“I don’t wanna write this down, I wanna tell you how I feel right now… My Umi says shine your light on the world… Shine your light for the world to see…”
~ Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def
Dear Brooklyn Readers,
Umi means mother in Arabic. The lyrics to that song have been ringing in my head all day, as I think about my mother on this Mother’s Day. My Umi provided so much truth and wisdom and confidence to me during my childhood. And just like the the song, her comforting words and wisdom ring like poetry in my ears during my most unsure moments, even as an adult.
The first speech I ever had to give in public was in 5th grade. It was the first three paragraphs of the U.S. Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! The pursuit of happiness!!! I still have it memorized to this day. She made me practice over and over, instructing me to give special emphasis to the word “all.” I’ll never forget it. And I was so nervous I’d forget some of the words to that speech. But my Umi said, “You will be okay. Trust!” And I was.
I could go on and on about the merits of my dear mommy and all the mothers of the world! But I can’t. Not today. Today, I’d like talk about something much heavier on my mind:
Dear white people who are calling the cops on black and brown people for nonsense, please stop!
I’m not referring to all white people. I’m referring specifically to those who are actively weaponizing white privilege through the use of law enforcement against innocent people who are minding their own business. I’m also addressing, in general, those white people who may not exhibit racist behavior but who are complicit in benefitting from a racist system while doing or saying nothing.
“Dear white people who are calling the cops on black and brown people for nonsense, please stop!”
This active and passive practice of racial profiling is toxic! It is causing trauma to innocent people in this country; it is affecting the physical and mental health of all its citizens; and in far too many cases, leading to the loss of innocent lives.
Remember Emmett Till: the 14-year-old boy from Chicago who, in 1955, was tortured and lynched in Mississippi, because his accuser, a white woman, claimed he whistled at and “touched her.” The accuser admitted, 60 years later, that she had lied about the entire story. Because a white woman recklessly wielding her “white privilege” decided to lie on an innocent child, a mother lost a child.
Even today, we continue to live in a society where one group of people is generally presumed innocent while all other groups are burdened with a presumption of guilt… Where the busybody (or perhaps bored) perpetrator is presumed the victim and where the person minding their own business is presumed the threat. The fact that law enforcement is lock-step with this perverted presumption serves only to reinforce in the minds of said perpetrators that they are more valued; their needs are more important; and that their baseless fears and ridiculous whims are more important than the dignity and rights of the accused.
In the past month alone, the number of reported incidents of white people calling the police on black and brown people for doing absolutely nothing but going about their daily lives has become downright disgusting! Innocent black and brown people have been stopped by police, questioned, handcuffed and even followed by helicopters, because someone has called the police on them for doing things like sitting in a Starbucks, golfing too slow, touring a college campus, leaving an Airbnb, shopping, moving into their apartment, barbecuing by the lake and falling asleep in the common room of a college dorm.
(And those are just the incidents that were caught on video and made national news).
Just this this morning, I called my my sister, who is a state assemblywoman, to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, and she shared with me an account earlier this week in her own state of Vermont involving four teen poets. They were members of the group Muslim Girls Making Change. The cops were called on them for “talking loudly” and giggling behind an Elk’s Club Lodge in Burlington— the very lodge where they had been invited to perform. Apparently, reported Seven Days, they were disturbing the patrons inside of the club as they excitedly discussed their upcoming trip to Minnesota where they would join Michelle Obama and Colin Kaepernick to receive an award for their work in promoting human and civil rights. Unfortunately, one of the Elk’s Club workers did not know this, and instead of asking the girls himself who they were and why they were there, he decided to call the police on them like they were criminals (so much for human rights in America!).
“Although what has happened was unacceptable, what we don’t want is people coming up to us and apologizing for what has happened to us,” wrote Lena Ginawi, a MGC member. “What we want is for people to take action and to do something to prevent this from ever happening again.”
These unfounded cop calls happen in Brooklyn all the time as well. Friends of mine share stories often of being confronted by police because a neighbor reported a “disturbance” as they’re hanging out on their front stoops, listening to music, laughing and socializing. With limited parks and backyards, everybody knows that Brooklyn has a vibrant stoop culture! Or at least it did, until recently, as the demographic of the neighborhood begins to shift…
So dear white people: (Yes, this time, I am talking to all of you, the beneficiaries of white privilege) Aren’t you tired of being lumped in with the bad actors for their ridiculous racist actions? Are you not disheartened from all of the rising racial discord? If so, then do something about it!
Vote for sweeping change, from municipal to state to federal! Vote in every election, across the board!
Stop running from the topic of racism! In fact, arrange gatherings and meetings and safe spaces where racism is discussed openly and often. Get comfortable with the topic, confident in your speech about it. It gives others permission to also discuss it, stripping its power and taboo!
Talk to your parents, your uncles, your aunts, your cousins– you know, the ones in your family who are undercover racists. Have heart-to-heart discussions with them about how their attitudes and beliefs are not only ungodly and unconstitutional, they are simply inhumane. Stay away from opinions. Instead, present fact-base arguments, legal precedents, historical evidence (there is plenty!)
And, oh yeah, if you are a Brooklyn resident who has moved to the borough within the last 10 years, a final piece of advice: Unless, you are witnessing violence, abuse, an accident, a sick person, or feel your life is in immediate danger, please, do not call the police. Just don’t do it.
You’ll be okay. We’ll all be okay. Trust… My Umi says.
C. Zawadi Morris, Publisher