We found out that the baby I was nurturing in my womb would be a girl on July 22, 2014. This was only 5 days after Eric Garner had been killed by cops in Staten Island. With his death fresh in my mind, I let out a sigh of relief. Relief because in my mind, a little black girl didn’t have the same target on her back as little black boys. I’m the sister of 6 men, and my concern at the time was for them. I dreaded being awakened in the middle of the night to phone calls that they had been murdered. Shortly after, Michael Brown’s murder, I took my youngest brother who was 11 at the time to a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” rally in my city. It was important for me that he knew what was happening and that he understood the gravity of the situation. That night I prayed over him for protection, all the while still not aware of the precariousness of my own position.
Time went on and it seemed that so many more black males became hashtags. In the hospital on the eve of Jai’s birth, November 24, 2016, just a day after the death of Tamir Rice, we watched as the grand jury announced that Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the murder of Michael Brown. Again, I felt a sense of gratitude that I was about to birth a girl. Her father and I even discussed it right there. I was so glad that I was not bringing a black boy into a world that hated him. I don’t know if it was denial that made me feel comforted in that idea of safety or what. All I know is that I was blind in that moment to the very real danger and condition of the black woman in America.
My eyes were opened on July 13, 2015. Sandra Bland’s death rocked my entire world. I’m only 3 months older than her so the fact that something like this could happen to someone I could so closely identify with terrified me. Sandra Bland could’ve easily been me, my sister, my mother, or my friends. I increasingly became more aware of just how unsafe I truly was. It was so surreal to me that in my quest for justice for our black men, I was totally oblivious to the fact that black women weren’t exempt from this type of injustice. I like to think of myself as a realist, so I was taken aback by my own naivete in this matter. Of course Sandra Bland wasn’t the first female victim, and she sadly wasn’t the last. With this new awareness, I noticed that I changed. As I drove, my heart would stop each time I passed a cop car praying to God that I wouldn’t be stopped. The fear is so visceral that it wrenches my breath from my chest and it takes a few minutes for my heart rate to come back to normal.
Last Thursday, I awoke to the news of Philando Castille’s murder. As I watched the video from his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, I couldn’t shake the feeling of helplessness. I immediately picked up my baby, rocked her in my arms, and cried out to God to keep us safe. In that moment, I put myself in her shoes. How do you explain to your child what just happened? How do you teach them to trust those who are charged with the task of keeping us safe if they are unlawfully killing us? The talk we all had about how to behave with law enforcement seems futile because even when we comply, we are murdered.
A year ago today, we became aware of Sandra Bland’s murder and I have a totally new outlook on where we stand in this country. It isn’t just our black boys that we have to protect, our little black girls need our protection as well. As a mother of a black child, I am more motivated now to make sure that the world she grows up in isn’t one where she has to be afraid. I don’t want my daughter’s stomach to drop when she drives past the people who are PAID to protect her. I don’t want her to have to be pressured to remain calm in a situation where she is under extreme duress in order to live. I don’t want her to have to hold her children in fear that they are in a world that hates their very existence. I am putting my fears into action. I will continue to fight to ensure that none of these things come to pass because my black daughter is depending on me.