I am grateful to be part of a community where we are able to have these conversations, and I am grateful to those who organized the town meeting.
To further our collective thinking, I would like to offer in writing the story that is still, many years later, difficult for me to speak out loud.
I was sitting on a city sidewalk in Nairobi chatting with a homeless black family. The police arrived to arrest them (being homeless itself is a crime that goes by many names — loitering being one of them). A police officer took the baby out of my arms and smashed her to death on the sidewalk while another held me back and covered my mouth with their hand. They wouldn’t let me take her body.
No one could claim that those officers thought the baby was armed or that she looked like a crime suspect. What had she done wrong? She was born black and poor and her life was considered disposable. There was no publicity, no indictment of the officers involved. I was told by members of that community that this happens all the time, that the police consider the homeless to be trash and that their job is to clean the streets.
I saw some students in the town meeting fighting cognitive dissonance. Many of us are taught that if we follow the rules, we won’t get in trouble; We are told that the police are here to protect us. And yet…Michael Brown is dead. And yet…the child in my arms was killed. Some wanted to believe Michael Brown’s story is an anomaly, that he provoked the officers, or that the details are somehow exaggerated. Some will read my story and distance themselves by pretending that it doesn’t happen here. The alternative hypothesis is devastating: that we live in a world that is profoundly unfair. (Some of us have not had the privilege of deluding themselves on this point.)
I continue to struggle with nightmares of the horror that I witnessed. I cope by being part of a people investing ourselves in creating a world that is just. On the other side of denial, you will find that movement waiting to welcome you.