Empowering Discussions

A Vigil for Children: Four Steps You Can Take To End Violence Against Youth

The turnout was small, but not lacking in passionate voices at the San Diego vigil for youth(age 23 and younger) killed by police in San Diego, and nationally. Since majority of people killed by police are non-white, racial profiling was brought up as a main issue along with police brutality, biased media reporting and how the average citizen can get involved.

The event founder, DeMilo Young may not be a name you’re familiar with, but she is someone you should know. In her talk she explained why she organized the vigil. “I’m new to activism and what brought me here, probably is being a parent and just knowing, just having that empathy knowing that someone has lost a child. Parents should never have to bury a child.” Speaking from the heart she went on to say “We do live in a racist society and many people of color are judged…. and more likely to be shot by police. Why is that? We have to get to the root of that issue. We can’t just say we gotta have law enforcement reform, we need humanity reform.”

imageThe event drew about 40-50 people and included two inspiring spoken word poets, a powerful singer and a reading of the names of recently killed youth. Other speakers shared resources and information encouraging all in attendance to get off Facebook, follow local cases of police violence and get involved in our communities. Just like the theme of this blog, their message was clear, change is up to you the individual. A handful of attendees spoke personally about what the vigil, racism, police brutality community meant to them or how we, the audience could get involved in creating positive change.

We also practiced a moment of silence for 4 minutes, the amount of time the body of 12-year-old Tamir Rice lay on the ground after being shot by police. It was a sad, but inspiring vigil. From the event page:”Candlelight vigils are seen as a nonviolent way to raise awareness of a cause and to motivate change. While Tamir’s death received some national attention the case remains open and many citizens are not aware of the circumstances surrounding his death. Many have become desensitized to deaths of unarmed, innocent individuals and apathetic to injustice.”

So what can you do to stop the senseless killing of youth? Quite a lot actually!

1. Get involved in civic matters. Pay attention to potential and existing laws that punish people for being poor, non-white, reformed felons and immigrants.

image2. Push for reforms in police training and conduct to remove racial profiling and the excessive use of force. Insure police forces are representatives of the communities they serve as opposed to instances like Ferguson which has a large number of white cops patrolling black neighborhoods. Tell your representatives that you want to stop the militarization of you local police.

3. Stop victim blame! You probably don’t even realize that you are doing this. If you’re like me and have consumed a whole lot of mass-produced media you have been trained to victim blame based on repeatedly seeing racial, gender, and other stereotypes. Here are 3 examples.

-You’ve learned that “thugs”, gang members and criminals are usually of African, Hispanic or Asian descent, wear hoodies and baggy clothes, like rap or hip hop music and therefore deserve to be stopped by the police After all why would anyone dress like that or be entertained by that kind music unless they were up to no good? Perhaps they like the culture of hip hop and want to look fashionable in the culture they embrace? Why should how someone dress convince us of their character or ethics? Are we really that shallow?

-You’ve learned that women and girls wearing short skirts and low slung tops are “slutty” and “asking for it”. Why else would a teen girl or woman wear high heels, a short skirt and show off their cleavage if they weren’t looking for sex and a “good time”? Perhaps because they think it’s a fun way to dress and want to look pretty, but not actually participate in any sexual or romantic activities? Since when does an act of violence, including assault or rape, have anything to do with what someone wears? How does that make any logical sense?

-You’ve learned that cops are always the good guys because they risk their lives to “protect and serve” and therefore have to stop and shoot those “thugs” from causing trouble. Officers are professionally trained to fight crime and yet the are so terrified of youth they shoot first and ask later? Why would they shoot a young man with a toy gun? How is that serving anyone? Why do WE allow them to kill children?

Do you see the underlying theme? We are trained by images that most of have seen since youth to identify others and explain or “blame” their behavior. Dressing a certain way doesn’t mean you’re going to make bad choices just like having a police badge doesn’t make you suddenly wiser than everyone else.

Throughout the following weeks I challenge you to recognize those moments when you look at people and make snap judgements. Do you automatically see young black men and guess they are gang related or involved in crime? Do you see Trans women and men and assume they have “immoral” interests? Do you see young girls in short skirts or low slung tops at the bus stop being harassed by an older man and assume they are responsible for the unwanted attention?

You need to stop assuming that the stereotypes you see hold any truths. We are all unique individuals deserving of the same rights, safety, compassion and respect.

image4. Speak up! You must step up and speak up when you see someone being treated unfairly. When you see someone being profiled and they haven’t done anything but walk down the street you need to ask that cop what’s going on. You need to tell that man who is much, much older than that girl to leave her alone. It’s difficult at first, but the more you speak up and intervene the easier it becomes. You don’t have to forceful when you speak up, you just have to say something. I took me a while to learn this and I know you can too.

In my experiences just letting the harasser know they are being watched is enough to make them stop. Here is a recent example.

On my way home from the vigil I was sitting a few seats behind a teenage girl. She looked tired and was sitting by herself. Suddenly this much older man moved next to her. I saw her moving away from him and turning her head toward the window. He kept talking to her and looking her up and down. Finally I stood up and moved to a seat in front of them. I noticed that she was really not interested in this man so I asked if she knew him and she replied that she didn’t. I told the man that he appeared to be harassing her and she obviously wasn’t interested. He mumbled a few things and got off on the next stop. I apologized to the girl for making a scene and explained that I had experience working with domestic violence and sexual assault and I just wanted to make sure she was ok. I turned around in my seat and didn’t make contact with her again because it was clear the situation was uncomfortable for her. When I exited the bus a few stops later I quickly asked the driver to keep an eye on her and told him what happened.

It took me a few minutes after I had a hunch of what was happening to gather enough courage to move seats and another minute to confront the man, but the point is that I did. I have no idea what happened to her after I left or if I will ever see her or that man again, but I can at least rest with a clear conscious knowing I spoke up. I didn’t just ignore what was obviously happening or pretend like it wasn’t my problem. That man knows that some people will stop him and hopefully that girl knows that she deserves to be treated with dignity.

Though I was raised in a multi-racial, multi-cultural family my experience as one of the lighter skinned attendees was undoubtedly different from many of the black, or African-American, Mexican and Asian attendees. This represents my experience at a vigil that in my opinion we should hold more ofte and in larger groups until this nonsense ends. I may not be able to walk down the street without harassment or the threat of sexual assault, but I don’t worr about being killed by those who are meant to protect me. However different our experiences, we all attended the vigil in mutual concern, compassion and craving peaceful change.

So what are you going to do? Will you take those 4 steps, open your heart, use your mind and save the life of a child?

If you enjoyed this, check out the article on Alicia Garza of #BlackLivesMatter.

*Article corrected to show Tamir RIce was just 12 years old, not 14. Twelve!?! Can you imagine?

*Read interviews with other agents of change on our sister blog, Changeisup2u.wordpress.com


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