Long, Bad Night
At home tonight watching the Black Lives Matter protests, heartsick over the pointless, tragic loss of more life. All day I’ve been carrying the sight of Diamond Reynolds’s composure watching her man bleed out beside her. Thinking of the times I’ve lost my shit with cops, and thinking how very likely it is if I had pulled that crap while black I’d be dead. I hear the sobs of Alton Sterling's son as it hits him again that his father is gone. All this, while the wounds of the Orlando nightclub shooting still feel all too fresh.
As I watch, the news of multiple officer shootings in Dallas is coming down. First it’s an estimate of some eleven or twelve or fifteen shot; then the tally of the dead: three, then four. Then, if it couldn’t get any more horrible, a fifth.
I’m old enough to remember the deadly effects of neglect by the state in the faces of gay men and others undesirables dying of an unknown disease. I saw Jesse Helms stand on the Senate floor, in an attempt to block AIDS funding, and say, “We have to call a spade a spade, and a perverted human being a perverted human being.” I am a part of the LGBTQ community who lives with the sick horror of knowing our trans* brethren have one of the shortest life expectancies in American society, with some of the highest rates of murder and suicide.
As a former sex worker, I’ve lived for twenty five years aware of the fatal mix of indifference and abuse that leaves sex workers, especially trans*, especially those of color, especially those working outside, between a rock and a cruel, cruel place—vulnerable to violence from clients and cops alike.
I can never lose sight of the lines of power that marginalize and dehumanize these bodies.
Likewise, I can never forget that the body of an on-duty police officer is armored by a bullet-proof vest; is armed with weapons that can stun, break bones, immobilize, truss, and kill. That the oath and the uniform a police officer assume give them awesome powers, up to and including killing fellow citizens. I never lose sight that police officers operate under a special set of laws that mean police killings are rarely prosecuted; convictions rarer still. And I never forget that the death of a police officer in the line of duty will be celebrated with a hero’s funeral. Unlike so many of the black, brown, trans*, queer, and sex worker bodies who die both with and without the state’s assistance.
But I do also remember that under the uniform beats a human heart. Cops have families and loved ones, as we all do. Five officers will not be coming home tonight. Children will grow up orphaned. Lover’s beds will be cold.
My heart is aching – I lean into the ache. I am reminded of the connection of all things, all life. I feel my fury at injustice, at senseless death, at the imbalance of care, of the searing heat of hate, how it feels to be hated. I feel powerless to stop any of it, and I'm afraid for my community.
I have a front-row seat to the local news: Out our window, I can see that Oakland 880 has come to a complete stop. BLM protesters have shut it down. Helicopters, a regular feature of Oakland life, hover overhead.
So many feelings and memories. I remember one particularly ferocious fight with my father in the late eighties, after ACT-UP closed down the Golden Gate Bridge. “People driving to work shouldn’t be inconvenienced,” he said. “I find dying of AIDS inconvenient,” I retorted. My father, who never backed down from a fight, actually softened. It was a look so rare on his face, I can remember the shock of it still. “You know people?” He asked.
In my 22-year-old exasperation, I wasn’t going to cut him any slack – “I live in San Francisco, of course I know people,” I barked. Behind my sarcasm was the pain of losing loved ones, of watching the men I delivered Open Hand meals to waste away.
Tonight, while I connect with the BLM protester's righteousness to act, to say “no more,” I look straight into these stranded cars and trucks.
I’m thinking of the drivers' loved ones. Their domestic emergencies, their desperate bodily need to go to the bathroom, to end their shift, to see their loved ones, to get home. Somehow, for those full two hours, from what I see, they sit calmly. No horn honking, no shouting. Thankfully, no shots fired. I wonder if any of them see themselves as participants, in some small way, despite their enormous inconvenience, as part of the protest itself. Much more likely they see themselves as victims of cruel circumstances. Of being punished for something over which they have no control.
I am deeply aware that a significant feature of protest is that it must not be convenient, that in order to disrupt power, power must be made uncomfortable. But I also know the odds that the people with the actualpower to change things are sitting in those cars, and that those in power will have their minds changed by this protest is very small. My heart is aching for that fact, as well.
I don’t have any answers. All I know is to remind myself to breathe, to be present with these feelings, as overwhelming as they may be at times. I’m reminded that it takes time to grieve, not just the loss of innocent life of people I’ve never met, but my deep-seated human desire to feel safe, to live in a world where bad things never happen. I resist the urge to numb out, to look away. I recommit to kindness, to compassion, to lean into empathy, as bad as it feels right now.
This feels terrible – it should feel terrible.
Hanging over all of this, on television, out my window, is the specter of the Republican Convention in two weeks. The potential for street violence, mass shootings, brutal police crackdowns. Donald Trump revels in stirring up our nation’s ugliest impulses – racism; xenophobia; targeted “law and order” for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. He is a man not troubled by niceties like a free press, co-equal branches of government, Miranda rights, or the Geneva Convention.
Donald Trump is unacceptable. His ideas are garbage. His worldview is disgraceful. He must be stopped. Peacefully.
The haters are going to show themselves. We must be prepared. We prepare with self-care. We prepare by creating community, by paying attention. Through voter registration, through peaceful protest, through nonviolent dialogue.
We can’t stoop to his hateful tactics – they only strengthen his case and rile up his supporters. As much as we ache, as much as we seethe, we must take the higher ground. Succumbing to violence and hateful speech, we feed that beast.
I return to the voices that feed me:
"i don't want black men shot at traffic stops. I don't want cops shot by snipers. I don't want kids shot at school. I don't want any of this." EM Simpson
"In order to have peace, we must be peace." --Fresh White