I hemmed and hawed for a week about attending the peaceful rally for George Floyd. It was being held in my hometown. I have anxiety and crowds are a trigger. But I was feeling so helpless. I finally made up my mind on Saturday morning upon waking to the news that yet another unarmed Black man was shot and killed by police. I cried some more and I felt even more helpless. I had to do something. I wanted to tell my story. I wanted to tell about how 4 years ago a local police officer who was my professor called BLM a terrorist organization. I wanted to tell how we spent that summer watching video after video of Black men being gunned down and how this police officer professor justified each one, even going so far as to say that each victim had gotten themselves killed.
I awoke on Sunday morning expecting the anxiety to start. It never materialized. It was a good sign but I spent most of the day waiting for it to show up. As 1 pm approached, I figured I should probably start getting ready. As I was getting ready to starch and iron my favorite white button down shirt, it occurred to me that the shirt doesn’t match my mood on this day. The shirt’s casual air would be out of place under the circumstances. Abandoning the button down, I decided to go with all black, my favorite color. 5-11 Tactical pants, the ones with pockets that I can fit my whole hand in; zippering tapered legs. A plain black tank and an ankle length black sweater because even though it was going to be in the 70s, I tend to get chilly when it’s below 80. I put on my military style black boots and tied on my black head wrap. To finish the look, I had a black and white mask designed by my brother. This fit my mood.
My brother came to my house and I followed him into town. This way we could arrive together. We managed to find parking spaces together right in from of St. Patrick’s church, a long time pillar of the community.
As we walked toward the park, the first thing I noticed were the police. Officer Douglas, whom I’d known most of my adult life, was there. Other officers whose faces I recognized but couldn’t name. Police cars from surrounding jurisdictions. Police in unmarked pick-up trucks. Trucks I might have fawned over had the circumstances been different. We didn’t speak to any of the officers. None of them spoke to us.
My brother and I walked the edge of the park, surveying the crowd looking for people we might know. It was hard to tell from a distance and everyone was wearing masks. We made it to some open space in the grass at the corner of Warren Ave. We stood there in the sun taking in the scene.
“This woulda never happened when we was growing up sis.”
“Nope, not at all. And playing Tupac? No way.”
“A lot has changed around here.”
“I know. I don’t even like ridin’ through here no more.”
Throughout our small talk, three cops had casually walked down the street and took the open space on the sidewalk behind us. I glanced over at them. They weren’t wearing masks. They weren’t social distancing. The sun got to be too much for my brother so he went off to find some shade. As I stood there alone in the sun, a large crowd in front of me, three cops behind, I was beginning to feel closed in. I retreated across the street and took my mask off. Breathe. I crossed Warren Ave to smoke. I waited to light my cigarette as a large group of people were walking by. One man with his family directed his children to the indicated crosswalk saying “We must do things proper.” I glanced up. The three officers were still there. Finally all the people passed and I could light my smoke. I held that first drag a few moments longer than usual. Breathe. A woman came along with her daughter. She too had a cigarette. “You not allowed to smoke other there?” she asked pointing to the park. “I just don’t want to offend anyone.” She nodded and stayed put. I moved off back into the sunlight. I finished my smoke, field stripped it and put the butt into the pack’s cellophane wrapper and stuffed it into my little black purse. I crossed the street but I didn’t stay in the indicated cross walk. I veered down the street away from the three officers. I got to the pathway leading to the pavilion and stood there a moment. Someone was speaking but I couldn’t hear what they were saying, so I walked up the pathway to get closer. As I walked, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one of the officers from the corner had made his way to where I was. As I approached the pavilion, he was walking uphill through the parking lot. My thoughts drifted back to 4 years earlier when the police officer professor called BLM a terrorist organization and how I wanted to tell. The organizers of the rally were speaking now. They told the crowd how we were going to lay on the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds because “that’s how long George Floyd was on the ground.” We were then going to march. We would come back and the scheduled speakers would then take the mike.
By this time, I had made my way to the edge of the parking lot. By this time I was angry. I was angry cause I didn’t want to lay down. I didn’t want anyone to lay down. Haven’t we laid down enough? I wanted to scream. I stood. Hands clasped behind my back. I stood. Parade rest. I watched these hundreds of people laying down while Nick Cannon spoke I can’t Breathe. I wanted to scream. GET UP! I stood silently. Nick Cannon finished and all was silent until this 4 or 5 year old child began crying saying “I can’t do this anymore. I wanna go home.” My heart broke into a million pieces and I cried. I wanted to scream. The weight of it was so real. The weight of it was so damned heavy. I stood parade rest for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while the crowd laid on the ground. I wondered if they could feel the weight I was feeling. I wondered why they thought mimicking the way George Floyd died honored him. I wondered what message they were trying to send as none of the officers laid down. None of the officers even stood still. Some of them were even having conversations. One stood directly across from me on the other side of the park. When I noticed him, he began walking. And finally the 8:46 seconds of eternity passed and the crowd finally stood. It was time to march. I retreated to the parking lot to wipe my eyes and breathe. A woman with tears in her eyes approached. “Are you marching?” she asked quietly. I shook my head no. “What do you think?” she asked. It was a strange question to which I answered “I don’t.” “Sorry” she said as she looked away. After a few minutes my brother showed up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. I told my brother that I wasn’t marching and he took his leave. Me and my old friend started talking. We talked for about 10 minutes or so. As we neared the end of our conversation, an officer came up through the parking lot, passed by us to get to the port-o-potty. Funny I hadn’t notice that until now. My friend and I parted and I walked to the street where my car was parked. That’s when I realized I had waited too long to get out of there. The marchers were coming up that very street led by a police suv with the lights flashing and some bicycle officers also. I stopped on the corner to wait for them to pass. There were two officers on that same corner. Funny, I don’t remember seeing you come out of the port-o-potty.
I watched the marchers and listened to the chants. I read the signs. I told myself this is good. I tried to smile. As the marchers thinned, I made my way to my car. I noticed the church doors were open and people were going in. The pastor was out there greeting the parishioners, “Happy Sunday.” He leaned on the rail and watched the marchers go by. Nice of him to show support I thought. At that point, my brother came along asking for a napkin to wipe the sweat from his brow. I handed him a napkin and got out the sani-wipes for his hands. When I turned around back towards the church, the pastor was gone and the doors were shut.
I. Wanted. To. Scream.