Having grown up with an over-protective mother, I’ve had to fight constantly against my own instincts to over-protect my kids. I knew I wanted my kids to be different from me, not to have to fight fear every time they got to the top of a ski slope or peered over the ledge of a mountain. So from the time they were small, I encouraged them to take rational risks: to climb the monkey bars, to skate, swim, ski, run. They went to sleep-away camp and sleepovers, learned how to walk or take the bus to school, to navigate the city. When my daughter started driving, I reminded myself that, yes, anything could happen, but she’d done everything necessary to earn her license and it was her time for independence. I let my kids try, explore, fall, and sometimes fail so they could learn how to live their own lives to their fullest and, eventually, succeed as adults. Risk is an inevitable part of life, and you cannot live without it.
Still, I worry about my children, and you might think, “Well, that’s natural.” But I’ve learned that my kind of worry is a luxury. My kind of worry is what might aptly be called “white worry.” It never enters my mind that someone will shoot my son indiscriminately under the assumption he is a “thug” for playing loud music; it never enters my mind that he will be unsafe walking to school, or the store, or home from baseball simply because he is wearing a certain kind of sweatshirt. It never enters my mind that the police will stop one of my kids in the car for a minor infraction and in the next minute be beating them. I’ve never had to worry that the greatest risk factor my kids face is the desire to live life itself; that in simply living life they are targeted because of their race from the moment they are born.
I now fully understand I have the luxury of worrying about things Black parents never do, because they are worried about their kids being targeted simply for living, simply for the mundane actions of teenagers playing music too loud, simply because they are not white.
This weekend, in the wake of a grotesque denial of justice, that luxury could not have become more clear. A jury in Florida effectively acquitted Michael Dunn of the murder of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old who was at a gas station with friends playing music in their car. Their crime? Living while Black. Being normal teenagers while Black. Driving while Black. Playing music while Black. Black parents have to worry that the simple act of being a normal teenager is a sufficient reason to have a white man with a violent past draw a gun and shoot at four teenage boys in a car, killing one and putting the lives of three others at risk.
I will not even attempt to explain or analyze this case or the multitude of other such cases of living while Black just like it (including those of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride) because writers with far greater legitimacy, eloquence, and experience have already done so. You can and should read Goldie Taylor at The Grio, Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, Tamura Lomax at The Feminist Wire, Stacia Brown at The American Prospect, and the statements of Rev. Al Sharpton and the NAACP.
What I can do, however, is share some ideas and resources for action—the actions we all must take. Including you. Now. Today. At first, the outcome of the Dunn trial left me so dispirited and bereft I felt paralyzed. Then I realized that paralysis was another sort of luxury, that being paralyzed is being part of the problem and something we cannot afford. So I turned to colleagues and friends who suggested to me some initial avenues of action and solidarity, an opening on a pathway to justice, if each of us take some responsibility.
First, help with growing efforts to overturn “stand your ground” (SYG) laws. As Taylor writes at The Grio, 26 states have stand your ground (otherwise known as “shoot first”) laws on the books.
Seven more states permit the use of deadly force in self-defense with no duty of retreat through other statutes and judicial decisions known as stare decisis or “let the decision stand.”
In the five years since the “shoot first” laws were first enacted in Florida, the number of justifiable homicides has tripled.
If you know (or have any influence with) people in one of the states listed here, please encourage your family, friends, colleagues, and others in your social networks to learn more about those bills and tell their state legislators to vote the right way.
You can also tell people you know (or have any influence with) in these states to call their state legislators and tell them to fix laws that allow people like Dunn to kill other people and get away with it.
Help support organizations on the ground in Florida that are working hard to change SYG laws and other laws that criminalize Black communities and communities of color. You can give money, time, and other resources to groups like Dream Defenders, the Miami Workers Center, Florida New Majority, and POWER U Center for Social Change. Donate now, call them and ask what they need, ask them to tell you how best to work in your community to make change. Share these resources with everyone you know and encourage them to take action as well.
Learn more. As my colleague Alicia Garza notes, “It can be easy to individualize cases like these or states like Florida as stand outs, when in actuality these cases and these laws are becoming more and more common.” This article by Lauren Williams in Mother Jones provides just a glimpse of the kinds of violence and abuse that Black children and teens face all the time.
Use the hashtags #DangerousBlackKids and #BlackLivesMatter to further engage with others on the real effects of racism. Talk to everyone you know—friends, family members, followers—and tell them why you are outraged that the lives of Black citizens are so heavily devalued.
And, as Garza suggests, “when talking with your friends and loved ones, also do some dreaming together. What would this country look like and feel like without laws like these? Dreaming is really important—especially in times like these. It helps us fight apathy, helps to keep us taking those small incremental steps that don’t always feel huge but with more and more of us taking them they will become huge.”
Paralysis is not an option. The lives of too many children are at stake, and you are part of the solution. Please join me in acting now and making the fight against insidious racism a permanent part of your own life.