Because #BlackLivesMatter

Looking at my Facebook feed, filled with posts from my social justice-oriented friends, it is easy to sit back, to feel like everything has been said.  That anything I say would be preaching to the choir.  But the protest posters that read “Silence = Complicity” and “White Silence = Violence” speak truth.

I wish I wasn’t writing this post.  Again.  But there is clearly still work to do.

Work has been done, by many groups and individuals, including the Ferguson Commission and Black Lives Matter (Campaign Zero recommendations), but much, much more is needed.  In the meantime, injustices based on skin color continue across our country.

If you see an American flag today (or have noticed in the past few days), you will see that it is flying at half-staff, to honor the victims of the shootings in Dallas.  And those deaths were a tragedy.

As were the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

Which got me to thinking . . . I don’t know the criteria for ordering the flag lowered to half-staff, but something was nagging, so I visited  Browsing through recent months, it seems that on a national level, the flag is rarely lowered for one single death unless the deceased was politically important (e.g., Antonin Scalia).  Okay, fair enough.

My search also revealed that President Obama has ordered flags to half-staff more than any other U.S. president.  Okay.

What was bugging me, what I wanted to know, was, what about June 2015?  What about the nine dead men and women, including state senator Clementa Pinckney, in a terrorist attack in Charleston, SC?  What happened with the flag then?

So I scrolled backward chronologically through the months:

  • July 2016 — Dallas (5 killed — police officers)
  • June 2016 — Orlando (49 killed)
  • March 2016 — Brussels terrorist attack (32 killed)
  • Dec. 2015 — San Bernadino (14 killed)
  • Nov. 2015 — Paris attack (130 killed)
  • Oct. 2015 — Roseburg, OR (9 killed)
  • July 2015 — Chattanooga, TN (5 killed — Navy reservists)
  • June 2015 — NOTHING

I went to May 2015, then back forward to June 2015.  Still nothing.

So I did a bit more digging on each of the shootings/attacks in question.  Number killed, whether the deceased included police/fire/military personnel, etc.

Because maybe there was a logical explanation — a reason for not lowering the flag to half-staff for the nine BLACK men and women killed in Charleston, SC.  The number of deceased in Charleston matches that in Roseburg, OR, where eight students and one professor were killed.

And I could stick my head in the sand and pretend this means nothing.  Is indicative of nothing.  But that would be horribly ignorant at this point.

Until the 9 people killed in Charleston, SC are worth as much as the 9 people killed in Roseburg, OR, until those 9 people get the same respect, we need to keep raising our voices.


For more on racism at work, from people who live it every day, please watch this short video:


Still breathing

I feel like my last post needs some kind of follow-up.  I have a back-log of “regular” posts (at least in my head), but jumping right into, “and here was my experience making soy milk,” doesn’t quite seem right.  So, here we go . . . .

Claiming that one “doesn’t see color” is a cop-out.  First, unless you actually have some type of visual impairment, it’s total B.S.  Claiming that I walk down the street and don’t notice the color of a person’s skin would be like claiming that I don’t notice whether that person is male or female.  Our brains automatically take in and process this information.  Noticing skin color is not good or bad.  It just is.  It’s what we do with this information that is important.

Second, claiming to be color/race blind actually undermines progress in addressing racial disparities.  This article in Psychology Today breaks it down well:

Colorblindness creates a society that denies [minorities’] negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives . . . . And if you can’t talk about it, you can’t understand it, much less fix the racial problems that plague our society.

Claiming to be “colorblind” insulates us from wrestling with difficult topics like white privilege; disparate police practices, like racial profiling and unequal use of force; and a broken justice system.

White Privilege
Back in September, I requested a copy of Shelly Tochluk’s Witnessing Whiteness.  I was not able to be part of the YWCA-led group that was reading the book.  I started reading the book, but I just couldn’t get through it.  Not because I disagreed with Tochluk or struggled with the concepts, but more due to the writing style.  I think having a group would have helped a lot, in large part because the book just felt so academic.  I wasn’t expecting a “fun” book, but I just couldn’t get into it.  I’m wondering if Tim Wise’s White Like Me, would be a better starting point.

