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Voices / Counterpoint

‘And they wonder why people are still protesting’

A Black mother reflects on a lifetime of exhaustion and fear for the safety of her family

Damaris Mills is a tutor for Options in Learning and a substitute teacher at Brattleboro Union High School.


I so heard Amber Arnold [“Dear white people,” Viewpoint, June 3], when she asked you to “protect Black and Brown children,” “Black men,” and “black and brown bodies.”

I, too, am a Black mother.

When I saw the live, up-close-and-personal killing of George Floyd, I couldn’t stop crying for the first four days, because, like Amber, I immediately thought about my boys, Gershom and Justin, and my grandsons, Jai, Justin Jr., and the other dozen of my grandchildren.

It hit me even harder when I found out that George Floyd was 46...and my son just turned 46!

I don’t usually watch a whole lot of news, because. frankly, it’s depressing! But ever since George Floyd’s murder, I have been watching and trying not to believe, but knowing full well that this crap is still going on.

I keep asking myself, “When is this shit going to finally end?”

* * *

I have already gone through all the protests and Marches on Washington, been hit with tear gas from the National Guard, been traumatized as a little kid the day I saw great big German shepherds attacking Black people down South, and being sprayed with water hoses.

Even though we lived in Connecticut, I was forever traumatized. I have a major fear of those dogs to this day.

In 1964, when I was 14, I was walking down Main Street with my 14-year-old boyfriend Tommy, when all of a sudden, a police car drove up onto the sidewalk to block us from continuing to walk, just so they could harass him!

He hadn’t done anything. When I tried to defend him, I was told to “shut up!”

Needless to say, I was quite annoyed when I heard Attorney General William Barr say that there is no systemic racism in the police departments.

And then they wonder why people are still protesting.

* * *

Four years later, about a week after Martin Luther King Jr. died, my daughter’s 14-year-old godbrother was killed in a drive-by shooting. He and his four buddies were on their way home to the projects, from our own youth center that we were blessed to have.

All the other boys could remember was that it was a carload of white boys yelling the N-word at them just before the shot.

They were able to give only a basic description of the color, make, and model of the car to the police, because it sped off so quickly. All they knew were they were some high school kids, because they saw a Danbury High School bumper sticker.

However, the police department just couldn’t seem to find out what happened or who did it.

To this day, his family and the whole Black community of the time believe they didn’t even try.

* * *

My family doesn’t understand that I have PTSD around this issue, and it comes out every time I see another Black or Brown man or boy killed — especially by police.

Even though I, like every other Black mother, have given my sons “the talk” about how to conduct themselves around the police (and, if you are a white mother with a Black son, I hope, by now, you understand the truth will have to be told to your sons, too).

And even though my grown sons tell me, “Ah, Mom, don’t worry about me, please, I’ll be okay.”How can I not worry?

When I heard George Floyd call out to his mother, I lost it.

And that was before I found out that he did actually die.

* * *

However, I am glad that I live in Brattleboro, Vt. When I drove up Main Street the day of the protest, I had the same reaction that I had when I went to my first Black Lives Matter meeting, to discover that I and two others were the only people of color in there. Everyone else was white.

I was happily taken aback! But while I was there, I told everyone that I was thankful for their caring to try to make a difference, and to please continue the work.

Because I can’t anymore.

Because I’m tired.

And I really didn’t think a lot of things were going to change.

* * *

I’m 70, so I remember the Jim Crow days, even though I was little then and didn’t really understand until I was older. I thought Black and Brown men were not getting lynched by hanging nowadays, but they certainly are being lynched in the form of killings by cops.

However, I just heard a report that two Black men were found hung from trees in California — one in Palmdale, right where my youngest son used to live!

I was 18 when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. All the Black kids in the high school were summoned to the cafeteria so the principal could break the news to us. Then they dismissed only us Black kids, because the school administration was afraid there would be a riot. There were a couple of just-in-case cops outside in their cruisers.

But driving up Main Street Brattleboro watching, experiencing the protest and the local diversity, I was so moved that I almost started crying behind the wheel. And after watching the now weeks of protests, nationwide as well as globally, I’m beginning to think maybe there is hope.

Even though later that day, I was aggressively confronted by an “all lives matter” critic — a so-called friend, too, who thinks he’s not racist, just because he has Black friends.

I chose to save my mental and emotional energy and stayed quiet, because I am just tired. It was better for me to walk away.

* * *

I lost someone else who I thought was a friend when I tried to explain how nobody, especially Black people, likes to be watched.

To this day, Black folks are still watched in stores more than white folks, for fear we’re going to steal something. And that’s just one of many examples.

My friend had started clocking my movement, and I needed to pull her coat about it; unfortunately; she didn’t get it, she got angry, and she hasn’t spoken to me since.

It took me a long time to learn how to stand up for myself as a beautiful, powerful, intelligent Black queen.

* * *

Breonna Taylor was on her way to being a queen as well, along with many other Black and Brown sistahs who have been killed by police.

I have a disabled daughter, who uses a wheelchair, and she was aggressively, verbally assaulted by some upstate New York cops because she refused to open her door to be served a summons of some kind because she was alone that night.

She was terrified that they were going to break in and kill her.

I swear, I’m tired!

* * *

I said I was glad that I live in Brattleboro, and so far, our police force seems to be pretty fair. I’ve seen them at work up in West Brattleboro concerning some drug activity, and I was impressed with their attitudes for all involved. I am and have been impressed with Chief Fitzgerald’s initiative steps to make sure that the department is caring, fair, and humane.

When the “having coffee with a cop” thing started, I thought that was such a great idea. For years, I’ve said that they should bring beat cops back into the neighborhoods so they can get to know the locals and so the locals can get to know them.

I lived in the projects growing up, and for the first 20 years, we had local police officers patrolling from 4 to 11 p.m. They got to know all of us kids by name, and our parents as well. They showed respect to us, and we showed respect to them. However, the cops that harassed my boyfriend that night were not of that group.

* * *

So, yes, Amber, you are so right — our Black and Brown children, our men and our women’s bodies, need to be protected. As do our minds, hearts, and spirits.

And Mac Gander [“The fire this time,” Viewpoint, June 3], you were not kidding when you said that Black folks are tired! I know I am!

I’m just getting too damn old for this shit. But you know what? I am beginning to believe that our youth are going to be the change.

I have hope and confidence in them.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #567 (Wednesday, June 24, 2020). This story appeared on page B1.

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