I was four months pregnant the night of July 6, 2016, when, scrolling on Facebook, I realized the video showing the aftermath of Philando Castile’s death had already gone viral. His partner, Diamond Reynolds, captured his final moments in real time. It was horrific. I had nightmares for weeks. Philando was killed a 10-minute drive from my Minneapolis home. His locs reminded me of my brothers’; the warmth emanating from his smile was reminiscent of my husband’s. I had watched the video of Eric Garner’s death two years before that, and Tamir Rice’s only a few months later.
I vowed that the fatal shooting of Philando by a Minneapolis police officer would be the last video I’d ever watch like that. I couldn’t do it anymore.
A year later, not long after the acquittal in the case against Philando’s shooter, I was on a phone call with my dear friend Datra. We discussed motherhood — she was a mother of two, and I was a new mother of one. And while, yes, we discussed the typical plights of parenthood — sleep deprivation, work-life balance, foiled date nights — as two Black moms, most of our conversation centered on one thing: safety.
How could we keep our babies safe? What would it take to protect their autonomy and freedom of imagination? What would be the price of their mistakes compared to their white friends? As a Black mom, how could I guard my child’s birthright to be boundless in their possibilities?
In his final minutes last May, George Floyd called out for his mother, who had died two years before. “Mama,” he shouted. “Mama ... I’m through!” It was a final plea, a surrender to the death he knew was imminent, a son reaching for his mother — a mother who couldn’t save him. I didn’t watch the more than nine minutes of Derek Chauvin’s knee slowly, cruelly digging into George — an action for which Chauvin is now on trial, charged with murder in my own city. However, when I saw a brief clip of that moment — the moment George cried out for his mother — I sobbed. I was undone.
This week, we learned that another mother, Katie Wright, was on the phone with her 20-year-old son, Daunte Wright, when he was reportedly pulled over for having air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror. I imagine the helplessness of hearing officers demand that your son get out of the car; I imagine his fear, and perhaps even the surrender, in knowing what was about to happen.
Daunte’s death was a punch in the gut like so many unnecessary police shootings before his. I screamed into a pillow. I wrote a poem about it. Despair settled into my soul. While we grapple with a trial that cannot possibly bring justice for George Floyd, Daunte’s death happening only miles from George’s is too much to bear. As always, when a Black man is killed in these inexplicable and tragic ways by police, every Black man that I love flashes through my mind. I imagine the bodies of my father, brothers, friends and husband covered with a sheet or sand or nothing, alone and dead on the pavement.
This week, my unborn son flashed across my mind to join them. I’m six months pregnant. We’ve chosen his name and painted his nursery jasper green. There’s a genuine fear that I carry, that countless mothers carry: It’s of our children surrendering to an inescapable death. There are not enough talks, lectures, horror stories or pleas to save them from a world that has yet to reckon with white terrorism.
As a mother, I’m not afraid that my children won’t apply themselves or advocate their needs. I don’t agonize about sports, activities or which camps to sign them up for. The boogeyman isn’t a biased teacher, ignorant neighbor or racist parent — though these are realities to contend with, too. It’s the harm that will come to them while simply existing: walking home, riding in a car with friends, playing at the playground, running through their own neighborhood.
At any age, at any time, the mother of a Black child is at the mercy of unchecked racist institutions doing what they were designed and created to do — rob Black people of their lives. There is no soothing for the mother of a Black child, and there has never been in this country.
The very real nightmare is that our children will call out for us when they most need us and we won’t be able to protect them.
Dara Beevas is co-founder and chief executive of Wise Ink. This essay first appeared in The Washington Post’s Lily publication.
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