Why I Let My 5 and 9-year-old Daughters Protest

Breaking / Carousel / Life. / SS News / SS Special Coverage / December 9, 2014

First Things First

30th Street Die-In. Pictured: Regan Williams and her daughter, Journey.

30th Street Die-In. Pictured: Regan Williams and her daughter, Journey.

Protest (n): express an objection to what someone has said or done; publicly demonstrate an objection to (a policy or course of action)

The day the grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who used a banned choke hold to take down Eric Garner during an arrest–which ultimately resulted in his death, my mind was made up: I was protesting.

I watched the death’s (and subsequent legal proceedings of their killers) of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown grip the nation and poke deep into the firmly planted issues in America. I understood both sides of the arguments concerning their cases and, at least for me, what made each of them slightly challenging was the fact that no one really knew what happened during the moment of those encounters; the evidence, the witnesses, law enforcement and most certainly the justice system, contributed to the submersion of those cases into murky waters of uncertainty (at least for a large enough part of America).

Not to be confused: I believe both Martin and Brown were failed by the justice system.

But then there was Eric Garner, a man with a lengthy petty  history whom the local police knew and, according to his wife, regularly harassed. It’s been reported that there are no violent crimes on his record and his only crime the day of his death was selling “loosies” (single cigarettes). Now let’s be clear on two things: (1) officers have the discretion to arrest someone and (2) to use physical and/or deadly force. The ability to use that discretion accurately and responsibly, in part,  is what separates the great cops from others.

A Close-Up of Injustice: Eric Garner

After reportedly having just broken up a fight (the witness who captured everything on video mentions this), Garner became the focus of the responding officers to the scene who claimed he was selling loosies at the time. In the video, Garner is visibly frustrated with the officers.

“Every time you see me you want to mess me…everybody is standing here and they told you I didn’t do nothing…I DID NOT SELL NOTHING…every time you see me you want to harass me…I’m minding my business, please just leave me alone. I told you the last time–please just leave me alone! Don’t touch me, please do not touch me!”

The officers then go to restrain him as he raises his hands (coincidentally in the “hands up don’t shoot” pose, although here it looks as though he simply was trying to remove his hands from their reach, as he said “don’t touch me”). That is when Officer Pantaleo grabs him from behind, places him in the choke-hold banned by the NYPD and wrestles him to the ground after a short period. Even after Garner is on the ground, with one hand behind his back, Pantaleo maintains his hold around Garner’s neck as other officers assist in executing the arrest (although at this point, Garner looks restrained). Even after Pantaleo’s fellow officers say, “alright, alright, stop, stop, stop,” he maintains his grip.

Mind you, Garner is not resisting.

“I can’t breathe,” Garner says, to which Pantaleo responds by shoving Garner’s head and neck into the hard pavement and using it as leverage to push himself up and better position himself on top of Garner’s back. According to CNN, the grand jury would later have a hard time concluding WHICH officer was responsible for the compression to his upper body.

The scene continues to unfold eventually capturing how Garner received no real medical treatment (the responding EMT’s were penalized for their lack of action) and was, quite frankly, inhumanely treated. The medical examiner reported that Garner died as a result of  “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police”. His death was subsequently ruled a homicide.

And when the case went to the jury, what decision came back–just a short time after the grand jury fiasco with Darren Wilson in Mike Brown’s case?

No indictment.

Apparently, some of the argument on behalf of those who side with the grand jury is that: (1) the choke hold was not illegal, it was simply banned, therefore no criminal charges could be brought against him; this was essentially a matter for civil court. (2) he resisted arrest, (3) he was committing a crime.

And to that I reply:

1. The ME ruled his death a homicide. At least hold ALL arresting officers to who laid hands on him accountable to a justified degree [i.e. not what the hell just played out before us]. As a note, Article 35.30 of the New York Penal Law however has been said to have likely been used to protect the officers and their actions–thus warranting the no indictment decision.

2.  A petty crime does not warrant execution. Furthermore I just watched a naked white man assault officers after being tased and then break away running. He CLEARLY resisted arrest. A gun was not used. A choke hold was not used. He lived. Help me to understand how this man clearly resisted arrest and yet was treated far more humanely than the Eric Garner’s of this world. Even the conservative Andrew C. McCarthy, a National Review writer and author of a book advocating the impeachment of President Obama, was reported by the New York Times as writing, “as good cops know, that there is a difference between resisting arrest by not cooperating, as Garner was doing in Staten Island, and resisting arrest by violent assaults and threats of harm, as Michael Brown did in Ferguson.”

So after hearing the verdict come back, the truth of the matter was this: there was no more patience left in me. There was no more room for uncertainty regarding the current state of our [in]justice system. There was no more room for lack of pronounced action. As an African-American, I am aware of this country’s history and how racism STILL thrives deep in every one of its nooks and crannies. Enough was enough.

