Do you have time to come alongside those who suffer? Not just the sick, but the ones who suffer from injustice and racism. It’s a big question for a new year.
This post is part of the Five-Minute Friday quick write hosted by Kate Moutang. Join us each Thursday night on Twitter (#FMFParty) for fun and fellowship, then grab a pen and start writing when the prompt goes live!
A Quickly Escalating Incident of Injustice
It started with a cigarette butt. Revelers on New Year’s Eve left a friend’s house and a thousand yards down the road, the driver flicked his cigarette butt out the window. Immediately, red and blue lights and the shrill of a siren interrupted the pop of fireworks from nearby houses.
The driver pulled over, and when the police officer approached the window, he asked for the driver’s license and the car’s registration. But he didn’t stop there. He noticed a Black man sitting behind the driver and ask him for identification (at this time, the courts generally conclude that a police officer cannot extend a traffic stop by asking for identification from passengers).
The Black man didn’t have any identification on him. The officer pulled out his gun and demanded the passenger get out of the car. At this point, his wife, a white woman, started filming with her phone. The video shows the passenger calmly exiting the car and trying to console his wife. Eyewitnesses say the police officer threw the passenger to the ground and handcuffed him.
The charges? Assaulting a police officer and disorderly conduct. Next, Officer Clark asked the wife to exit the car. She asks why. Officer Clark says, “Because I said so.” They spar verbally for a minute and then the officer pulls out his taser. At this point, the wife exits the car and she, too, gets thrown to the ground and handcuffed.
By late Saturday afternoon, someone posted the videos on Mat-Su Moms for Social Justice. This concerned group of moms in Alaska started after the George Floyd murder and the peaceful protests in Palmer, AK, and Anchorage, AK this summer. They felt it was time to actually DO something about social justice.
Time to Come Alongside
My daughter saw the videos and asked me if I wanted to go with her to protest. The Palmer Police Department had now held the Black passenger in jail for over 24 hours. Despite receiving bail money, the police department was taking their own sweet time releasing him.
Even after his arraignment hearing where the judge dropped assault charges and lowered the bail. The wife worried that her husband would have to spend another night in jail over a traffic stop where he never should have been asked to provide his ID nor been threatened with a gun.
Mat-Su Moms hoped the peaceful presence of community members would let the police department know their actions weren’t acceptable.
And so I spent my last few hours of vacation in Alaska keeping vigil with a group of 25 other concerned citizens who wanted the police department to know they were seen and we didn’t approve. One of the organizers handed out hand warmers, and we chatted and waited.
The group started small as people dropped their dinner plans and found babysitters. After six of us gathered, a woman got out of her car and joined us. When she thanked us all for coming, I realized it was the wife.
With tears in her eyes, she asked the group, “What would you do? How do I explain this to our kids?”
I felt helpless to answer her question. How DOES one explain that in 2021, bigotry, hate, and racism live hearty lives in the souls of our fellowmen? That no matter how much time has passed, what a white person does when pulled over by a police officer differs so greatly from what a person of color must do?
As I stood there listening to her halting words as she described all she had to go through just to pay bail (the officer on duty wanted her to spell out ‘gmail’ for him), I offered the only thing I could.
Maybe Time and Hugs Can Heal
“You look like you need a hug,” I blurted out. “Can I give you a hug?” Although hugging doesn’t meet the spirit of social distancing, I moved in for a hug anyway.
I wrapped her in a bear hug and whispered, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” She hugged me back and my eyes misted over. My inadequacy threatened to swamp me. I don’t have a law degree, nor do I know any good civil rights lawyers.
All I had to offer was my time and my presence. And so for over two hours I stood outside a police station in 2-degree weather and kept watch. When the police finally released the man a little after seven, we formed a line and cheered for him as he and his family walked out of jail. He gave us his sincerest thanks for spending time in the cold to support him. He even hugged us.
Fighting injustice starts small. It includes reading and education, long conversations, peaceful protests, and coming alongside those in need of support. You don’t have to come up with platitudes or promises. But find time to get involved. Equality starts within our hearts and spills out in acts of kindness and respect—for all people. Always.Equality starts within our hearts and spill out in acts of kindness and respect–for all people. Always. #antiracist #justice Click To Tweet