"They don't respect my existence" was the feedback received from a mentee during a Bronx male Mentoring USA program session designed to process the pending Ferguson verdict and community policing in NYC.
Within the context of site-based mentoring, we are proud of the fact that we can create safe spaces for our mentees and mentors to engage in dialogue to promote healing and survival. The painful part of the exchange is that we are failing to create safe spaces outside the walls of our program, and have to prepare our young to survive interactions with the police, who we expect to protect and serve us.
The questions I keep asking myself are: Can a wound that never closes ever heal? What are the systems that keep these wounds open?
Now that the verdict has been delivered the world is watching Ferguson and oppressed communities across the country boil over like a pot of water. Community wounds are re-opened. Rather than blame the water for boiling, we must look at the systemic hand of injustice that continues to turn the heat up in communities when police officers are not fully held accountable for the killing of unarmed young men and people of color.
Police are protected and communities are served a script filled with unbelievable testimony criminalizing the victim. And within these scripted accounts -- where implicit biases become explicit -- we are sure to find language that continues to dehumanize young men of color: Demons.
Prior to the verdict, at the invitation of Pastor Michael McBride and the PICO network, I had the opportunity to meet with faith leaders in Ferguson to offer our Mentoring USA organizational resources to help build mentoring capacity to protect and serve our young and promote community healing. While sitting in the basement of this church -- akin to the manner in which the Civil Rights Movement anchored many of its strategy and planning sessions -- I was among a cross section of intergenerational brilliance; elders imparting wisdom; and the young who are ready, able and willing to fight for the human rights not granted to Mike Brown.
However, after listening to the history of questionable and unwarranted police stops throughout St. Louis County, the trauma caused by militarization of the local police force, and the recent bullying of faith and community leaders by the police, I knew we were bracing to be served another delivery of injustice.
While there are individual police officers who courageously put their lives on the line, daily to support their community, the system we expect to protect and serve communities is stealing hope and faith and building on a wall of distrust when decisions like Ferguson are rendered.
This Thanksgiving I thank God for the ability to link arms and aims with community champions of different races, creeds and color who are simply tired of injustice.
During this season, let us not forget the countless, resilient families who are still trying to heal from losing their sons and loved ones through violent encounters with overly aggressive police forces throughout the country: Danroy Henry, Eleanor Bumpers, Michael Stewart, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Kendrec McDade, Johnny Gammage, Ron Settles, Eula Love, Dante Parker, Omar Abrego, Diana Showman, Michelle Cusseaux, Joshua Paul.
It is painfully clear that the criminal justice system views young men of color as "demons" in cue for incarceration or extermination. But please take note; an intergeneration mix of community champions has been awakened and will write a new script in history for social service and social justice in America. One that will be tied inextricably to economic empowerment and education. A Human Rights Movement.