That said, I think one of the better analogies for thinking about white privilege is running a marathon (would like to give credit, but don’t remember where I heard this).  We’re all running the same marathon, but white privilege means that you get to start the race at mile 10, while someone else, just because his/her skin is a different color, starts at mile 0.  And then maybe your course looks a little different as a white person: fewer hills, or at mile 20, you get a “skip to mile 22” card.  Or maybe you’re white and born into poverty, so you don’t quite start at mile 10, but perhaps you start at mile 5 and experience some of the other benefits along the course.

Police practices
Objecting and speaking out against minority deaths at the hands of police officers doesn’t make one “anti-law enforcement.”  The reality is, we have serious problems.  This is not one “bad” officer, in one city.  This is a systemic problem throughout the United States.  The expectation that law enforcement exist to “serve and protect” should not depend on the color of one’s skin, but it does — here are the names and faces.  And it’s enough of an issue that it’s caught the attention of the United Nations.  We have a problem.

In our current “justice” system, police officers are often treated as if they are above the law.  There is little incentive for trying to diffuse situations rather than immediately resorting to force.  If you follow one link here, please read this article, written by a former St. Louis police officer.  It speaks volumes about the issues we face.

If you want to take action, sign this petition to reform how we investigate police misconduct, so police officers are held accountable for their actions.  There are legitimate alternatives to using lethal force (including avoiding escalating things to the point where it’s even considered), but it is becoming clear that without real disincentives to using lethal force, police have little reason to discontinue business as usual.

It would be nice to live in a cozy little world where “police aren’t the bad guys.”  Have I benefited or received help from police officers?  Absolutely!  But your experiences, and the degree to which you agree or disagree with the statement that “police are the good guys,” probably depends in large extent on the color of your skin.  That’s white privilege.  That’s racial injustice.  And it needs to change.


I can’t breathe

As I read the news from New York City yesterday, about a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death, after the coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, my chest was tight.  I recognized my body’s reaction and reminded myself to breathe.  Because I could.  Because no one’s hands were around my neck, cutting off the oxygen that these human bodies require to live.  And with that thought in mind, it was pretty hard to get rid of the tightness in my chest, the rock in my stomach.  As well it should have been.

I don’t know where to start, so I’ll share some words from my friend Dan:

‘To all you people who think of Mike Brown and say, “just don’t assault a police officer and you won’t die,” I give you Eric Garner.

To all you people who think of Eric Garner and say, “just do what the officer tells you and you won’t die,” I give you John Crawford.

To all you people who think of John Crawford and say, “he should not have picked up that gun that was for sale at Wal-Mart and he would not have died…”

To all you people who think of [12-year-old] Tamir Rice and say, “he should not have played with a toy gun…”

I am tired of you waiting for the “perfect” case to understand that this is real. The people that you see protesting are not making this shit up. It is racism. It is real. We have a problem.’

Photo credit: D. Stout

On Saturday, I participated in a small demonstration at a busy intersection in South St. Louis City.  This peaceful action, organized by a local Unitarian church’s “Standing on the Side of Love” group, took place in the same ZIP code where I live: the whitest, wealthiest ZIP code within city limits.  At midday on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, this intersection, near a Target, Schnucks, and other retail locations, was hopping.

Within minutes of gathering, a woman stopped at a red light told us that we needed to “go back to Ferguson.”  She continued to try to engage those in our group, blocking traffic in the right travel lane through at least two light cycles.  How dare we bring this issue to her nice, quiet, monochromatic neighborhood?!?  How dare we stand there quietly on the sidewalk making her feel uncomfortable?

Not long after that, the police swarm began.  My friends who were walking to join us saw ten police SUVs speeding down the street with their lights on.  Before long, our group of 30 or so demonstrators had attracted an equal number of police vehicles, each vehicle carrying multiple officers, for a likely ratio of 3 [fully armed, riot-gear equipped, zip-tie handcuffs at the ready] police officer to every 1 demonstrator.  Oh, and some National Guard thrown in the mix, just for fun.

Two officers came over to talk to one of the organizers.  I don’t know exactly what was said, but I guess they decided to “let” us stay (on the public sidewalk, where we were breaking no laws), though they had no intention to de-escalate the police presence.

