In the last week, we’ve celebrated the birth of our nation where we robustly sang along to the National Anthem and saw children become United States’ citizens.
But we also watched two men be executed: One for selling DVDs and the other for complying with the police. In response, we’ve cried, created hashtags and tweeted our outrage. We’ve hugged our children, fathers, brothers, uncles and lovers tighter. But what now? How many more times can we cry, shake with rage, pray and nothing changes?
I can protest all day long. I can block traffic, yell insults at the authorities and I can get arrested. But what does that change? Instead, I want to turn our outrage into something more powerful.
As I watched another man gunned down, I thought, What can I do? We can begin by no longer blaming the victim. Instead of asking why Eric Garner resisted arrest, or why Anton Sterling was selling CDs or why Sandra Bland was driving too fast, ask why an arrest for black people often ends in judge, jury and executioner on the spot.
We also have to stop letting it be someone else’s problem. We’re all tired after work. Some of us pull second shifts with a second job, school and children. Attending a lengthy school board, council or community meeting is not what I want to do in my down time, but we have to do this to get our voices heard. Show up with a friend or three at the meetings, and even if you may not feel confident to speak right away, make yourself seen.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Watching videos of two men killed in the span of 48 hours is too much for any person to handle. Log off of social media and avoid the news. And if you need it, get help. Black people have come a long way regarding the stigma of mental health, but there is still more work to do in this area. Look up post-traumatic stress syndrome. If seeing a man killed from two different angles, living in fear of what happens the next time you drive to the store or fearing encountering a police officer isn’t the following definition, then you tell me what is.
Perhaps one of the biggest ways we can make a difference and take a stand is to vote. Don’t tell me your vote doesn’t count — it does. When you cast a vote, that’s your voice saying, “I have confidence in you to fight for my rights.” Your vote says, “I trust you to do what’s best for me and my community.” We can’t just come out for presidential elections. We have to pay attention to what’s happening locally to start at the bottom and make a difference in our own communities.
And if you’re going to vote, vote smart. Stop voting straight ticket. Don’t let a D or an R near a name sway your decision or let paid poll workers control your vote. Do your homework and research the candidates, their positions and how they will impact your life. Once you’ve given someone the privilege of your vote, hold them accountable for their actions in office. Make them earn your next vote. Call your elected officials out when they fail to keep their election promises. Write letters to their office and set times to meet with them. Look at their voting record in Congress. If you don’t know who they are or how to contact them, check out these links: U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, state governors, state legislators.
Demand not only justice but also action from your government. Ijeoma Oluo tweeted what we can do to start the change. She also reiterated my earlier statement: “Police reform should be on the lips of every local politician in this country because they should know they will not get your support without it.” (Oluo’s website is also a great resource if you’re interested in delving further into this topic.)
Lastly, I would argue that we need to meet people where they are. Stop belittling someone because they aren’t as aware or “woke” as you. We are not participants in the Grief Olympics. My outrage will not match your outrage. My reaction won’t be your reaction, and all people grieve differently. Respect that it is not a one-size-fit-all approach.