A week and a half ago, I attended a breakfast held in honor of this year’s winners of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. The honorees all spoke—about books, about art, about children, about being black in America. Author Jason Reynolds gave a spoken word performance that brought the audience to its feet. Here is an excerpt:
if you listen closely
you can hear the machetes
cutting the air
connecting for half a second with something
breathing and growing
breathing and growing
before being chopped
down like sugar cane in a Louisiana field
yes there are machetes everywhere
the sound of them cutting the air
we try not
to bend in the wind
try not to bow or bow
try to wrap fingers around our own
and brace ourselves
cutting the air in half
coming for us
You can read the full poem here, and you can see it performed in this video, recorded by a person in the audience.
Last night police officers shot and killed a black man. This is nothing new. But these were the police officers from the place I call home. The police officers whose station is an easy walk from my house. Whose station is in the same building where the jalapeno started going to daycare last month. The police officers who wave to my boys when we’re walking home from the park.
While eating breakfast this morning, I told my boys that too many black men are being killed by the police. I told them that last night our police officers shot and killed a black man. The peperoncino, who just turned three, got it. He said, “That’s not okay. The police need to say sorry for killing.”
It’s hard to know how much to say to young kids. It’s hard to talk about racism. But I didn’t have a choice this morning because I needed the jalapeno to know in case things were different today in the building where his daycare is and where the police station is. I wanted him to hear it from me--not from an older kid or a teacher.
Things were pretty quiet this morning, but when I was leaving from dropping off the jalapeno, a protester had arrived. He was a skinny, young white guy holding a large cardboard sign. Handwritten in black marker was FUCK YOUR BADGES. I wasn’t sure what to do, but with the peperoncino in the back seat, I rolled down my window and waved. I said, “Good luck today.” He nodded and said, “Thanks.” While I probably wouldn’t phrase my own sentiments the same way he phrased his, I wanted to say a kind word to him, to let him know that I support him in believing that the killing has got to stop.
I didn’t know Philando Castile, but this morning my heart hurts for him and for all those who loved him.