It was a hot evening. We walked in downtown Phoenix under the rumbling noise of a huge helicopter. Several blocks down and around and we joined other people, groups of people, who were headed to the same event.
The facebook announcement said that it would be a vigil for Philando Castile and Altron Sterling. On the way there, I thought, “Should we have brought flowers? One for each of the murdered men? Red carnations, maybe?” When we approached the crowd, I saw people holding candles. That seemed like a much better idea.
We joined a crowd that was marching down one of the streets chanting.
What do we want?
When do we want it?
Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter.
There were those who led the chants until their voices went hoarse. Someone else would pick up right where they lost the last bit of their vocal cords’ power and they would carry on. There were those screamed at the top of their lungs. And those whose lips were moving silently as if their chant was a prayer. A prayer for the black and brown men and women who have died of injustice and violence that no human should face.
There were police around us. Watching us from blocked intersections, watching us on bikes on sidewalks, watching us from the chopper above.
We marched. We chanted. We stopped. We held our hands up in the air and chanted more.
Some folks were carrying signs. Smart, I thought. Better have one ready for the next time.
Let black people live.
Love black people.
Black Lives Matter.
Stop violence against black people.
My favorite was a quote from bell hooks that a tall white guy carried above his head:
All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity.
Nothing in that march was ugly.
In fact, everything about it was beautiful. There were black folks, brown folks, and white folks. There were black mothers with black children. There were white mothers with black children. There was a white man holding hands with a black woman. There was a white woman holding hands with a black woman. There were several women with their heads covered. There were elderly. There were disabled.
But mostly it was women. A lot of women. I caught myself thinking that it was mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and girlfriends whose female bodies marched to protect the male bodies of their loved ones.
Everyone was courteous and kind. We stood together and marched tog
ether as one. Asking for justice, peace, and an end to violence. We did it in love.
At one intersection, I heard a woman behind me whisper, “Thank you, Jesus, that you have kept us safe. Hallelujah that this is peaceful. Thank you, Jesus. Lord Jesus, keep us safe.”
I turned around and smiled. She smiled back.
I started saying that I noticed how we were all looking up to check the roofs, we were all looking around to check whether we are safe.
We kept walking.
There was a moment when a policeman was trying to say something from a side of the street. But he was twenty or thirty feet away. I tried to listen but could not hear. I asked others what he was saying. “Probably that we should all just go home,” a woman smiled at me.
All of a sudden, there was a chopper flying towards us with its spotlight directed at us. Loud deafening noise and blinding light.
Seconds later, the crowd turned around in panic. Folks were running back screaming. A woman fell on the ground and it took a minute or two for someone to help her up. We rushed to the side of a building that had a protrusion covering us from the street.
We paused there. What is happening?
Everyone’s eyes wide with fear.
Someone whispered in horror, “Tear gas.”
Someone else turned to a friend, “I could smell it. We need to get out.”
There was a moment or two where there was calmness. Camera crew were filming ahead of them from the middle of the road. Some folks got out onto the road to see down the street. We were at the end of the procession and did not know what happened to those who were ahead of us.
Some people were screaming for children, friends, and loved ones that they lost during the commotion. Someone sighed in relief, spotting a familiar face. Someone else rushed around asking if anyone saw the person they came with.
And then panic again. More people screaming and running back.
One woman was telling folks to turn away, go away, head out.
We ducked away in an alley and walked away.
White privilege means you don’t have to fear being stopped by a cop once you turn away from the street where the march was.
Near us were folks who were telling each other, “Be safe. Be safe.” The very black and brown men and women for the sake of whose lives we were just chanting and whispering our prayers.
As we were making our way to our car, three choppers were circling above and pointing their spotlights at the remaining protesters.
Twitter exploded: “Phoenix rally. Pepper gas sprayed. Tear gas deployed. Police in riot gear stopping protesters. Rubber bullets shot.”
More beauty from amazing souls who tweeted their prayers for protesters’ safety.
More ugliness from those who tweeted that those childish protesters should just go home, that they should not block the highway because “my friend is coming to see me,” and thanking the police for the uncalled-for acts of violence.
The act of state violence against those who are protesting violence broke my heart. I was shaking in anger against the fear that we have to live with and against the perpetuation of the very injustice that we were trying to protest. Peacefully, kindly, lovingly.
But the worst acts of violence are the acts of those who put their privilege, their comfort, and their bigotry above all else. They are not just remaining in silence on the sidelines protecting the status quo. They are actively and aggressively condoning the violence imposed on fellow human beings.
We have forgotten how to be human together.