By Lisa Brock
Story one. In 1990, soon after my husband and I were married, we decided to spend a weekend in Union Pier, Michigan. We rented a room at a B & B, and were treated very nicely by the proprietors. When we asked them where to go for dinner, they recommended that we go to a local winery. It was about ten miles away, they said, and a bit out of the way. But we decided to go anyway and the food and the atmosphere were great.
We left the winery at about 9:30 pm and about 3 miles into our journey we noticed a police car behind us. In a very few minutes, the police lights came on and we duly pulled over. The policeman came up to the driver window, which we rolled down, and asked for my husband’s driver’s license. My husband gave it to him. He then asked why we were driving five miles below the speed limit. We both answered: a country road with which we were unfamiliar. The police then said our license plate sticker was expired. My husband said, no it is not because he had just applied it the week before. The police then called my husband a liar, started calling us names and demanded that we get out of the car. I yelled, “I am a professor,” thinking that would help, but the policeman looked even more angry as I said it. (What happened? See me)
Story two. I have a 22-year old son. When he was about 14, I took him and a friend to a Panda Express Restaurant in a little mini mall in our Chicago neighborhood. I parked in front and let them go in. I could see them through the big storefront window. There were three armed policemen in there finishing up their meals. As my son and his friend entered, the policemen walked over to them and put their kevlar-vested chests’ in each young man’s face. The policemen then blocked their ability to move along the buffet line and place their order. My son and his friend tried to walk one way around the police and they were blocked. They went the other way and were blocked. I sat there prepared to run in at any minute. If my son and his friend were going to get hurt or killed so was I. (What happened? See me.)
I share these stories because I, like the vast majority of African-Americans, have many such experiences.
Police violence, like domestic violence, is usually a silent killer. The numbers of blacks killed today at the hands of police and white vigilantes has exceeded the recorded numbers of Jim Crow era lynchings. Like then, it is largely invisible to those not affected by it and/or rationalized by others as necessary in the war on crime. In most cases, police and state vigilantes suffer no legal consequences.
I am proud of the K students: who on their own decided to go to Ferguson to join thousands of all strata on October 13, 2014, of the smaller number who chose to engage in direct action while there, and of all those who organized and attended the rally on our campus on October 22, 2014. I have heard from leaders in the region and from around the country that our students are putting Kalamazoo on the map in new and meaningful ways.
I have also heard rumblings on K’s campus that this is not “approved” social justice work and/or that our students should only focus on study and let others “over there” worry about this matter. Last Friday, eight students shared their own raw stories of abuse and violence at the hands of police or state agents in a devised theater piece. The audience was shocked, saddened and in tears. For many of our students, this issue is not and has never been “over there.”
K students are carrying on the legacies of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and thousands of college students who went south to register folks to vote. All are considered heroes now, but this was not the case in real time. Rosa Parks was forced into poverty. Dr. King was jailed and ultimately killed. Mr. Mandela was a political prisoner for 28 years and many of those college students were kicked out of school. I know which side of this history I want to be on. Embrace our young activists; make them feel a sense of belonging. Let’s figure out together how this kind of “experiential education” matters and fits into K’s mission. History does not have to repeat itself.