We waited anxiously in the radiologist’s office. The technician moved the mouse’s arrow to the area of the baby that revealed a girl. We have two beautiful girls now, and during both pregnancies, I was relieved the radiologist typed “Girl.” I’ve seen too many youtube spectacles of boys and young men of color fatally shot by police officers. I didn’t want a son to be the next black boy transformed into a hashtag #Thomas #BlackLivesMatter.
Years ago, on a Saturday night, I saw my life flash into a hashtag. As I was walking the two blocks from Circle K to my apartment, I saw red, white, and blue lights stretching across its walls. A command to stop was projected from a bullhorn. I heard a car door shut and footsteps approach from behind. My body shook uncontrollably. A deep voice told me to turn around, and a police officer stopped an arm’s length away from me with his left hand on his holstered gun.
He asked for my I.D. Then he asked where I was coming from and what I had planned for the evening. I broke the first rule of How to Engage Police Officers—don’t move. Slowly, I pointed to my apartment complex. Two more police vehicles stopped near us with activated emergency lights. I stood still, nervous and embarrassed. I handed him my I.D and he told me to wait and returned to his car. Approximately five minutes later, he came back and told me that I was cleared to leave. But before he did, he said, “I stopped you to make sure we know who’s in the neighborhood.” In sync, each police officer returned to their cars, switched off their emergency lights and drove away.
My incidents with the police manifested into my fear of them. If I’m driving home from work and notice a police car driving in the opposite direction, I squeeze the steering wheel. I’m relieved if the police car in the rear-view mirror doesn’t make a U turn and chase me. When I arrive home, I convince myself that my girls will never have to fear the police the way I do.
Unfortunately, my illusion fades—my girls are women of color. Dajerria Becton was forced her face-down into the grass as Police Officer Eric Casebolt pressed his knee into her neck at a suburban Houston pool party.
Women of color should not challenge the power of white men. They should know they are inferior #SandraBland. I am aware that women and girls of color are more likely to interact with law enforcement, experience domestic violence, and be sexually assaulted. Most men will never experience or comprehend what women deal with on a daily basis.
It’s challenging to think of my daughters murdered by patriarchal violence. I am their father and protector. But I also represent the historical violence that has perpetuated the idea that women are inferior. I know that my daughters could potentially be the next #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. Women and girls of color receive harsher punishments than white women and girls in both public schools and the justice system. They are also more likely to be jailed than any other race/ethnicity. Women of color represent 30 percent and 16 percent of the state and federal prison respectively. Domestic violence and homicides involving women and their intimate partners are pervasive in communities of color because of inequity in healthcare, employment, education, and housing.
So how do we measure progress? Historically, mobs lynched Black men and boys with ropes. Today, police officers use guns. Some mornings I watch my healthy three-year-old daughter’s face while she sleeps. The names of Black children – Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tamir Rice, Jazmine Barnes and Antonio Arce – race around in my head. I am unable to decide if boys or girls of color are safest. It seems God does not have the power to make that choice either. Only America’s justice system has the power to choose who is safe from harm.
Rashaad Thomas is a USAF Veteran, essayist, poet, and Voices of Our Nation’s Art Foundation (VONA/Voices) alum, who resides in South Phoenix, AZ. He is a contributor for the University of Arizona Poetry Center Blog and MyClickUrban.com. Thomas is the recipient of the 2016 City of Phoenix Mayor’s Art Award for Language Artist. He is a Spring 2017 MacDowell Colony Fellow and 2017 Hellen Ingram Plummer MacDowell Colony Fellow of the Year. His work can be found in the book Trayvon Martin, Race, and American Justice: Writing Wrong, The Rumpus, Heart Journal Online, Columbia Poetry Review, and others.
Photograph by Nancy Thomas.