I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed — black square after black square after black square. Roughly 75% of the captions read #blackouttuesday; The others are some variation of a solidarity statement. Friends of family in my hometown, Virginia Beach, are posting paragraphs of their solidarity with first responders.
My immediate family roots are blue blooded — that includes my mom, dad, both of their significant others and my older brother. All are police officers.
Dad was the first to join — he eventually became an MPO (master police officer) and retired in 2016. He now finds work within the department still. Mom went into the academy during the course of their divorce in 2004. My brother went to school for criminology then joined the force two months after his college graduation in 2015.
I’m the black sheep of the family — My interests were and still are very different from everyone else’s and it often ostracized me from my conservative family members. I attended a liberal arts college and graduated in 2018 with a BA in Journalism and a minor in Environmental Science.
From my earliest memories — I recall having a contrasting point of view from my immediate family and most of our family friends. I felt a sense of otherness at family/friend gatherings, as a majority of our circle were also police officers, firefighters, EMS, etc. Like moths to a light, they eagerly flew in the same direction when politics came onto the table. Alcohol sometimes drove the dialogue; it raised the stakes to get your point across. Whoever was loudest seemed to have majority control. And it was there, my survival instincts nudged me to take up less space, dissolve into the background and quietly observe their debates or sometimes disassociate from my surroundings.
Enter 2020 — There have been more than 6.3 million reported COVID-19 cases worldwide and more than 380,000 known deaths. More than a quarter of all known deaths have been in the United States according to the New York Times. In Chicago, African-Americans account for more than half of those who have tested positive and 72 percent of virus related fatalities, even though they make up a little less than a third of the population. The data is difficult to assess because not all states are reporting race as they provide numbers or confirmed cases and fatalities.
Then, come the murders. Breonna Taylor would have been 27 today. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. #SayTheirNames. Victims of police brutality and white supremacy. The larger issue being inadequate access to healthcare, disproportionate allocation of community funds, the list goes on.
Protests have erupted this week in ALL 50 states. Brands and organizations are publicly claiming #BlackLivesMatter. Resources are being shared all over social media to donate to black led organizations and black owned business.
For the first time ever, I feel a sense of cohesiveness. It feels real and tangible, something I can grasp. Certainly something even the #AllLivesMatter movement and conservative media moguls cannot ignore.
As a cis-bisexual white woman, I think my role in the movement is to take up more space in predominant white spaces and facilitate difficult discussions. Being that I moved away from my hometown, a phone call would have to suffice. I started with my mom.
It began normally. How’s the family, the weather, what’s for dinner.
“How have the protests affected your work?” I said. (She’s older, the department moved her to a desk job so she doesn’t patrol the streets anymore). I used this as a transition to begin the dialogue.
“Well, they cancelled all our days off because they need more [officers] to manage the looting and protests” she said. “I want to talk about that. Can I speak freely here?” “Sure, of course,” she said.
So I asked her questions. “What do you do when one of your colleagues steps out of line? What’s the protocol?” She seemed to get off topic very easily, getting lost in the details. I sensed her defensiveness. It was difficult to reel her back in and stay on the course of discussion I had planned to touch on, that being — police brutality, giving the black community space to mourn and grieve in protest, holding her accountable for the position of power she has, getting her to acknowledge the system she’s a part of if I was really on my game.
Full transparency, it was hard to contain our phone call to what I wanted. We’ve had minimal conversations like this before, so I found it difficult to navigate it in a direction where we were both on the same page about what we were talking about. She would take 5 steps forward onto another topic and I was trying to just get a few points across.
The goal was to initiate it, period. I know I have the language and tools to have another crack at it again in the near future. I think it’s necessary that we begin to do this work within our close-knit circles first. It’s uncomfortable, relationships may take a temporary beating, but growth works in expansion and rest. It’s important to tackle the conversations with civility and understanding.
Looking forward, I will be making more phone calls, having more conversations and providing more resources. I’ll get my ducks in a row before tackling it again. Allyship is a practice. Please, give yourself patience. You are allowed to mess up. You WILL mess up. We won’t end racism unless we start.
THE NEXT BLM PROTEST IN JACKSONVILLE IS THIS SATURDAY, JUNE 6 AT 4PM OUTSIDE THE DUVAL COUNTY COURTHOUSE
Elise Kolmer is located in Jacksonville, FL. She is a writer, feminist, activist, Black Lives Matter supporter.