It was an interesting ninety minutes.  We received a number of friendly honks (as a bicyclist, you get good at discerning these) and waves, but there were certainly nasty looks and comments (shouted from the safety of cars) as well.  These, to me, showed that the organizers had picked a good location for this action.

We had a single incident of a very riled-up man (red sweatshirt guy) jumping out of his car to confront us.  The following minutes were tense.  Most of the group wisely chose to not engage, leaving the discussion to a well-prepared organizer.  Red sweatshirt guy finally calmed down, and before he left, I overheard a fellow demonstrator sharing his story, his experiences, of being a middle-aged black man, harassed by the police (on multiple occasions) for no reason.  Red sweatshirt guy actually seemed to be listening.  I have hope that, just maybe, a tiny seed was planted.  Face-to-face encounters, where we actually listen are SO important.

As planned, the demonstration ended after ninety minutes.  As Matthew and I walked back to the library, where we’d left our bikes locked up, I couldn’t help feeling a bit like one of the disciples, waiting for someone to say, “Were you with [them]?  I think I saw you with [them].”

I’d naively assumed that most of the police that responded had quietly slunk away, but no, they were just one parking lot over.  We had to walk right by them.


This photo probably shows about half of the police vehicles that responded.  The rest were staged across the street in another parking lot, with the National Guard.

At the time, I had not yet read about police response to demonstrations after the no indictment decision, including injudicious use of tear gas (a chemical weapon).  Amnesty International has sited some specific concerns about police use of force against protestors here, based on reports from their trained, on-the-ground observers.

These first-hand accounts are also important:


At best, the system is broken.  At worst, it’s working as designed.  Militarized police acting on decades of inherent racism, wielding weapons against unarmed people with impunity. My chest is tight.  But I can still breathe.  Unlike Mike Brown, unlike Eric Garner, unlike Tamir Rice, I can still breathe.  And so I will continue listening to stories that are hard to hear, will continue to feel uncomfortable with the privilege my skin color confers, will continue to feel sick at the injustices that just. keep. coming.

Using my words

I have a lot to share here, but it all feels trivial.  And I don’t feel fully qualified to talk about what isn’t trivial, as Heather so pointedly stated a few months ago:

Because who the hell am I? I am a white woman raised in a white household, a white woman who has experienced nothing but privilege her entire life. I have never known persecution or been maligned because of my minority status. I have never had to worry that the color of my skin would in any way cost me the slightest luxury or basic human right.


Yet who the hell am I to NOT talk about this?  Though I have yet to be there physically, most of my heart and mind feel stuck in Ferguson, MO.  This is important.  There is so much to read and process — so much background to understand about how we got to this point and so much wisdom and grace needed to begin to move forward, to change.

MotherTeresaQuoteRecommended reading

St. Louis: A city divided

What’s unusual about St. Louis — and goes a long way to explain the tension of the Ferguson protests — is not racism per se, but the way the metropolitan area has chopped itself into bits, remaining socially and economically segregated long after the racist laws were erased from the books.

For the Sake of Michael Brown

It may take a village to raise a child, but many administrators and parents in better-resourced parts of our region had no problem saying quite publicly that Michael Brown and his brothers and sisters did not belong in their village.

What I Did After Police Killed My Son

Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us—regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either.


Alternatives to guns?

Over the weekend, I asked Matthew, “Couldn’t police officers just use tasers and stun guns?”  You know, something less permanent than putting a bullet in someone?

After reading a bit more about the uses and limitations of such weapons, I think the answer is, yes, maybe, but not as long as everyone and his brother is running around armed with real guns in this country.

And, sadly, we seem headed in just the opposite direction, given what this situation has revealed about the militarization of police forces (haven’t read the book I link to, but it looks worth a read).

Walking in the street

While we have far from a full, clear account of exactly what happened between Darren Wilson (the police officer) and Michael Brown (the victim) on August 9, the accounts of Wilson initially stopping Brown because he was “walking in the street” really struck me.

