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I could have joined her, but didn’t.
This particular protest, organized by the Black Student Union at Pittsburgh Allderdice, seemed a bit sacred, an event where adults need to step back and allow these kids, these young adults, to express their own feelings of anger and betrayal at a system that failed them and their friends because not enough of us have done enough.
And a place for them to dream, and to hope.
As we drove to the school, we saw a line of police officers standing next to their line of motorcycles.
“Oh, no,” her friend said, “What’s that about?”
I was shocked. Undeservedly shocked, because, while I have covered protests and participated in protests and marched and sang and felt the drumbeat join my heartbeat, I have never encountered police in the way these young women have seen in the past weeks.
“They are here to protect you,” was all I could say, based only on my experiences.
“But are they here to protect everyone?” she replied.
“Alas,” I said, my heart in my chest. “That may be your job. That’s kind of why you’re here.”
My 5-foot, 95 pound, 15-year-old white child and her slightly larger white friend have chosen to protect the people they love.
I don’t believe they will have to protect them from the police. I know they can’t protect them from their reality. But what I have been on pins and needles worrying about is who they will encounter, who lives among us who find it necessary to attack their neighbors for asking to be equal. Who will throw rocks and bottles to cause trouble among these young people trying to show their community that they understand that it needs to change, and it needs to change now.
Who will call them names, who will insult their families, who will insist that they’re “less than” because their skin is different or they’re from a less-affluent neighborhood. Who believe the lies they tell themselves and take offense that others challenge that.
After a protest on Mount Washington last weekend, a man pretending to be a police officer verbally attacked another young woman for participating in a peaceful march to ask for rights she should be automatically granted.
This person couldn’t even bring himself to just use the “N-word,” he had to add a suffix to diminutize the already awful insult. He insisted that she didn’t belong in a neighborhood where she had lived for nearly a dozen years because of her skin color. He tried to “bum-rush” her friend who was verbally defending her. He made himself a criminal just to show her his alleged superiority.
My daughter and her friends have lots of stories like this. They all start with, “we were just” sitting/standing/eating ice cream/talking/waiting in line. They hear these things, and become enraged as only high-school-aged kids can. It fuels their search for justice. And they go home and tell us, their parents, their long stories filled with “like,” and “um” and “ya know,” and some of us join them in outrage. But not enough.
Some of these young folks tell their stories to people who agree with what was said, or what was done, or what was implied that outraged them to begin with. Like Pretend Cop on Mount Washington, they’re told that it’s fine, that their own beloved friends deserve that treatment. By their “First teachers,” by their siblings. They see the posts on Facebook and Instagram and watch the news and take it all on. Sometimes they fight, others, aren’t
permitted to do so. They’re not being taught to learn, they’re being taught to hate.
I don’t have to have “The Talk” with my white girl that black parents have to have with their sons and daughters. So, the talk I have is about why her friends’ parents have to. Because some people are weak and poorly-educated. Because some people find it easier to lay blame on “the other” than to work on their own problems themselves. Because some people think they make themselves superior by insisting others are inferior. Because some people are so small, that they need to diminutize the rest of the world to fit their view.
I take her with me to vote, and I tell her why.
And I do that because I want her to know that it is her responsibility to stand for her friends, her neighbors, her classmates. It’s a part of her education to know that her life is easier because her parents are white. That she doesn’t matter more or less because of it, and neither do our friends. That they are as free as she is to sit, to stand, to kneel, until justice is achieved for everyone.
And, most especially, that, “to whom much is given, much will be required.”


Story credit to Nancy Hart.

Photo credit to Bella Fero.

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