We were at the airport, some airport, last Sunday, on a travel day that started at 5:30 a.m. and — due to our inability to get out of our own way most of the time on most things — ended at nearly 10 p.m. We were simply trying to fly back from Florida after taking the kids to visit their grandmother for school vacation, but that’s not the point.
Some time during the day, probably during our half-day layover at JFK, I wandered off for a bathroom break and caught sight of a TV showing people rioting. Due to the intensity of traveling with small children and our own poor planning, we’d been off-media all week, but then I saw on the screen people rioting in the streets of what turned out to be Baltimore, and caught a quick glimpse of a woman that the closed captioning labeled as “Freddie Gray’s twin, calling for peace” and somehow I immediately knew that it had happened again.
Our plane was about to board, so I couldn’t linger, but I had a sense that yet another black man had been killed by police.
“Who’s Freddie Gray?” I asked my husband when I rejoined our family. He didn’t know. “There were people rioting,” I explained. “I think he was killed by police.” I looked it up on my phone as my husband said, “Wait, was he the guy on his bike?”
and I thought, Jesus Christ, we can’t even keep them straight anymore, the black men killed by police or crazy nuts like that Zimmerman guy. We cannot even remember which black man was murdered by which police force in which city anymore. What the f*ck.
I couldn’t read much more about Freddie Gray just then, because what I read made me sick, and I didn’t want to have to explain it to (or hide it from) the kids just then in the airport when they were already quite precarious from exhaustion.
What a luxury. I know that. That whole last part of that sentence screams of privilege.
I think it is completely reasonable that the children don’t really know about the Boston Marathon bombings, even though it is so much closer to our lives, because really that was a ridiculous one-off, but I did talk to them a little about the death of Michael Brown and the riots in Ferguson and the continuing injustices in this country. It’s hard, I think, to talk to semi-privileged* white kids about racism and injustice, because they really don’t have a point of reference. I try. I try to make them understand what it would be like if they were consistently left out or put down for having blue eyes or straight brown hair, but come on, they (and I!!) have no idea what it is like to be a minority of any kind in this country.
We have no clue.
The Maryland State Attorney who announced the charges against the six (SIX!!) police officers faces a tough road. She is a woman. Of color. Young. Four months on the job. A mother. With possibly some family connections to something, somewhere.
The muckrakers will do their best. But for once, maybe, there is a glimmer of hope. Maybe the officers will actually be charged. Maybe they will go to jail for a long time. Maybe justice will be served. Maybe other states and other police departments and other cities and others in general will get the message.
Maybe. I’m not hopeful. I’m sad and angry that this just keeps happening, and I wonder how many of these cases we just don’t hear about.
And I’m sorry to the parents of every last black man and boy and woman and girl. I’m sorry. I hope Emmet Till’s mother will someday get some rest.
*semi-privileged: They get three meals a day and snacks, mostly healthy and organic. They share a small bedroom with mismatched furniture. We live in a too-small two-bedroom apartment that we rent. We do own two cars, one of which is 15 years old and the other 11 years old. I get a lot of our stuff used. Our furniture is mostly street finds or IKEA. When we buy stuff, we usually buy it on sale. The kids go to private school and live with both parents. We have enough food and good healthcare and enough money. They can fool around in stores or goof off in the park or walk down the street without getting shot. They are white kids in the Greater Boston area, which pretty much says it all.