Stunned and bereaved as I have been by the recent, and not recent, brutal murders of African-Americans by police for no reason, I was at a loss to add my words, to comment, other than those of the strong voices I have read in op-eds and on social media. Then, this morning, I read an essay by Maria Popova (brain pickings) honoring Rachel Carson, whose insightful research and writings sparked the environmental movement, that quoted her words, beautifully set to choral music by Paola Prestini:
Knowing what I do
there would be no future peace
for me if I kept silent.
The violence of racism is not new, but the videos that explicitly demonstrate the truth of what happened is new. There can be no more denying or covering up these incidences. Watch or don’t watch, but believe that those in power, the white world in this country, condone the violence with their silence and lack of action.
I have lived with grief. Years ago, I lost my husband to lung cancer. I had months to realize that death was coming, to think about what my life would be like without him, yet grief did not seem lessened after death took him. I can’t imagine the shock and grief the families of those murdered are experiencing, those taken with senseless violent acts, and those who witnessed the horrific event. I would hug and cry with the widows and mothers if I could.
And so I understand the anger and pain of those that protest in the streets now, black and brown, and the whites that join you. I live in a rural area, but would be moved to be with you if I were in the city (and not afraid of virus exposure). I know you feel the pain as a personal attack and need to express that anger, the need to keep the visibility of these events in the public eye, and the fear of the future in a society where things don’t seem to change. I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and was in high school during the 1967 race riots. The incident that sparked four days of protest, looting, and violence was the brutal beating and arrest of a black taxi driver by two white policemen for a minor traffic infraction, if that. In school, black students I knew cried, afraid to bus back to their homes in the inner city; when darkness fell, fires lit streets and gutted buildings; I heard gunfire in the night. Twenty-six people died during those four days.
But what I remember most was that the National Guard was called out and two young men with weapons were stationed on my corner—I lived on Lyons Avenue then, a major street established as a checkpoint to the inner city. Tanks rolled up and down the street. My girlfriends and I stopped to talk to the white boys in uniform, cute young guys, as we walked the neighborhood with transistor radios held to our ears.
“Let me into downtown where it’s all happening. I don’t want to be stuck out here. I want to be where the action is,” one said, and he used a racial insult that I won’t repeat.
I recall feeling the adrenaline of fear creep down my back. What is he saying? He was supposed to be here to keep the peace, not to provoke conflict with his own aggression. They were white boys from the suburbs with no comprehension of the emotions flying among the African-American community. The black shop owners around the block on Bergen Street painted “Soul Brother” on their windows, and looters avoided damaging those establishments. But then we learned that, the next night, National Guardsmen shattered those shop windows, a white retaliation I struggled to understand. Some people asked, why would the rioters set fire and destroy their own neighborhood? Because it was where they were, I understood, and that was the only setting they had to express their frustration. The backlash on each side kept the riots going. Those four days opened my eyes to the cavernous divide that racism stoked.
And this would not be a fair tirade without mentioning the many police officers who show that they care and support peaceful protests in the name of justice and humanity. A friend posted that two of her children are (black) police officers, and that she worries every time they go out to work, but it’s what they want to do. My heartfelt thanks to them and so many conscientious police forces that show empathy and love to their communities, no matter what color. Black and brown lives matter. And caring community policing is growing and needed.
The reaction from the highest levels of government is inconceivable. The first president in our history who is blatantly stirring up hatred and division, who shows no sympathy for victims of that hatred, and who should be the one diffusing the situation and asking for peace and unity, has crossed lines that shock and terrify. And his party is silent. He tweets: “The only good Democrat is a dead democrat.” “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” “Good people on both sides.” And more (and more and more) I won’t repeat. How could we have elected this man? And how can anyone support him?
A few days ago I posted on social media. I had been trying to resist putting my heart out on social media about these issues, but I’m finding it impossible. He and his cronies have spent the last four years destroying legislation and protections for the environment, for education, for civil rights, for immigration, for health care, and bolstering the pockets of big business and the wealthy at your expense. Allies alienated, international treaties trashed. Having already done all that, what do you think he would do with the next four years? This was just a hint of things that could come. Realize that if he gets another term, he will be unleashed. Violence against minorities and immigrants will be open and encouraged; authoritarianism will no longer hide; media will be shut down; there will be no illusion of working with Congress or anyone who is critical; dissidents will be jailed—it may be you.
Knowing what you do, there will be no future peace for you if you keep silent.
Your vote is your most powerful weapon. It’s your superpower. Use it.