“Concerns about institutionalized discrimination in the United States have repeatedly been raised…” — United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
1999, Amadou Diallo, 23 years
In Puritan Boston, on Hester Prynne
Forced scarlet letter stigmata
To castigate, to separate, to isolate, to humiliate
In fiction as in life
Stigma mark, brand
The outsider, the offender, the outcast, the enslaved
Sting of virtual and actual stigmata remain
Skin color, hair texture, facial features
Sex assigned at birth, sexuality, gender expression
Religion, language, native country
Ability, age, and on
2000, Patrick Dorismond, 26 years
To Jim Crow
To de facto and beyond
2003, Ousmane Zongo, 24 years
Black and brown parents’ worst fears
The list of the unarmed
Targeted, harassed, profiled
Tracked, arrested, violated
Killed at police hands
Carrying stigma of “race”
2004, Tim Stansbury, 19 years
Parents begin “The Talk” with sons
Reaching age 12, 13, 14, earlier
“When police confront
Walk slowly toward, never run
Keep hands visible, out of pockets
Don’t raise voice
Act polite, never show anger
Racist society marks sons
The expression of criminality
Consigning them to endangered species list
Stigmatized, marginalized live with knowledge
Random, unprovoked, xenophobic violence
To divide, to harm, to humiliate
To destroy the “other”
Maintaining power, privilege over
Cannot dismiss as “the few bad cops”
Larger, wider, broader
Systems of oppression
Individual, Interpersonal, Institutional, Societal
2009, Oscar Grant, 23 years
Property rights precede human rights
“Corporations are people my friend”
NRA and “Stand Your Ground”
Militarized weapons invading our cities, towns
People expendable to power
Missouri the “Show Me” state
Show me why Officer Wilson in fear for his life
From unarmed young man?
Why so many bullet holes and graze wounds?
Six, seven, eight robbing Michael of life.
Why only 3 black officers on force?
Why 9 whites of 12 grand jurors?
In town of 70% black residents
Why put in charge a prosecutor
A police officer killed by black man?
Bias favoring Officer Wilson?
Why prosecutor’s announcement
Of grand jury decision after dark?
Expected and welcomed violence
To discredit Brown’s supporters?
When a young man is killed over box of smokes
Where a smoke screen covers the many still unanswered questions
When officer acquitted of charges in secret proceedings
How can healing begin when the heart is ripped from community?
How can justice be served when so many questions linger?
My white skin inoculates me
I can walk or drive or cycle
Anywhere my body can take me
Without fearing police suspicion
I can eat Skittles and drink ice tea
No neighborhood watch follows me
I can travel to wealthy neighborhoods
Officers most likely ignore me
My skin serves as protective shield, armor, defense
My good luck talisman
Deflecting officers’ profiling gaze
We can stand on soap boxes
We can try cleansing our pain, our anger, our rage
But in the end
Stains of blood and tears remain
Community fabric torn apart
But soul persists
Most taking higher moral ground
Talking, organizing, marching
Speaking out, reaching out
Challenging and transforming
A government, a nation, a world
Ferguson stands as but one ground zero
And the struggle continues
In the words of Desmond Tutu:
“Stability and peace in our land
will not come from the barrel of a gun,
because peace without justice
is an impossibility.”
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