On July 17, a few blocks down from my Staten Island apartment and right next door to one of my favorite cafes, a black man named Eric Garner was put into an illegal chokehold by police. “I can’t breath. I can’t breath,” he was heard to say several times. And then he died.
There were rallies and demonstrations. I heard them from my window. When I walked to the grocery store, I saw police vans everywhere, and clusters of police officers at every corner. But I didn’t get involved. I’m a small white woman from Iowa, what business was it of mine? I didn’t know the man, I am new to the neighborhood, to the city. What could I add to the movement that wasn’t already there? What could I add that was needed?
On August 9, 950 miles away, a young black man named Mike Brown was walking down the street with a friend. A police officer stopped his car to speak to them. There was some kind of altercation. The young Mr. Brown ran for his life. He was unarmed but the officer shot him. He was unarmed and the officer shot him multiple times. And then he died.
Again there are rallies and demonstrations. This time there were riots, as people looked for outlets for their anger and frustration. I can’t hear them from my window, but everywhere online I see photos of rubber bullets and teargas cans. I read stories of people’s confusion and anger and fear, and watch videos of protests and picketing. And this time I want to join them. I can’t be in Ferguson to join in the demonstrations, I can’t attend vigils and press conferences, but I want to show my support for those who are suffering under an unjust and oppressive system. I want to join them.
Because maybe adding my voice of outrage won’t do anything, but maybe it will. Maybe I will just be one more frustrated and confused soul ignored by the system, but maybe not. By staying silent, we are complicit in the injustices around us. As Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” So I add my voice to the cries of ‘No Justice, No Peace,’ and I hope that as more of us lend our voices we can amplify the words and requests and demands of those who are seeking justice for a young man whose life was so senselessly taken and for a race that has been mistreated and misrepresented for far too long.