Who Can We Trust?

I am a young, black, first generation American woman from New York City. Following the indictment of George Zimmerman and the murders of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Akai Gurley by the police, I began to feel extremely weary of authority figures and fearful of any potential interactions between my family and friends with the police. When walking through the city, I found myself anxiously crossing the street whenever I saw an officer, my heart racing and palms sweating. It seemed as if anything people of color did could be construed by the police as dangerous.

I remember staying up one night crying after Eric Garner was murdered here in New York because I was worried for my own brothers’ safety. After we were pulled over one evening while running errands in our parents’ working-class neighborhood in southeastern Queens, my eldest brother revealed to me that this was actually a common occurrence for him.

As he didn’t normally drive above the speed limit and his car was properly stickered, he deduced that he was most likely being pulled over because he, a black man, was driving a luxury car. While we waited for the officer to come to the car, he instructed me on the importance of smiling, keeping both hands still and in plain-sight — either on the wheel at ten and two or on your thighs, and maintaining a non-threatening, respectful tone while speaking. Before reaching for his wallet to get his license or getting his car’s paperwork from the glove compartment, my brother would announce what he meant to do and ask if it was okay before moving his hands from the wheel. And although he had done nothing wrong and his license and registration matched the car he was driving, the backseat and trunk were both subject to a search by the officer.

I wondered if my five-year-old nephew had already been taught how to act if approached by an officer. I wondered how many children of color across the country were being schooled on topics that their white counterparts would never have to worry about.

Later that year, after my nephew graduated from kindergarten, his parents decided that it would be safer to homeschool him. While influenced by a number of different factors, school-related racism and the presence of high numbers of law enforcement in public schools with larger minority demographics, have played a large part over the past few years in the growing surge of African-American parents choosing to homeschool their children. Faced with these injustices and blatant examples of discrimination, I began to question whether or not I could, morally speaking, start a family someday. Knowing how black and brown children are viewed by authority figures here in the United States, how could I possibly bring a child into such an environment? How would I be able to assure them of their safety? I wondered how my parents, Jamaican immigrants, who moved here in hopes of providing their children with better opportunities felt in the wake of these incidents.

My growing anxiety over the documented cases of police violence however, led me to become more involved with the community of grassroots activists here in New York. I found local rallies and demonstrations through the Black Lives Matter movement to take part in, in hopes of effecting some change within our country. I began to speak candidly with friends and acquaintances about the fears that myself and many people who look like me feel on a regular basis. I wanted to make sure that future generations of black and brown people would not have to worry about their safety in the way that my generation and generations before me had. Through these activities, I learned that I had people around me that I could lean on when I felt overwhelmed. Through my community I learned that I didn’t have to live in fear every day. Over the past few years, I’ve grown to learn that I could trust the community that I had built around myself — friends, progressive-thinking people of color, and allies.

Written by By Cheryl Morris, Community Team @ VIMEO and WITNESS volunteer

This story is part WITNESS’#WeTrust Campaign: contribute today to strengthen our work.