For some background, the term “jaywalking” did not exist until the invention of the automobile in the early 1900s:

The term’s dissemination was due in part to a deliberate effort by promoters of automobiles, such as local auto clubs and dealers, to redefine streets as places where pedestrians do not belong.  (Wikipedia, emphasis mine)

If our streets were for people instead of for cars, would Mike Brown still be alive?

I don’t mean to over-simplify this, or direct attention away from the very important issues of inequality or injustice, but I can’t help but wonder.

White privilege

White privilege.  I think those are hard words to hear.  What do they mean?  What do they call us to do?

Yesterday, parishioner at my church recommended the book Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk as a starting point for this important discussion.  I just requested a copy from the library.

If you’re in St. Louis, and want to be part of a discussion group, check out the YWCA (dates/times are for 2012 — I wrote to ask them to update the page, as I believe there will be a group starting in September 2014).

Say something

Despite living less than 18 miles from Ferguson, MO, I didn’t hear about the events that unfolded last weekend (and continue to unfold) until more than forty-eight hours later.  In a small cabin south of Crater Lake in Oregon, I received a garbled second-hand account of the rioting and looting from my MIL, who had just spoken to her brother.

I turned to the internet, where I learned about Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer, and I watched with a breaking heart from hundreds of miles away: loss, hate, hope, anger, love, grief.


After nine years in St. Louis, I’m no stranger to the fact that the region has race issues.

I’m often struck by the make-up of crowds that I’m in, how in a city that is split almost exactly fifty-fifty between white and black, that racial mix is rarely represented at a given place or event.

In May, I took G to be tested to see if he would qualify for speech services through St. Louis Public Schools.  Our assigned testing site was Gateway Elementary and Middle School in north St. Louis City.  As we were leaving, we were caught in the halls during a class change at the middle school, and I was struck by the fact that I did not see a single white student in that hallway.  I wasn’t surprised, exactly, but all I could think was, “It’s the year 2014, and segregation is alive and well.”

This is not an accident, but rather the result of concerted historical efforts in St. Louis (as well as other cities), to separate white people and black people, and “protect property values,” through the use of [racially] restrictive covenants in real estate, which created white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods.

The effects of these covenants are still apparent in St. Louis City and the surrounding suburbs today.  For a closer look at how this played out in and near Ferguson, check out Jeff Smith’s excellent post, “You Can’t Understand Ferguson without First Understanding these Three Things.”


I’ve been in Kinloch and other parts of north county.  I vividly remember an assignment in grad school, which involved visiting a number of parks in the metro area, assessing them from a usability perspective (okay, we say people should just get out and exercise — what are the sidewalks and the parks near their houses like — is that really feasible???).  For the exercise, we were assigned partners and a list of parks to assess, ranging from nice to not-so-nice.

My [white, female] partner and I were in a large, but clearly under-resourced, park in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in north St. Louis County (we may have actually been IN Kinloch, or not far from) when a couple of police officers approached and asked what we were doing there.

I don’t remember exactly what was said, but it was clear to my partner and I that the officers assumed that only thing white people could be doing in that park was buying or selling drugs.  We explained our assignment and showed them our park inventory sheet, and they let us continue.

I was fairly new to St. Louis at the time, and the encounter was both surprising and saddening.  Despite being across the street from a decent-sized apartment complex, we were the only people out in the park on a Saturday morning.  Was drug-dealing really the only thing that happened in that park?  Was the perceived (and perhaps real) danger just too high for residents to use the park for recreational purposes?


I know people who live in Ferguson, including our real estate agent and a fellow CyclingSavvy instructor, who is also a small business (a bike shop, of course) owner there.  There is a great organic farm and farmer training program within the city limits, and a Saturday Farmers’ Market.  This is also Ferguson, MO.

But as the events of the past week demonstrate, there are some very real issues that we must face, not just in Ferguson, but in the entire St. Louis metro area (and in other parts of the country as well), issues stemming from a long history of racial injustice and disparities in education, healthcare, and economic opportunity.

At the same time as my heart breaks at the continued violence and unrest, there are many more heartening stories, and images, of a community and region pulling together.  My hope and prayer is that this won’t just “go away,” but will lead to real, honest dialogue; enlightenment; and then action to change things.  This process won’t be easy or painless, and change won’t happen overnight, but we can, and must, do better.