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a story about not calling the police

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

**content warning: this entry includes the mention of police violence and the murder of a young person**


I was once, like many white or white presenting people,

In charge of a room I had no business being in charge of

Co-teaching an identity development discussion class in a high school

specifically for young Black women

I was under resourced in the program I worked for,

And in general had no real guidance to bestow on these young people in the realm of being a Black woman,

I did not share enough with them

To lead them well on this topic.

My fellow facilitators came only every once in a while

So what these girls had most consistently

Was me.

So I gave them what I was able

My attention, my patience, my respect, my trust, and my care.

It was a disorganized semester on my end

But I always looked forward to seeing these young women

Each silly and brilliant and interesting and lovely and powerful in her own way.


Far into the semester

There was some conflict between members

That I didn’t have a full picture of, only seeing them two hours a week:

Between one member,

Who had recently lost her brother to suicide and was carrying her grief around, quiet and heavy, like a boulder in her backpack,

But covered it with studiousness and wit.

And another member,

Who wasn’t present in class often

And didn't really follow directions....ever

But always made me laugh and spoke up with conviction in discussions

Who also has dealt with things a teenager should never need to,

It felt to me like she kept her anger in a jar with a tight lid.


On this day in class

We had as a group chosen to have a facilitated conversation about what was in the way of everyone being able to work together.

They had been having trouble collaborating with each other as a group for a few weeks.

I was supposed to have another facilitator in class

But they couldn't make it,

So again

All these girls had to hold the space for them

Was me.

So we moved through the mud and muck together

Successfully at first

Until the conversation turned to these two young people

Who very clearly had a visceral conflict between them

Deep and complicated.

Their argument began to escalate beyond group dynamics

And I felt myself lose the ability to track where we were.

I watched the second girl I mentioned

Hold fast to her anger

And regulate

And breathe

And try not to lose it.

She did this with poise and diligence that most adults don’t have.

Bringing herself back to equilibrium multiple times

But finally

The other girl said something hurtful and baiting,

the final straw that lifted the lid.

Suddenly they both stood.

There was shouting

Slaps

Punches

Ripping at hair

Running

Not-so-helpful jeering and cell phone filming from other girls.


As I desperately tried to calm the two,

Splitting them up a few different times,

Asking them to lock into my eyes and bring themselves back down

Begging them to think before hurting each other or themselves,

But their individual grief and anger and pain and frustration and teenage-ness swirling between them

was too much for just me

And too much for just them.

I heard one of them mention a gun in her backpack

Before chasing the other out of the room.

And I, knowing I was no longer the adult here

The peacekeeper, the one who knew what to do

But just another bystander in the room,

Took out my cell phone and dialed 911.


And then.

I thought about this young girl

This child.

With so much anger -

Justified, important anger.

Who I knew had been arrested once before.

I thought of what could happen if the police did come.

And I thought of how these girls had been put in my care.

And I hit cancel.

And put the phone back in my pocket.


Also, because somewhere in my heart of hearts

Somehow I knew this girl

Either

Did not actually have a gun

Or did not intend to use it on another person

I trusted her not to use it

As much as I think she wanted me to only see her toughness, her hardness

Her soft lingered in her eyes when she looked at me

And I knew that softness would translate to this moment.


Eventually, after losing sight of the girls as they ran through the school grounds, I found a staff member and the situation was passed from me to them, swiftly and immediately.

Just like that.

They told me to go home, so I did.

This is often what being a teaching artist is,

Always a visitor

Who has to leave when you’re told.

I heard through the school the girls calmed down without being severely injured.

And we talked about it briefly in the next class

The first girl apologized to me sheepishly

And we moved on quickly.

I did not see the second girl again in my time teaching the class, she did not come back.

I missed her, but I understood.


I have been thinking about that experience with these girls since Ma’Khia Bryant was killed by a police officer in Ohio last week.

A child who expected the adults around her to care for her.

And how much I wish that the police officer responding to her call

Had stopped

And looked at this girl

And seen her silliness, her brilliance, her loveliness, her softness,

Her childhood.

And seen himself as her caregiver

Instead of her hunter.


I don’t know what will stop this vicious pattern of police murdering Black and Brown people, but I think it will take all of us relentlessly continuing to act where we can. In the streets, on the internet, in our workplaces, in our legal system, in our classrooms, in our homes. And I believe it will take all of us, when we pull out our phones to call the police, thinking about who we are really protecting or endangering when we do so.


Rest in peace and power Ma’Khia.

You deserved much much better than this country and this world could offer you.


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