The time in history had come for the past to repeat itself and I had a decision to make: which side of history was I going to be on? If I’ve learned anything form the Civil Rights movement and so many others like it, it is that change doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen when the majority of the public is still able to carry on life as usual. I had a few weapons in my arsenal that as one person I could make good use of:

1. My mind 2. My voice 3. A compassionate and understanding heart 4. A platform 5. An undeniable sense of determination 6. A realistic understanding of our country, its history and the odds faced 7. A desire to, above all else, see all races united and provided with the justice we deserve.

So for the first time in my life, I protested for what I believed in.


Why I Chose to Let My Children Protest

The first time I protested was at the 30th Street Station Philly Die-In coordinated by “In Defense of Black Bodies”. The second time I protested was Sunday evening, along with my two daughters, loved ones and hundreds of others at the Lincoln Financial Field right after the Eagles game. During our ride there, the kids chatted in the back about the protest, discussing among themselves why it was important. My best friend and I are very honest with our children about what’s going on in the world because the truth of the matter is, kids are in the know whether we tell them or not and our kids have to grow up in this world–a world that hasn’t been so loving to African-American people; we believe it’s best to have the hard conversations with our children and ensure that they’re being properly informed and equipped with the knowledge necessary to understand the world around them. So to hear them discussing important matters was nothing new. But the passion in their voice…it was different; my best friend’s son voice strained as he stressed how this protest was necessary for everyone’s best protection and service by the police.

I sat silently, listening to our future.

Upon arriving and joining the protest, we went from simply being a part of it to being led by my two daughters and my best friend’s son. They’re all between the ages of 5 and 9. I watched as they were initially hesitant to join in…and then little by little, they looked around at the adults of all races and ethnicities…and they began to own their voices and own their position at the front lines. They began to yell louder, eventually leading the chants when some of the adults voice’s grew hoarse. There were some Caucasian adults who yelled for us all to “go kill ourselves” and who criticized my best friend and I in particular for allowing our children to protest.

One gentleman yelled out, “what kind of mother are YOU? Why would you allow your children to do this?!” to which the kids immediately responded, “BECAUSE BLACK LIVES MATTER!”

As we shut down streets and blocked traffic, all with the protection of the Philadelphia Police Department, the kids led the way with nearly a hundred or so protesters in tow, followed by a slew of police vehicles and officers on bikes. At one point the kids looked back in awe of what they were leading. After we departed from the protest, the kids stood on the sidewalk continue to chant as the other protestors engaged with them and raised their voices in accordance with the kids. I then had the kids turn the street where officers had began to drive past and thank every one of them that passed us. A lot of the officers couldn’t help but to break into a smile and wave at the kids excitement and gratitude. Some rolled down their windows and yelled back, “you’re welcome” while others simply nodded, waved and went back to looking straight ahead.

“Why are we thanking them, mom?” my oldest asked.

“Because they kept us safe and did a good job of doing so. All cops are not bad cops. Those officers have to leave this protest and go home to their families and then back onto the streets to police our communities. We need them to leave here feeling like their time and energy were appreciated. We can change the way the way that they view and feel about this protest, and it’s our responsibility to do just that–not for ourselves but for anyone who may come into contact with them after we do.”

I chose to let my children protest because that is our right as American citizens and our God given right as the possessors of our own mind and bodies.

I chose to let my children protest because these are some of their most formative years–the moments where their self esteem is being built and they’re discovering their voice in their world and respective personalities. 

I chose to let my children protest because they are old enough to own their voice.

I chose to let my children protest because they are old enough to distinguish right from wrong.

I chose to let my children protest because the justice system isn’t always justified in its dealings with African-American’s. We ARE viewed and treated differently far too often in our interactions with law enforcement. Even in a case where “the use or imminent use of deadly physical force” isn’t even present in the “suspect”, as seen in the Eric Garner case, deadly force was used…and no one can say for certain whether the deeply seeded presence of racial bias played a part in that officers perception of the situation. Because there was no need for a banned choke hold, aka deadly force, to be used. And yet a man is dead and a “sorry” or “I didn’t mean to” isn’t enough. It won’t bring back the unjustifiably dead.  

I chose to let my children protest because as African-American youth, it’s not just enough to read about the history of how we got to this point (slavery, civil rights movement, etc.). They need to best understand WHAT IT TAKES to bring change–and protesting showed them just a snippet of the effort required.

I chose to let my children protest because the PPD has done a great job of protecting protestors and citizens. I’ve had no reason to doubt their capabilities or work in this area.

I chose to let my children protest because I teach them day in and day out that if you stand for nothing you will fall for anything.

And quite honestly, we’re not falling for this bullshit. We won’t fall for injustice. We won’t fall for racism. We won’t fall so that others can stand comfortably on our backs–on this country’s back–in their biases and judgments.We weren’t originally included in the vision the founders had for the American dream. This dream can’t continue to be so deeply entrenched in hypocrisy (ex. A country started by immigrants who stole, killed and destroyed in the name of God and their dreams to build a nation of their own, and now struggles with immigration and what to do with its borders).

What’s been a dream for some has been a nightmare for too many.

And that’s why I let my kids protest because quite frankly…

America has to wake up.


Check out the SS on the Scene Photo Gallery from the 30th St. Die-In:

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 – Sincerely Syreeta

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