me differently than the other stories of police brutality. I mean seriously, how many times a day do you change lanes without using your turn signal (be honest now…)? I know I do. I saw a half dozen other drivers do it this morning. One was directly in front of a police SUV. Not one was pulled over. Certainly none faced the fate that Sandra Bland did in Waller County, Texas.
Last week while touring a federal prison, President Obama answered a reporter’s question about the inmates he met that day. His response caught national attention because of its raw honesty. He said that the many of the people in that prison are much like you and me. They made mistakes, but they are paying a price that not everyone has to pay.
The day after Sandra Bland’s death, my friend Mary posted on Facebook that she frequently drives through that county in Texas. I think about Mary, and how simply being black puts her at risk. What if she had been in this situation instead of Sandra? What story would the police invent about her to blame her for their brutality? When I first saw the #IfIDieInPolicyCustody campaign it broke my heart. That so many people have to actually think about this happening to them is a profound indictment of both our justice system, and our society in general. If you are unsure about the impact of this brutal injustice on individuals and communities across this country, please go read the posts in this campaign. Hear those voices. Stop and really listen to what they have to say.
This is not comfortable. This is not easy. It is tempting to brush it aside, to say that we are just too busy. We must resist that urge. As reproductive rights activists we cannot continue to say that this is not our fight. As others have said much more eloquently than I ever could, “You deserve to parent your child without fear that he or she will be killed.” Freedom from violence IS a reproductive justice issue. Safe neighborhoods, equal treatment under the law—all of these things ARE reproductive justice issues. Our rights, our justice—they are intertwined. Until we fully realize this and work intersectionally, we will never create the world that we dream.
I can hear the responses to this post in my head as I write it. Some will say Sandra Bland should not have “mouthed off” to the police officer, she should have done what he told her to do. No. Even when you get pulled over by the police, you have rights. You can refuse to get out of your car until there are others on the scene if you feel unsafe. You have the right to video your interactions with police. Just because you are interacting with the police doesn’t mean you forfeit your civil rights. Just because you are black shouldn’t mean that what should be a minor police interaction could result in your death.
In my job, I interact in heated situations with law enforcement fairly frequently. Just a month ago a state trooper in the Ohio Statehouse tried to tell me that my volunteers could not protest inside the building before our governor signed the state budget. I knew our rights and I pushed back. I was also a white person in a building with dozens of witnesses (and several cell phones taking video). Never once did I fear for my personal safety. That IS white privilege. I stood up for our rights and I am still here to tell my story. That IS white privilege. Sandra and so many others do not have this benefit, they are not here to tell their stories.
Today I stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who cannot tell their stories. I stand with those who feel so targeted that they started the #IfIDieInPoliceCustody campaign. I hear their voices, I hear their pain, I #SayHerName. I encourage you to do the same. Talk about this issue with your family and friends. Take the time, even if you are “too busy.” This weekend activists from around the country will gather in Cleveland for the Movement for Black Lives Convening. If you can’t be there, support this amazing work with a donation (https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/movementforblacklives).
Be a real ally, not just one that talks the talk, but walks the walk. I’m still working on it, and I hope that you will join me.
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